The Quarantine Stream: 'His Dark Materials' Is A Dark Adventure Into Adolescence

(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a new series where the /Film team shares what they've been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)The ShowHis Dark MaterialsWhere You Can Stream It: HBO and HBO MaxThe Pitch: Set in an alternate world where humans' souls take the form of walking, talking animals called daemons, His Dark Materials starts off as a fantasy-adventure series involving child kidnappers and a brash young heroine named Lyra before it unfolds into an ambitious retelling of John Milton's Paradise Lost.Why It's Essential Viewing: His Dark Materials has been having trouble shaking off the taint from the 2007 adaptation of Philip Pullman's first book in the trilogy, The Golden Compass. Roundly mocked for its shoddy CGI visuals and criticized for being a Harry Potter knock-off, The Golden Compass nearly doomed His Dark Materials to being cast off to the dustbin of failed YA adaptations. But enter BBC and the duo of executive producer Jane Tranter and writer Jack Thorne, who wanted the rest of the world to take the series as seriously as its thousands of book fans do. The result: the BBC/HBO co-production His Dark Materials, a dark journey into adolescence that goes through its share of growing pains, before finally coming into its own with its currently-airing second season.His Dark Materials opens in an alternate world so unlike ours: filled with talking polar bears, witches, and souls that take the shape of talking animals, ruled by the oppressive Magisterium, a religious organization whose depiction has gotten the Catholic Church angry with this series on more than one occasion. In this world lives Lyra Belacqua (Dafne Keen), a headstrong orphan raised in the austere halls of Oxford's Jordan College, whose best friend is one day kidnapped by "Gobblers," a group that may or may not have ties to the Magisterium. Following the trails left by Roger and her adventurer uncle Lord Asriel (James McAvoy), Lyra becomes entangled in a plot that has divine, world-shattering ramifications. Literally.

As the first season unfolds, His Dark Materials breaks open its fantasy world to reveal the existence of parallel worlds — including our own present-day one. It's the kind of science-fantasy twist that elevates His Dark Materials from the kind of Harry Potter cast-off that it had been originally billed as, and which deepens its rich philosophical themes. Without getting into too many spoilers, His Dark Materials goes from a typical fantasy-adventure into one of the god-killing variety.

But I'm getting ahead of myself – teasing things that the show hasn't even reached yet, though it's clear that the team behind His Dark Materials is as eager to get to the good stuff as I am. It was one of the failings of the first season of His Dark Materials, which too heavily foreshadowed things to come, losing the impact of some of those late-story twists. But after an entertaining, if uneven, first season, His Dark Materials has finally found its footing as a thrilling fantasy show in its own right, by embracing some of the whimsy that the "grim" and "mature" first season left on the table and by embracing the story's science-fantasy trappings.