(Greek: κρυπτεία / krupteía, from κρυπτός / kruptós, “hidden, secret things”)

Carnivale: Two Seasons of Goodness and Then A Blight from HBO

with 5 comments

Back in 2005 a show came to HBO that I got in drips and drabs over time while I was a “Travelling Man” for IBM. Since I did not have HBO at home and still don’t I had to finally catch this whole show on DVD. I have just finished watching both seasons of the show and I felt compelled to write a review. The show was Carnivale.

Carnivale takes place in 1934, the depths of the depression in the blighted land of the dust bowl. From the start, it is an incredibly well shot and designed show that really places you in the setting of depression dust bowl life even better than the Dorthea Lange picture of the migrant worker. You literally feel the dust and parching heat of the place and time by just looking at the scenery and of course, the players. Never a more dusty troupe will you ever see.

The basis of the show is the epic battle between good and evil that takes place on the earthly plane after the war in Heaven came to an end. Evidently, every generation has the chance of being led by evil or good according to the deal that was struck between Satan and God. A savior and a devil are born with each generation and they may, or may not, fulfill their destiny to do battle and decide the fate of man.. For that generation at least.. Until the Omega.

In this generation you have Ben Hawkins, a boy who has been shunned by his insane mother and in the start of the show, we find has escaped the chain gang to be with her and try to help her. She refuses his help, which could heal her by the laying of hands upon her, and dies. Ben, moves on to escape the law with the local Carnivale and begins the journey of discovery of what he is as well as hasten the epic battle to come.

The Good:

Fantastic cinematography, set design, costume design, and general historical accuracy down to the language of the time and place! This will be darkly wonderful and dry for you to watch. You will feel like you are literally sitting next to that migrant worker as well as give you a taste of 1930’s carny life.

The Acting was well done and the writing of the characters well defined if not a little cryptic at times.. But that cryptic nature makes you want to know more, so you make a point of watching the next episode. There was not one episode that left me thinking.. Meh, maybe I will not see it next week when it was on tv.. The only problem I had was.. I didn’t have HBO except in hotel rooms!

The story was well defined and had you wondering at every turn just where it was going to go. You had hints and visions of possible futures but you really were left with your imagination as opposed to too many foreshadowing scenes that gave everything away. The interplay of the plot lines both historical and present really kept you going too. All in all, a story that was originally a book that was turned into a series that kept most of its content. This was one of the reasons for its downfall though. The series was just too costly to continue according to HBO and thus, in the end I have a gripe about the ending…

The Bad:

As mentioned above, the cost of the show and the sudden decision to pull it from HBO left it in the lurch. Much of this due to the story lines and arc of the show being presented in book/chapter format. By killing it in the second season, the writers were left to tie up some loose ends hastily and end it with as much finality as they could and still serve the story…

Which, really did not happen.

At the end, the story was forced enough that the last three episodes felt like you were being rushed out of your seat at a busy restaurant by a harried wait staff. You got to eat, but you got heartburn for it really. The story suddenly shifted into high gear with a feel akin to a speed walking version of “The Stand” and the new “Canaan” took the place of Las Vegas.

Additionally, I found that the plot device used to foil the evil one was a bit of a kluge, however, had it been part of the larger arc later discovered through the writers pitch document, then it would not have made it seem too forced. But, because this show was given the axe, the story line and end falls flat. I think though, that I need to find out if the writers etc, knew that this was the end when they had it in the can or, did they think season 3 was coming still? If so, then the pace was just, the pace and my perception of it different because it was “the end” according to HBO.

All in all, the ending left quite the opening for continuation should someone pick up the mantle. However, since its 2010 and Hollywood would rather make crappy re-makes than original works, I hold out little hope of redemption through the arc being finished out.

Final Analysis:

  • Carnivale was a fantastic show that got the usual short shrift from the studios.
  • HBO screwed the pooch.
  • Clancy Brown is America’s scariest actor
  • This show leaves you wanting to Google a LOT of things
  • It includes Templars, Renne Les Chateau, and other mythos and that is ALWAYS cool
  • See it all on DVD.. I promise you you will not regret anything but its ending
  • Once you have seen the series read the “Pitch Document” it will give you more to work with

“Ok children.. Let’s shake some dust”


Written by Krypt3ia

2010/07/29 at 18:44

5 Responses

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  1. Nice review. I watched this show when it aired and still mourn the loss myself. 😦 I think I can shed some light on the questions you had about the ending… HBO cancelled the show months after the final episode aired. The creators did not have any warning and did not write the ending in any attempt to tie the story up. I think what WAS tied up at the end of season 2 had always been intended to be resolved at that point. The next two seasons were suppose to explore the Omega story. *sigh*

    The other sad caveat to this is that HBO owns all rights to the show which made it impossible for the creator, Daniel Knauf, to continue in another form or shop it to another network. So unless HBO agrees to sell it back to him or continue the story in some form (rated: unlikely), sadly, that will probably be the last we will see of the Carnivale story. 😦

    After the cancellation and the mass mailing HBO received from angry fans, HBO *did* offer Knauf a 2-hour movie to “tie things up.” But Knauf had intended the story to last for 4 more seasons, 12 episodes each. He felt that condensing a 48-hour story down to 2 would be a travesty. He said he would rather it remain unfinished than finished poorly. Most fans agree.

    Thanks for watching and writing your review!


    2010/07/30 at 03:57

  2. “Carnivale” was a great show to watch and a privilege to be in. I played Lila, and like everyone involved, and all the fans, was heartbroken when we weren’t picked up for a third season. Not-so-Crabbyolbastard, thanks for watching and your review. And Rachel, you’re spot on with your comments.

    Debra Christofferson

    2010/07/31 at 20:26

  3. Oh my goodness, a response from Debra Christofferson herself! Debra, you and I met briefly at CarnyCon. That was such a fun and special event, I am so glad I went. And having so many of the cast and creators there made it so amazing. Thank you so much. I have never mourned the loss of a TV show the way I have for Carnivale. I am so happy to see that new fans are still finding the show and talking about it. In that way, it will live on forever. 🙂


    2010/07/31 at 22:28

  4. @Debra,
    Thank you for the show and thank you for the comment! I really kinda wish at the least Mr. Knauf would finish out the book idea and maybe make a book series to continue…


    2010/08/04 at 14:15

  5. That would be wonderful! Unfortunately, that is out of his control. 😦


    2010/08/04 at 22:44

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