In case you weren’t aware of what I’ve been doing with my spare moments this past week, I’ve been watching Carnivale and sometimes sleeping and usually eating. For me there’s really no “casual watching.” I’ve kind of made it my mission to chug every single HBO show without stopping for breath.
If you’ve never seen Carnivale and your eyes and heart are hungry, give it a shot. It is one of the most beautifully photographed shows I have ever seen, and on the merits of eye candy alone, it deserves a place in the televisual hall of fame. Beyond Mad Men, far beyond Boardwalk Empire, Carnivale reproduces 1930s Dust Bowl America with utter perfection.
Showrunner Daniel Knauf was an insurance salesman and a history buff who loved carnivals. He lovingly created a universe teeming with religious mythology, classist politics, and more ships than the British Royal Navy. Carnivale is filet mignon, people. This is a huge cast of talented character actors who were just getting started on the amazing plot tapestry that had been planned for five seasons. And then the show was cancelled at the end of Season 2.
I hate stories that life fast and die young. Because you can see from those first two seasons that Carnivale was gearing up to take over television. It was so moving, so subtle and full of life. Nick Stahl as protagonist Ben Hawkins is a total revelation. He starts out as a blank little cipher, but Stahl imbues him with such pain, such purity, that positing Ben as a Jesus figure gradually becomes second nature for the viewer. He’s a healer who desperately rejects the miracle of his abilities. I love this scene from the pilot. The slow build of the moment, and Stahl’s performance, leave me in awe.
I don’t even want to go into all the other angles of Carnivale: the early rumblings of sex-positive feminism…the painful cyclical nature of mortal life…all that good stuff. The proliferation of freaks and fortune tellers make it an “outsider” show, one of those exercises in interrogating “normal” life through the lens of the socially rejected. The thing that makes Carnivale so special, though, is the heart. So much care is put into developing relationships between the Carnies, and revealing their history to us, one iota at a time. It’s slow-moving, but satisfying in such a rare way.
And like I said, ships galore. So many vulnerable men on this show. Kreeeeeptonite! I mean, have you ever seen Tim DeKay look this good??
So yeah. This post might’ve been a wee bit more coherent and detailed, but my brain is honestly addled from so many hours logged on HBOGo. Just watch it, okay? Watch Carnivale. There aren’t that many episodes and it’s gonna make you feel all the feelings that are available to the human soul.