HBO (ended 2005)





Carnivale Fan Reviews (104)

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out of 10
2,462 votes
  • The tragedy of Carnivale is for its viewers to bear. A rich setting with characters brought to compelling life by a fine cast... is wasted on an overwrought, over-thought and ultimately pretentious story.

    It is a crying shame that the performances of fine actors such as Clancy Brown, Tim DeKay, and Nick Stahl (among many others) are wasted on such a ponderous, self-involved story that seems hell-bent on interfering with any attempt to reach for the stars. We, the audience, are left asking not "Who is Henry Scudder?" or "What is the under-lying mythology of this show?" but instead pondering what kind of creator would insist with such passion that his show remain obscure and cult-based instead of achieving something truly great.

    While the setting is rich and unique in its portrayal of mid-20th century America, it is not to be confused with a show like Mad Men. The dull, dusty shades of Carnivale create a different kind of atmosphere altogether - one that is not timeless, but out of time; not unabashedly glamorous, but despicably captivating. Unlike Mad Men, which promises to whisk you away to the classiest party where every gentleman feels like a gentleman and every lady helps that process along, Carnivale threatens to suffocate you with the most magical land that everybody has always known.

    This mood is an accomplishment in itself, wholly unique and unreproducible. But with this accomplishment comes the greatest of responsibilities - to reach for the stars. And in failing to do so - in failing to do so with such fervent and implacable passion - the show sealed its own fate. The performances are fine, from the mellow, but startlingly brash Ben Hawkins, to the passionate, mad preachings of Brother Justin, to the subtle and stoic man's man Clayton Jones, to everyone in between. Yet instead of focusing this energy and charisma and forcing the characters to confront each other and work off of each other, they are instead separated - by distance and the heavy-handed ever-reaching arm of the story.

    IMDB trivia states that the Justin Crowe character was originally intended to start as an established name with power and influence, but was pushed backwards in time as the writers realized there was no room for him to expand; thus his presence on the show's first two seasons is quite literally him catching up to where he was intended to start. I've absolutely no trouble believing this tale, as it is only far too obvious that the entirety of the first (and only) two seasons of the show are spent in a neat rush to get somewhere nobody knows -- or wants to go.

    The show did not give its actors the opportunity to make it into something great because no matter what they did, there was always a cap that said, "You cannot be more, because this is not where the show is going." One of the finest performances in the series is that of Tim DeKay's "Jonesy," and yet his role in the mythology of the show is minimal at best, when compared to characters like Ben or Brother Justin or Samson or even Ruthie. Yet the show never allowed itself to take advantage of these improvised opportunities because it was in too great a rush to tell a story it felt was worth telling.

    In the end, the only story it told was the cautionary tale of a creative force that snuffed out the spark of life in any unforeseen opportunity by placing priority in mystery and lore over the most important and fascinating mysteries of all...
  • the operative word is "slowly"

    I just finished watching seasons one and two of Carnivale. Overall, I enjoyed the show-- clearly I enjoyed it enough to watch it to the end. I consider myself a member of the target audience: I love the Thirties, and count the television show TWIN PEAKS as well as books like Katherine Dunn's GEEK LOVE and movies like Todd Browning's FREAKS among my all-time favorites. From the outset, everything about Carnivale called my name.

    However, I can see why the show was cancelled. It's gorgeously set with the kind of meticulous attention to detail that made me marvel at what kind of budget it must have had. The period costumes, especially the dresses are to die for-- I wish Carnivale had attained Mad Men's popularity if only because it might have ushered in a revival of Thirties styles.

    That being said, I consider it a weakness of the show that I found my mind wandering distractedly to its art direction and budget because the actual story dragged so frequently. The pace was a real problem. In fact, I suspect that viewers who tuned out weren't so much mystified by the opacity or complexity of the show's mythology so much as frustrated by the writers' Chinese water torture technique of delivering crucial plot points. To use a carny analogy, it was like a striptease stretched out to three hours. By the time you get to the part you paid to see, you hardly care. The writers wasted a lot of opportunities to reveal information in the most dramatically satisfying way in favor of streeeeetching out the mystery and delaying the suspense. As a result, I often found the plot lagging behind my own imagination. The first time Ruthie sees a ghost is a good example. It takes Ruthie several episodes to recognize what I suspect most people in the audience figured out immediately.

