Saturday, February 16, 2008


After watching the last episode of Deadwood, I googled for similar series. Carnivale kept coming up. I bittorrented a fairly ropey version of the first series. The quality was so bad that I gave up after a couple of episodes, but I found myself intrigued enough to buy the first series on DVD. The second series arrived in the post courtesy of a kind reader of my Amazon wishlist, and so began my journey into its bizarre, puzzling and often troubling tale.

Set in 1930s dustbowl America, the series begins with a young man being screamed at by his dying, cross-clutching mother. Upon her death, Ben finds refuge in a travelling circus. The characters include a young tarot card reader and her catatonic/telekinetic mother, a blind, alcoholic mind-reader, his bearded-lady partner and a host of other freaks and misfits.

Samson (a dwarf) is the manager of the circus, but he takes orders from 'The Management', a figure whose form (and existence) is a mystery.

Early on we discover that Hawkins is an escaped prisoner, and the reluctant possessor of dramatic healing powers. And so it continues, a dark, complex and intriguing story where reality and dreams are blurred and intermingled in a powerful and disturbing way. In the opening words of Samson,

"Before the beginning, after the great war between Heaven and Hell, God created the Earth and gave dominion over it to the crafty ape he called man. And to each generation was born a creature of light and a creature of darkness. And great armies clashed by night in the ancient war between good and evil. There was magic then, nobility, and unimaginable cruelty. And so it was until the day that a false sun exploded over Trinity, and man forever traded away wonder for reason."

Carnivale explores a war between good and evil and a struggle between free will and destiny. The storyline borrows freely from gnosticism, fundamentalist Christianity and Masonic themes.

Carnivàle was intended to run for 6 seasons, but was cancelled after just two, due to dwindling audiences. This may explain why the least satisfactory episodes are the last two, where the style moves from that of mystery play, to that of a more conventional action movie.

It is an excellent series. The acting is intense, the camera-work superb, and the themes explored linger on your mind for days after watching an episode. In typical HBO-style, the content is extremely 'adult', and definitely not for the squeamish. But for anyone who is tired of lightweight, predictable TV drama, this will provide a marvellous antidote.

1 comment:

Mr Bill said...

Yep - agree - it was a very good series. Shame it had to end so quickly :-(