Carnivale (2003 – 2005) – Horror TV Shows We Miss

The new episode of the Horror TV Shows We Miss video series looks back at Carnivale, cancelled on a cliffhanger after two seasons

This episode of the Horror TV Shows We Miss video series was Written and Narrated by Niki Minter, Edited by Adam Walton, Produced by John Fallon, and Executive Produced by Berge Garabedian.

When I am on my deathbed, I will still be recommending Carnivale to whoever will listen. It’s also depressing as fuck. There are few moments when you get a chance to feel actual happiness in any scene, or for any character in the show. OH, and they decided to cut the cord leaving it on a cliffhanger. More on that later. For now, let’s get into the wonderful world that is, Carnivale.

Between the years of 1990 and 1992 while Daniel Knauf was working as an insurance broker he was dreaming of something bigger, much like most of us, and decided to use his energy towards something much grander. A story of good vs evil against the backdrop of the Great Depression-era 1930s centered around a traveling carnival. It’s much, much more than that simplistic description, but we don’t have 2 hours to divulge. I always find it hard to find the exact coupling of words that I want to use when explaining how this show makes me feel. It’s the same feeling I get when I’m lost in a song. It’s deep, melodic and carries so much beauty and melancholy. It feels like a dream you don’t want to wake up from.

Before Lost started in 2004, Carnivale was already weaving a rather intricate mythology for its characters. Before that there was Twin Peaks, which actually served as inspiration for this show. You likely already noticed tho especially with Michael J Anderson being one of the lead cast. “When you see me it won’t be me.” The mythology was actually one of the more frustrating elements for viewers of the show. Many reviewers, and even just normal viewers felt like they were drowning in lore that they didn’t understand. The lore actually went much deeper than most fans had realized at the time. After the show ended. Knauf shared his Pitch Document which explored the background in detail for each of the characters. He also deluged his ideas for the rest of the seasons, which were seen more as a novel. (You can also go down the rabbit hole with the Pitch Document at THIS LINK.)

Carnivale Horror TV Shows We Miss

This cast does not get enough praise for the work they did on the series. Each of the actors kills it and chews up enough scenery for themselves as well as their counterparts. We’ve been sleeping on Nick Stahl since 1998 when he played Gavin in Disturbing Behavior. Or maybe even a little further back in 1993’s The Man Without A Face, which then always gets “Eyes Without A Face” by Billy Idol stuck in my head. It would also be a punishable offense if I did not mention how much Clancy Brown owns every minute of every scene he’s in. Sure, he’s been in an exhausting amount of film and TV, but for me, this is where he shows that he is not just an every player. Most of the time I see Brown I think Mr. Krabs, but here, nope. He does such a number on me that I forget most of his time has been spent as an animated, money hungry crab. You’ve got so many excellent players here, from names you are familiar with to faces you know but can’t place: Michael J Anderson, Adrienne Barbeau, Clea DuVall, Tim DeKay, Carla Gallo, Toby Huss, Amy Madigan, Cynthia Ettinger, Debra Christofferson, Patrick Bauchau, Diane Salinger… all of their names are worth the shout out.

It would also be extremely remiss of me if I did not talk about the series score from Jeff Beal. Bringing his background as a Jazz instrumentalist sets the tone for the series. I can’t imagine hearing a score from anyone else. This is one that would benefit from a release on vinyl. I think that Waxworks could do some killer packaging for this one. I may suggest it for the next Wish Wednesday.

Favorite Episodes:

Milfay, S1, Ep1: Will I choose an entire episode solely based on one particular scene? Absolutely. Brother Justin. In front of Mr. Chins. Did they spend a ton of money on these episodes? Yes. Does it pay off? You bet your ass it does. I feel transfixed every time I see this scene. Not only do you have these gorgeous visuals, but you pair that with Clancy Brown simply just emoting. The episode does a magnificent job of setting all the pieces needed to move forward. My heart hurts for Ben especially during the kitten incident. It’s hard to think that anyone would have just left him there alone.

Babylon, S1 Ep 5: I needed a brain break after this one. I needed to walk outside and just stare deep into the clouds. I knew that eventually something would happen with Libby, Rita Sue, or Dora Mae. Not sure I even fathom that it would be in this fashion. However, the title of the episode is a not-so-subtle hint of the tragedy to come for the Dreifuss family. While Pick A Number is a terrific and albeit just as heavy episode, Babylon sticks with you. The episode that follows, Pick A Number, has the feeling of the Dutchman’s Lodge from Twin Peaks: Return, Woodsmen included. Toby Huss delivers in both episodes, and does over the course of both seasons. He really is the strongest man in the world. We also have to note the appearance of John Hannah, as the travelling man, Stangler. I’ve been in love with him since 1998’s Sliding Doors, which many folks didn’t see. I had the poster in my bedroom at one point for awhile.