    I felt that Diane Salinger and Patrick Buchau were both wasted in their roles. I couldn't believe Apollonia's character was really destined to lie in bed for an entire season and then die. Lodz stole every scene that included him, but was condemned to spend most of his screen time not doing his thing and being a mentalist, but reiterating the same plea over and over (and over) again for Ben to listen to what he had to say. I sure wanted to know what Lodz had to say and I bet it would have made a thrilling scene if the writers had decided to include it instead of prolonging the mystery by getting rid of Lodz before anyone in the audience knows much about him or what he wants. Likewise, in the interest of maintaining mystery, the writers present us with a main character, Ben, with little personality except for being gruff, stubborn and secretive. It was difficult to relate to Ben or understand why some of the other characters were so drawn to him. Clancy Brown, reprising his role as the Kurgen in HIGHLANDER, was effective as Brother Justin, if only because he was designed as an ambiguous character rather than a total cipher. All of the actors did a great job portraying characters who seemed potentially intriguing even if many of them were held back.

    Some people commented that the second half of season two felt rushed. I would agree, but I felt as though the pace of season two came much closer to approximating a rhythm that would have held the interest of more viewers, had it been applied to season one.
  • Its good vs evil set on the backdrop of the 30\'s dust bowl era.

    This was a great show that suffered from too slow a start. it wouldn't be until season two that it got really interesting. I feel if they had sped up the pace of the show and saved some of the character development of the supporting cast till later the show might have survived.
  • Story line could inprove

    This show is slightly intresting but it moves to slow. They could make it a little more fast paced and im sure that it would really pick up, but I read in somebodys review I think it might have gotten cancelled. If thats the case than thats sad cause it had potential. Anyway I still like it.
  • The slightly paranormal adventures of a carnivale traveling across the southern US in the 1930's.

    Some shows take a little time to get off the ground. It is such a shame that this one is ending. I only heard of it this year. I went back and watched season 1 and was instantly hooked. Since then, I\'ve told friends about it, and they love it too. I am so disappointed that it is over...but isn\'t that the way with so many great shows.

    I think a reason why it might not have got the viewership it deserved is that it had a slightly lagged pace. I, personally, enjoyed it, but I can see how someone might get bored.

    If you\'ve never watched, you should definitely check it out.
  • Good versus evil boards the trail of a depression era traveling carnival and a preacher. Or...which is good and which is evil? Is there a difference?

    This show... I'm not sure what to say. The plot, the cinematography, the detail, the gawdy rowdy creepy deadly slow show... The most amazing display of life on the edge of death and depression in the Great Dustbowl of the Depression, the age when science was just coming to our daily lives and still seemed like magic... the leaps of faith that people made, the traveling snake-oil salesman going religious. The fight of the small against the large. It's the strangest mind-trip, and yet so amazingly beautiful. It's dirty and grubby, and utterly perfect. And then they canceled it before it was done. I know they said it was meant to end, but what a rip-off! What c op-out! It was a perfect show, adn they ended it without a resolution? I took so much on faith getting those DVD's. I was intent on the show, careful not to spoil a single aspect of it - and they let me down. That pisses me off. So, though it was everything that magic should be, and the mystery was something deep and terrifying - something so rare and precious on TV - I can't rate it the 10 it deserves, because they dorked it up in the end and left it a cliffhanger cancelation. .
  • Nothing like this on TV

    Set in the 1930s during the Dust Bowl, 18-year old Ben Hawkins finds himself all alone in this world when his mother passes on. But a travelling Carnivale takes him in. We also see the story of Brother Justin, a priest who is trying to find his way in the world. Little do Ben and Justin know, but they are to fight in a biblical battle. The only negative feedback I have to give this show is that it took to long to start. It get's really interesting after the 10th hour of season one which is way to long. This is one of the reason it is probably gone and off air, because the second season was super and very interesting. People probably decided to quit after 5 or 6 episodes and never came back. To bad because it was one hell of a show.
  • Carnivale rocks! 3words? Beautiful, dusty, profound.

    I really like this TV show. From many reasons. Can't say that it is my top fav, but still-it has something what other series don't. First of all, it's not predictable :) They allways came up with something new and it leaves you confused all the time. Next thing is the stage. Stage ROCKS! It is truly beautiful, so well 'painted.' Image is just so real and so out of date. Okay next thing which counts for me is, that Carnivale is comic related and I < 3 comics :D No need to mention characters, actors, plot bc they are all so great, really great.
    If you like mystery, old times and 'good-evil tales' with religious background then this is a MUST!!!

    ps: hope I didn't freak you out with R word :P
  • Ben Hawkins finds himself all alone when his mother passes on until a Carnivale takes him in. We also see the story of Brother Justin, a priest who is trying to find his way. They are to fight in a biblical battle. Which side are they each on?

