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Carnivale (S1)
DVD disk
12.13.2004 By: Indiana Sev
Carnivale (S1) order
Director:
Various

Actors:
Nick Stahl
Clancy Brown
Clea DuVall

Rating:
Movie:
Extras:
Overall:

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WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
A traveling sideshow carnival careens its way through the Dust Bowl, circa 1934. On its way through Oklahoma they pick up a young fugitive, Ben Hawkins (Stahl), who, like almost everybody else on the show, has layers and layers of “mysterious past” just waiting to ooze out of him, little by little every episode. Meanwhile, a preacher in California (Brown) begins his own journey of self-discovery as both he and Hawkins are continually linked with one another by way of their dreams, their pasts and the difficulty they have handling and accepting their own distinctive and newfound powers. The momentum of what will undeniably be the ultimate battle between good and evil builds in a slow but wondrous fashion as secrets, prophecies and romances are imaginatively revealed through all 12 episodes of this show’s first season.
IS IT A GOOD MOVIE?
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I’m positive I’m not the first to put it this way but CARNIVALE can best be described as a mix between David Lynch’s offbeat TWIN PEAKS television series and Tod Browning’s 1932 sideshow horror saga FREAKS.  Add to that the usual scattering of drama related to matters of the heart and you might begin to get a small idea of what to expect from this show. HBO has produced yet another wholly original program, but unlike the rest of their exceptional repertoire of shows, past and present (OZ, THE SOPRANOS, CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM, SIX FEET UNDER, SEX & THE CITY), this one takes place in a period setting and dabbles with the supernatural. The bizarre environment of the carnival coupled with the barren landscapes of the dusty, windy and sweltering towns they travel to makes it the ideal milieu to illustrate the state of affairs of a country and its people struggling in the heart of the Great Depression. The massive sandstorms and pestilence that are the backdrop of CARNIVALE prove to be an the ideal metaphor for the growing feeling of impending doom that’s felt in each episode and the perfect forecast of the ultimate battle that awaits…

The main appeal of this show, for me anyway, is the genuine feeling I got of being transported to another time and place in every episode. Not only is it fascinating to experience America in one its most trying times and in such an authentic manner, but to do it along with a blind mentalist, a snake charmer, a strongman, a catatonic psychic, a “lizard man” named Gecko, a bearded woman, conjoined twins, ‘strip’ dancers and the rest of the motley crew of carnies that travel with the caravan makes it all the more satisfying. You’ll be left addicted to the show with the growing questions that arise about the characters and their fates as the episodes continue to pile on and on and the season progresses. Who will survive? Who is the mysterious person known as ‘the management’ of the carnival and what’s his agenda? How far will the preacher’s madness take him? What will happen when and if the preacher and Ben ultimately collide?

What really makes this show click and this is the case with the majority of the programs on HBO is the strong caliber of acting from all of the performers; I’d especially like to single out Clancy Brown, who plays the preacher, Brother Justin Crowe in the series. I’ve been a devoted fan of his for years, from his scene-stealing debut in the ’83 Sean Penn crime drama BAD BOYS (rent this movie!) to his memorable turn as the main guard in THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, Brown is an actor who’s steely menacing stare will have you watch with amazement as you wonder what’s going on in that muddled mind of his. In CARNIVALE, he shows both the vulnerable and powerfully evil sides of his character; this ongoing conflict brewing inside of him ultimately became the most fascinating part of the show for me.

HBO’s continuous flow of innovative and addictive programming has revitalized television and made it exciting to watch again. That’s something that I haven’t been able to say since NIGHT COURT went off the air…

THE EXTRAS
  • Audio Commentaries by Directors, Creator and Executive Producer :

Episodes 1, 2 and 10 all have audio commentaries by executive producer Howard Klein, series creator Daniel Knauf as well as the various directors of those particular episodes.  When they speak, these guys dish out the goods but they weren’t very talkative on the one track I listened to on episode 10.

  • The Making of Carnivale (12 minutes):

A relatively short look at all that it takes to bring this show to life. Still, even within its short time span I nevertheless savored every minute of this feature as it explores all the bells, whistles and effort that it takes to make CARNIVALE the marvel that it is.

FINAL DIAGNOSIS
The peculiar subject matter isn’t for everyone so I’d recommend renting disc 1 from your local video store first to see if this strikes your fancy; if it does, there is no doubt you’ll not only recommend this to all your friends and family but it will also find itself as part of your very own DVD collection. This series is something you won’t soon forget. HBO demolishes all other networks once again with the brilliant and original carnie wonder that is – CARNIVALE.
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