Carnivale season one
In a nutshell: The final conflict between
good and evil will take place in the 1930s Dust Bowl.
The 411: 1934. The depression causes turmoil worldwide, fascism
is on the rise in Europe and in Britain, Herbert Chapman’s
Arsenal introduce an extra centre-back and bore everyone shitless.
This truly is a dark age.
"What does it all mean? I’m fucked if I know and I’m 10 episodes in…."
Oh yeah, travelling carnival, chosen one, sandstorms, pestilence,
Armageddon, yadda yadda.
Carnivale has an intriguing premise – a travelling carnival pick-up Ben
Hawkins, a young man gifted with psychic healing powers.
The boy, we gather, will play some key role in the final battle
between good and evil. So far, so strange.
Ben has powerful visions and recurring nightmares – flashbacks
to a giant bear in a WW1 trench, gruesome scenes from the Crusades,
an exploding cafe. What does it all mean? I’m fucked if I know
and I’m 10 episodes in. I guess that’s the intention.
Half a country away Brother Justin, a firebrand evangelist
persecuted for preaching to immigrants, receives insane religious
visions – the visions hint at some connection with Ben. Ben’s
mother had some kind of connection to Hank Scudder, a former
member of the carnival. The blind psychic Lodz stalks Ben darkly
hinting at his destiny.
"Scratch the surface of the wilful obscurity and it does come up slightly short…."
The carnival is run by Samson, a wisecracking dwarf who takes
his orders from Management – a mysterious figure we never see
who never ventures out from his trailer. The carnies wonder
if he really exists – a God metaphor? Probably.
The trouble with Carnivale is it’s
a little too concerned with being curious and elliptical.
Scratch the surface of the wilful obscurity and it does come
up slightly short. It wants to be a psychological whodunit
but whodunits fall down when not enough attention is paid
to the "why?" part of
the equation. You can only tease the audience for so long without
dealing with characters’ motivations which is what ties us
to them in the first place.
It promises a
lot but never delivers; it’s too slow-paced and gimmicky
– the characterisation and dialogue are too leaden. The
cast don’t really inspire but they’ve got a pretty weak script
to deal with. The bottom line is not enough happens and that
which does is pretty vacuous. I gave it the benefit of the
doubt for a long time but I just think they don’t know what
The best thing about it: It’s a brave stab at a new kind of
The worst thing about it: A bit too reliant on gimmickry
The verdict on Carnivale: Intriguing but not quite satisfying
Marks out of 10: 5