    This was one of the weirdest fiction series I watched. I did not watched the first couple of episodes but when I caught on of the episodes, I was hooked. What I like about the series the most is the storyline and the characters. Anyone who have not seen this series at all, I think you will like this on if you like series that are somewhat off the charts. Also, have drama mixed in with the storyline. I was glad I was able to watch the series when it was airing and I could caught on television. The series was great and I wish anyone good luck at trying to find the series if you are interested in see it.
  • carnivale is one of the most supernatural shows on the air next to charmed. i love this show. it sharted out slow but it took off. i can't wait for season 3.

    carnivale is outstanding. the charaters are in place just like on a chess board. perfectly acted by the cast. the producers, directors and cast have an everlasting fan in me. i even got my husband into it. carnivale is also one of those very informative shows that's so close to reality. the cast are just perfect for their parts. they tell the story line so well. the demon/preacher and the boy are telling the tale of so many churches today. the healing part gets me because, so many needs healing and the sense not to forget where everyone comes hits every aspect of life.
  • Carnivale is the story of a travelling carnival troupe set in the 1930's when times were different and mysticism was still a regular part of life. It revolved around Ben Hawkins and his mission to save the world.

    Carnivale was easily one of the most well thought, well written, and most original shows on television and was axed way before its time. This show had characters way before Lost, Grey's Anatomy or Heroes ever came along, brought us into a world so far removed from our own you literally got lost in it. The human emotion mixed with the mysticism and spiritual beliefs led to a tension and excitement you just do not see in most shows today. The truly sad part is that the only award this show ever received were technical merits, which were incredible but they were not what drove this show. You cannot separate the incredible acting, writing, directing, set design, costumes and special effects and pick out just one that deserves an award...they were all incredible. A sad loss to television when one of the top three shows on gets cancelled due to reasons unknown to most people.
  • This is a little gem of a television show ...

    Intelligent, profound, atmospheric and enthralling all at the same time. It's so far outside the 'safe zone' for modern mainstream TV that it seems like a bit of a carnival freak itself - it's gritty and dirty, and full of bizarre characters interacting in often unsettling ways.

    The premise of the show is a traveling carnival touring America during the Great Depression. This is just the back story though - it's not what the show is actually about. The show is really about an epic battle between Good and Evil - or in the Tarot terminology of the opening sequence, between the Sun and the Moon.

    The acting is outstanding - each role has been cast to perfection , and the actors play the parts with conviction - something that can't have been easy considering how dark a lot of the subject matter is.

    The dialogue is sometimes a little lacking - but that is part of the characterisation. The main character begins as a surly, secretive road-gang refugee. His reticence and unwillingness to interact is a necessary device to reflect how alien and unfamiliar his surroundings have become.

    Considering the theme, one would be forgiven for expecting the standard 'comedy drama' that is so common on our screens. There is very little comedy in Carnivale. There's the occasional laugh, but the vast majority of the show is dark and unrelenting - murders, rapes, a father who pimps out his wife and daughters, lynchings, arson... there is no depth of depravity that Carnivale doesn't explore in its journey.
    In the process, we're treated to some excellent reflections on the nature of good and evil - the portrayal of the struggle is not at all black and white. For a long time, it's difficult to see whether it is the charismatic man of God or the secretive murderer that will become the 'bad guy'.

    I recommend this show whole-heartedly. Even if it is dark and unyielding, there is a hope and an optimism that shines through and overall inspires.

    Bring it back HBO!

  • The End Times occuring in a 1930's traveling carnivale. A show to good for its time.

