Carnivale: Season 1
June 19, 2005
Rodrigo Garcia, Jeremy Podeswa, Peter Medak, Tim Hunter,
Starring: Starring: Michael A. Anderson, Adrienne Barbeau, Patrick Bachau, Clancy Brown, Tim DeKay, Clea Duvall, Amy Madigan, John Savage, Nick Stahl, ,
Carnivale is a TV show that seemingly came out of nowhere and debuted on HBO in 2003. It depicts the struggle between good and evil, light vs. darkness and how they are forever intertwined. This battle takes place during the Depression with its focus on the inner workings of a traveling carnival.
Oklahoma, 1934. Ben Hawkins (Stahl) buries his recently deceased mother as their house is being bulldozed and repossessed by the government. With no prospects for the future and recently escaped from a prison chain-gang, he takes up with a passing traveling carnival and is recruited by its day-to-day manager, Samson (Anderson). In Mintern, California, a devoted, fire and brimstone preacher by the name of Brother Justin (Brown) receives a sign from God that changes his entire worldview. His sister (Madigan) catches a lady stealing from the collection plate. When he confronts and then forgives her, the lady beings vomiting up more coins. He takes this as some kind of divine intervention and sets on a mission to spread God’s word and rid the world of sinners.
Ben is a reluctant hero. He just wants to be left alone but his emerging power thrusts him into action. Likewise, Brother Justin is also hesitant to accept his newfound power but gradually overcomes this and becomes more assertive. However, both men do not fully understand their powers and struggle to unravel their respective mysteries that the show hints might be connected in some way. Ben also has a dark side and this manifests itself in a series of terrifying and cryptic nightmares that he experiences. Professor Lodz (Bachau) has considerable influence in the carnival hierarchy and even though he may be blind, he has the ability to see into people’s minds, perhaps even their dreams. What he sees in Ben’s dreams disturbs him deeply, right down to the core of his being.
The attention to Depression-era period detail is excellent: the costumes, the vehicles and the way people talk (specifically, the colourful carnie-speak) all feels very authentic and enhances the atmospheric mood of the show. Like Twin Peaks before it, Carnivale features cryptic dream sequences that play with notions of time and place. They are steeped in meaning that will only become apparent later on. The show is filled with mysteries. Every character has a secret. Ben is our guide, our entry into this strange world and its inhabitants: colourful side show freaks. The show depicts them as equals and refuses to mock them or pass judgment on them. Instead, we get to see them interact with one another and see that they experience the same things we do: petty jealousies, turbulent relationships, betrayal—the whole gamut of the human experience.
Disc One features an audio commentary on “Milfay” by director Rodrigo Garcia, series creator Daniel Knauf and executive producer Howard Klein. They talk briefly about their fascination with the ‘30s and the casting of actor Nick Stahl. Not only did he have the acting chops required but he had the look that they wanted for that time period. This is a very informative track with all the participants making some good observations.
There is also an audio commentary on “After the Ball is Over” by director Jeremy Podeswa, Klein and Knauf. They talk about the casting of certain characters with people who looked like they came from that time period.
Disc Five features an audio commentary on “Hot and Bothered” by Podeswa, Klein and Knauf. They talk about the look of the show. One quickly gets the feeling that they started running out of things to say by this track judging by the lengthy lulls between comments.
The final disc has a Making Of featurette. Knauf felt that the inner workings of a carnival had never been dramatized before. The show is also briefly put into a historical context which would have been nice if it had been examined in more depth and given its own featurette. The cast and crew talk about their characters and the themes of the show.
Ultimately, Carnivale poses a lot of questions. How did Ben and Justin get their powers and why them? How does Ben’s fevered dreams of a man fighting in the bloody, dirty trenches of World War I figure in his past and that of the mysterious owner of the carnival whom we never see (and might not even be human)? By the end of the season there are precious few answers but some tantalizing clues that will hopefully be explored in more detail in the upcoming season.