This is a clunky series.
Part of the clunkiness is likely because this is a book-to-series adaptation. It’s tough to get those right. Adhere too much to the plot and the set pieces of the book and the individual episodes grow bloated and dull. But pull away too much from the book and you lose the essence that made the story compelling in the first place. I haven’t read the books this series is based upon, but my guess is that the show is being too precious with the source material.
The clunkiness is most evident in the narrative disconnects. Case in point: Throughout the first and second season, a host of people are tasked with protecting the main character, Lyra. And almost every one of these “caretakers” immediately fails, gets sidetracked, or disappears for long stretches of time. The most egregious example is Lee Scoresby, played by Lin-Manuel Miranda. He’s told by a powerful witch that it’s his duty/destiny to watch over Lyra. He takes this very seriously and you expect that he and Lyra will be together for the foreseeable future. But no! Mere minutes later, Lyra slips out of a hot air balloon and plummets into an icy mountain range (she survives–it’s unclear how, but Lyra has a knack for handling very high falls with aplomb). I’m pretty sure that’s the last time Lyra and Lee are together.
Some of the clunkiness could be due to actor availability. There are well-known performers in this series–Miranda, Andrew Scott, James McAvoy–who parachute in for a few episodes (or in McAvoy’s case, a few scenes) and then vanish. They’re compelling while they’re on screen, but their inconsistent availability means their characters don’t mesh with other characters or the story itself. I.e. When McAvoy occasionally appeared I didn’t think “I wonder what that sneaky Lord Asriel is up to.” I thought “I guess McAvoy’s schedule opened up. "
There are things that make this series interesting. It looks amazing. The dæmons (animal/soul companions) and non-humans integrate seamlessly. The various ferrets, monkeys, rabbits, bears, etc. aren’t distracting (i.e. we don’t get any “Call of the Wild”-style dissonance).
The series regulars are also excellent. Of particular note is Dafne Keen (Lyra), whose compelling work is the only thing that keeps the series from spinning into chaos.