Carnivale: Season 1

Carnivale: Season 1

Carnivale: Season 1 is an atmospheric tale with a theme as old as time, the clash of good and evil

Carnivale: Season 1

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We’ve all seen the commercials, "it’s not television, it’s HBO". There is a lot of truth there, HBO has been able to push the limits in a fashion that regular broadcast television and even basic cable could never image.

Sure, there is nudity and much stronger language and graphic violence but that is not where HBO shines. They are able to tell stories in a far deeper way, targeted for an audience with more than a modicum of intelligence and attention span. After series like the Sopranos, Six Feet Under and Sex in the City, the bar was set pretty high, even for HBO but they managed it again with their latest, Carnivale. Carnivale: Season 1 is an atmospheric tale with a theme as old as time, the clash of good and evil. Set amidst the dank backdrop of the dust bowl in the nineteen thirties, this is the perfect setting for Carnivale: Season 1. As the opening of the first episode explains there is born to each generation a man of light and one of darkness. While the identities of these two are not kept a secret for long the enjoyment comes not from the audience discovering their identities but the self realization of the characters. Ben Hawkins (Nick Stahl) has obviously just escaped from a chain gang, returning home he finds his mother on her death bed and proceeds to bury her. Assisted by a roaming carnival he joins up with them, having no where else to turn. Meanwhile, in California, a minister, Brother Justin (Clancy Brown) is getting into trouble with his church elders and the local politicians for extending his ministry to include the ever growing number of Okaies, displaced migrants that flocked to the west coast in search for any work possible. Both men are plagued by dreams and begin to discover they have supernatural abilities.

A traveling carnivale is the perfect way to present Carnivale: Season 1. Like the carnivale the plot never takes a direct line to its exposition, it meanders, rover around giving up pieces of it gradually. The writers have time to draw the audience in and allow for us to become emotionally invested with the characters of Carnivale. And what characters there are, carnie life affords a palette of unusual folk to help tell the tale. Samson (Michael J. Anderson) is the dwarf overseer of the carnival, taking his orders from the unseen and mysterious ‘Management’ he runs the show and also is the first to realize that Ben is more than he seems. Professor Lodz (Patrick Bauchau) a blind mentalist that tries to help Ben discover his family past and understand his abilities. Clea DuVall portrays Sophie, a tarot card reader that is able to communicate with her comatose mother. All add a thread to this dusty tapestry giving the viewers a strange look and the unfolding events. Even the more ancillary characters here have fully developed back stories and even in their own way add a different flavor to the mix.

Since HBO has obtained a reputation for the highest quality series possible they are able to attract incredible talent in their casts. Carnivale: Season 1 is no different. Nick Stahl is perhaps best known now for his role in Terminator 3, he is an up coming young star that is able to give extraordinary depth to his presentation of Ben. He plays his role as a somewhat confused young man, desperate to discover his past and understand why he is able to perform the miracles he is able to do. He can heal but there is a price, the life is taken from whatever is nearby. Clea DuVall is one of those young actresses that have appeared in great little flicks and her talent grows with each project she takes on. In Carnivale: Season 1 she portrays Sophie as a young woman that wants more from life than the carnival and caring for her mother. She dreams of life beyond the tents and sawdust. Michael J. Anderson is a strong character actor whose talent extends far beyond his small frame. He is the center of the show in many ways, part Greek chorus, part father confessor. Adrienne Barbeau is Ruthie, the snake charmer. She is the earth mother of the group; she’s been around the carnie for most of her life and holds more of what is going on than she lets on. Clancy Brown is excellent in the role of the preacher. He has the charisma required to pull of the role without ever taking things too far over the top.

Like most television series each episode has a different director at the helm. In Carnivale: Season 1 there selection of directors was a careful as the actors. Each one adds little twists to the presentation but there is an internal consistency so that the show remains interesting episode after episode. Since HBO is not constricted by the definition of a season held by commercial television they are able to spend more time on production, something that is reflected in the quality here. This also means they can take more time to allow the story lines to unfold, intersect and revolve around each other. Regular television needs to save the best moments for the always important sweeps weeks when the cost of commercials is determined. With Carnivale: Season 1 the surprises can come at any time, and they do.

HBO has presented Carnivale: Season 1 on DVD with their usual attention to detail. The Dolby 5.1 audio brings you right into the action. Whether it’s the sound of the deadly wind all around you or the various sounds of the Carnivale each sound is clear and realistic. The video is excellent, especially considering the dusty feel and muted colors used throughout the production. Even in the murkiest scenes the tiniest detail is apparent. Three pivotal episodes are given a commentary track recanting the work that went into the show. It is interesting to note the way each director takes with his commentary form extreme focus to a friendlier off the cuff fashion. They are better than many of the back patting commentaries so popular on DVD today. There is a brief making of featurette also included which really does a good job of helping to draw the undecided into the show. Carnivale: Season 1 is addictive. After watching the first episode I had to watch more and more. Carnivale: Season 1 is a set up season and not everything is resolved, we can only wait for season two and start our enjoyment all over again.

Movie Review of Carnivale: Season 1 by Doug MacLean of

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