The Day That Was the Day, S1 Ep 12: Babylon is one major turning point for the series and I would say that this one is as well. Nothing is ever the same after this. The loose harmony that everyone within the carnival had is now forever disturbed and changed. There’s some brilliant acting here from Clea Duvall, who goes from heartbreak to anguish in a matter of minutes. I’m also going to say that Ruthie being bit by the snake was definitely on Lila even though it was all part of Management’s master plan. I’d also like to add one of the only things that bothered me– the change of Management’s voice. It’s like moving from the voice of Frieza in Dragonball from Linda Young to Chris Ayers, while I appreciate both, Ayres will always be my Frieza. However, I cannot say that I love the direction the voice took from season one to two.

Lincoln Highway, S2, Ep9: Oh hey, I found out one happy moment in an otherwise awful episode. When I first started the series, I was not much of a Jonesy fan. He came off creepy and then later controlling. I can’t say that my opinion changed immensely, but I will say that at the end of everything he is a good guy. Running into a bus on fire to save someone might qualify him for sainthood. So during the scene when he realizes that Ben has healed his leg you feel joy with him. You relish in that especially since you’ve come this far as a dehydrated husk with not even a few drops of happiness to quench you. Ben is the best boy, but Jonesy took the spotlight.

Outside/New Canaan, CA, S2, Ep 11 & 12: These you definitely have to pair up. SOFIE NO. We know Sofie is the Omega because Lodz wrote it in lipstick as he was piloting the body of Ruthie Ann, played by the hypnotic Adrienne Barbeau. Did we necessarily know what that meant? I mean, I didn’t, but the episodes lay the groundwork to where it’s going. The scene that takes place on Brother Justin’s porch is not only extremely well done, but the anxiety it brings feels overwhelming at times. In fact, both episodes are packed with tense moments, from the ferris wheel, to the abandoned home, to the cornfield– take your pick. I realize that it also sounds like I described the covers of Goosebumps books. Justin and Ben finally face-off! They make perfect adversaries for one another. You’re excited when they finally meet, but you’re also ready for Ben to get rid of him. He’s fucking terrible and made the skin crawl so much that your afraid it’s actually starting to peel back. Again, props to Clancy Brown for that screen presence. We do need to talk about the fact that it lands on a major cliffhanger. If you don’t want to discuss skip about couple of minutes…SOFIE NO. Do not bring back Justin. This does not go down a very appetizing road. Also, she’s got to be pregnant with Ben’s baby, how else did she get those powers? IS BEN GOING TO BE OKAY? Please don’t make him management. I realize I can reference the AV Club when it comes to the gate of the characters, but this is where I was at some 18 years ago! I had to share my pain with you. I’ve been carrying it for too long. Now I am free.

Carnivale Horror TV Shows We Miss

Where to watch: This one is actually a fairly easy find. If you are into physical media, you can obtain box sets for both seasons which come with audio commentaries, featurettes, interviews with the cast, and a dive into the creation and concept– pretty standard fare. You can get both seasons on Amazon for about $80 new. Honestly, I think it would be more cost effective to go to a local resale store and get a secondhand copy. If streaming is the way for you then HBO Max, or just MAX as it will be called has both seasons ready to go.

What Happened? Where is it now? Oh, we’re back to this topic now. The series was cancelled due to the extravagant cost of production. It was proposed by HBO’s president at the time that if the producers were willing to cut the cost of each episode by $2 million then season three could have had a chance. This was also coupled with the fact that the ratings pull wasn’t as massive as it was for the first season. When fans found out about the news, they were more than a little unhappy. I think this is the first time I got genuinely upset with a cancellation. There was so much more story and lore to explore within this world. Unfortunately, Knauf sold his rights to the characters and series to HBO, who likely don’t plan to do anything with it but hold it hostage. HBO has given a platform to some amazing television, but this verdict gutted me. We brought Deadwood back, however, I think Knauf wants to do his extended edition instead of just trying to put a pretty bow on it.

Knauf was invested in this world he had built. I feel like we at least owed him an outlet to continue out, and perhaps even finish out his story. That’s the cruelty of a show like this one getting cancelled, but it’s also a tale that we’ve heard more than once. In my opinion, this is one we could bring back in some capacity, and maybe it would get a little more attention this time around. Carnivale was ahead of its time and is owed the credit its due.

A couple previous episodes of Horror TV Shows We Miss can be seen below. If you’d like to see more, and check out the other shows we have to offer, head over to the JoBlo Horror Originals YouTube channel – and subscribe while you’re there!

Source: Arrow in the Head

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