Sunday, April 13, 2008


I recently finished the second season of Carnivàle, which since the show didn't get renewed means I've watched the entirety of the series. Really puts a damper on that planned six season story arc. The show took an aggravatingly snail-like pace to unravel the primary storyline, to the point where I just stopped caring. There's a personified agent of evil, his counter agent of good, and lots of tension… but they don't end up in the same place until the very end of that second season. There are shows out there that string mystery along successfully, but this isn't one of them.

I didn't stick with watching the show for two seasons because of the story; I did it for the setting. Carnivàle follows a traveling circus in the depression era dustbowl, and completely nails that dirty, desolate, freaky atmosphere. It's got one of the best title sequences ever. The costume design is also especially noteworthy; it takes talent to make me lust after a haggard three-piece suit that's been worn every day and drug all over middle America. Everything fits together to create a unique atmosphere that lets you completely forget the meandering plot.

The primary protagonist, Ben Hawkins, isn't really likeable. But he's not explicitly unlikable either... he's just kinda… there. He squints, he whines, but mainly he just putts about while having a hard time understanding the world he's caught up in. His antagonist, Brother Justin the preacher, is clearly the stronger character, but your feelings about him get all confused in trying to figure out where his sister fits in. Is she the root of his evil or is she a victim? From episode to episode her tact varies wildly. The writers set up Ben and Justin on a Good vs. Evil storyline but then muddle the characters in an effort to make them feel more complicated. The end result is that you just don't care what happens to them.

To be fair, it's only the main plotline that's unsatisfying. The stories of the secondary characters are far more interesting. It helps that their arcs are introduced and resolved in a timely fashion. They also get less wrapped up in the series' uneven mysticism. I'm all for the supernatural, but I was never really able to figure out how this world worked. There's obviously some stuff afoot, but too many ideas are introduced and not enough are explored.

Carnivàle is a good series to sit back and watch if you don't want to think too hard. Unforgettable scenery, great costumes, interesting characters, unsatisfying plot. I wouldn't recommend the whole pie but it is worth tasting a slice.

1 comment:

  1. I disagree about stringing mystery. Lost is belligerently non-nonsensical. The only real mystery in Lost is what kind of parasite is gnawing its way through J.J. Abrams' brain.