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TV Review: Carnivàle

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I recently watched the first season (Episodes 1-12) of Carnivàle, an HBO series.  The show follows a traveling carnival with a young man possessing special healing powers, as well as the life of a preacher and his flock.  Somehow the two are related, although I'm not really sure how.

The show has a variety of interesting story lines, which most certainly pick up speed as I moved through the episodes.  Here's something very peculiar about the show for me.  The series has two actors who played in absolutely unforgettable roles previously:

  • Michael Anderson plays the role of Samson, who is in charge of the carnival.  He also played the nothing short of riveting role of "Little Man From Other Place" in Twin Peaks, which was a TV show that, for about 3/4 of one season, showed us all what TV really could be if we let it.
  • Clancy Brown plays Brother Justin Crowe, the preacher.  He played the part of Byron Hadley, Captain of the guards in Shawshank Redemption.  Hands down one of the best film roles EVER.

The cool thing about Carnivàle is it has made me forget about both of those older roles and, believe me, that is not easy.  Daniel Knauf's writing (he also created the show) is a little wrought at times, but 70-80% of the show, at minimum, is interesting – at times even brilliant.  I think the lines he gives to Mr. Anderson (yes, I'm thinking of The Matrix, just like you are) are superb.

I know in many ways the spookiness and other-worldliness of it is an attempt to give it a Twin Peaks feel (whether or not Mr. Knauf will admit it).  And there is no real Agent Cooper here.  Regardless, if it is an attempt to bring something even close to that to life again (no matter how successful it is), I am overcome with joy.

I would much rather see someone take a risk (thank you, HBO) with something like this than another Battle of the Network Reality has beens and current reality show stars.  If you ask me, those are the real freak shows, not Carnivàle.

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  • Voltaire

    Dont forget Ben Hawkins played by the Nick Stahl. This show was unique, its a shame that not too many people got it, including HBO which canned it because of “financial” reasons. HBO had something truly unique, if not inspiring with Carnivale. It is a true shame they couldnt even give the die-hard fans a proper ending after abruptly canceling it.

  • I was not and really still am not familiar with Nick Stahl. He did do a good job, but a part of me felt like that the writing for his character probably could have been pulled off by lots of people. That being said, he was compelling.

    I can understand why they cancelled it. One thing I was thinking while watching it was that I bet it was a really expensive show to produce. Lots of actors in an hour long show.

    I also noticed that the cast was listed alphabetically in the opening credits. I’ve heard before that this is sometimes a sign of a disgruntled cast with egos. That may or may not be true here, I don’t know.

    Interestingly, it was hard for me to understand why Nick Stahl, for example wasn’t first because he is the star and centerpiece of the show.

    In any case, it is a bummer if the show is cancelled because amongst the bilge that passes as TV entertainment it is actually interesting.