Friday, April 06, 2007


I finally got around to finishing watching Carnivale recently - the full and interrupted two seasons. It was cancelled at the end of season two; such a travesty has never been committed. Especially if you ignore memories of Dark Skies, American Gothic and Invasion.

It centred on a young man called Ben Hawkins, played with sublime subtlety by Nick Stahl, he of Terminator 3 infamy. Ben became an orphan in the first episode and was picked up by a travelling fair, the 'Carnivale', that came with a rag-tag bunch of misfits, charlatans and, for want of a better word, freaks. It was set during the thirties in the US of A and pretty much every frame emphasised just how dirty everything was. From the people to the towns, muck was endemic in every day life (if this show's accurate it's a tale of Lazarus proportions how they got to the shiny, spangly, gaudy situation they're in today).

They travelled the 'circuit' up and down the 'States trying to make a quick buck before people got bored of their wares or as in one spectacular case, died, leading to a highly graphic tar and feathering. Can you spell 'ouch'?

Intermittently cut in were scenes of a preacher, Brother Justin, and his sister Iris. It soon becomes clear that BJ (as he shall henceforth be humorously known) wasn't all he seemed. Thus started the show proper. For BJ and Ben were Ying to each others Yang, it not being conclusively clear on which side they lay. They developed supernatural abilities (sounds corny, it's not) during the first season; Ben could use his to heal people and BJ pretty much what he wanted. They'd dream of each other, of some bloke called Hank/Hack Scudder, of WWII and a tree of all things. Entwined in all this were the secondary characters of which there were an army (rumour suggests the cost of keeping them all on was the primary reason for the shows cancellation - have the US networks not heard of art for arts sake?? - instead we get Tracey Emin and a dirty bed. Nice trade.) all under the eye of 'Management' a shadowy figure confined to a trailer in the Carnivale ranks.

As season 2 wore on the tables were being set for an almighty confrontation between BJ and Ben and there were revelations galore, Management seemingly being way more involved than even the viewer could have guessed. People died, some even died and then lived again. The series ended on such a shocking moment, a revelation in all senses of the word that to never have a resolution is a crime.

It made for one of the best-looking series ever made, by which I mean the production values not the state of the cast for some of them were outright fugly. Not one of them would have been in a beauty pageant, which is why they're probably character actors and boy do they have character. Not one aspect of the show was poor; it was uniformly excellent: the acting, the direction, the scripts, the music. You must see this show.

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