    Carnivale was to good of a show for its time. It was under appreciated and not understood. This was a deep show that dealt with the scary side of spirituality. This was a show that presented the fight between good and evil in a way that has never been shown before. Unfortunatly, HBO decided to cancel this masterpeice even though it got more ratings than other renewed shows. Carnivale had some interesting characters played by very talented actors. This was a very mysterious show that did not have a proper ending. There are only twenty four episodes and no conclusion. I would still recommend this show to anyone who is interested in the great depression, California's Central Valley, the Carnivale, or the book of Revelation.
  • While ordinarily, such a plot and such a show would be hard to swallow, if not impossible. The sheer audacity, however, is brilliantly countered by superb writing, excellent castings, perfect characterization, and the visually obvious higher standard to

    The idea of a shyster, rising to power on the winds of religion, countered by the true power hidden within a bumbling exterior, even when set in the depression of 1930's America, is by no means original. The storyline, far from being unique, would otherwise be corny and trite. The skill with which Carnivale was written, however, belies such critiques, as the show, throughout both full seasons, surpassed all expectation. The writing, superb on its own merits, was masterfully manipulated, revealing in perfect timing each new piece of the puzzle that ultimately formed. The characters, ably-acted and well written, are believable and sincere, something many such plotlines cannot claim. Finally, however, the sheer visual prowess of this HBO produced show lent credence to an otherwise tempting soap opera. While not by any means perfect, nor the best of this genre, Carnivale ranks among the best mythos story I've ever seen on television. It is both a shame and a crime that the third, potential season was canceled, leaving the story as a whole incomplete. Mythology in general is hard to manipulate, and Carnivale did a remarkable job.
  • You have got to finish this for us!!!!

    I refuse to have faith in any studio or producer anymore unless they give some kind of closure to a story being produced. If its not making money, at least give your loyal watchers the curtesy of a fitting ending. Put out a book if you have to but FINISH it!
  • Other writers should follow suit.

    This show was one of the most entrtaining shows that i have seen on tv for many years . More tv or cable shows should follow in this format. although you must follow this program every week like many others the way the story is laid out is very entertaining and follows history pretty well.
  • Just when I found you... You were gone!! This show takes place in a depression era, with unique and diverse characters in a traveling freak circus. I personally get the creeps with Brother Justin, dosen't anyone remember him in "Pet Semetary"??? eww.

    Addictive writing, storylines, and characters. Just as it was getting good, it ends??? What the::::? Why go through that entire Brother Justin/Ben saga and build us up to../that? If HBO had planned on cutting production, then they never should have led us up to the drastically cut finale. Is it just me? Do any of you share my opinion?
  • One of HBO's best ever drama series!

    I've watched ever episode of Carnivale about 4 times and love it more each time. It's a crime that it was taken of air with so much more left to offer. Just as you get hooked and beg for more they cut it short. I can't beleive there ain't going to be a third season. The end of season two left so many unanswered questions and set it's self up for a third season nicely. But the bosses at HBO decided that the story had gone far enough and ended the series. I'm gutted that it ended after only two season but loved every minute of them.
  • Brilliant show prematurely cancelled

    Innovative, spine tingling and original this was one of my all time favourite shows until it got the chop.
    Based on the usual popular motif of one young boy and his destiny, this show was original in its setting. That being a circus carnivale around the depression era. It is dark and gruesome and sometimes uncomfortable to watch but at the same time truly compelling and rewarding. Clancy Brown is a standout as the priest with alterior motives and a young Nick Stahl is impressive too as Ben Hawkins. If you enjoyed shows like Twin Peaks and/or David Lynch movies then this show is one not to miss!!!
  • A diminutive ringmaster, a manipulative blind magician, and an unseen "ownership" lead their circus across a strange young man while a priest in California struggles with a demon. Thought-provoking television at its finest in this canceled drama.

    It always seems as if there's not enough intriguing material on television, doesn't it? We may love our sports programming, slapstick and over-the-top comedies, neat & tidy one-hour cop dramas and countless doctor drama shows, but I doubt I'm alone in saying that if you're looking to get your mind blown, TV can often be a disappointing source.

    Not so with HBO's Carnivale. A young man suffering from the poverty of the Great Depression and the dried farmland of the Dust Bowl, Ben Hawkins comes across a traveling circus. With nothing else to go to, Hawkins joins the group, led by a diminutive ringmaster, a manipulative blind magician, and an unseen "ownership." Meanwhile, out in California, a respected preacher's life is turned upside-down by visions, episodes and horrid actions as he struggles with quite a unique personal demon.

    Nick Stahl, who plays the main character Hawkins, does a superb job in his own right. But the show is stolen away by Clancy Brown (who plays the preacher Brother Justin to chilling perfection), as well as Michael J Anderson (Samson, the ringmaster) and Clea DuVall (who plays the role of the circus' psychic) in amazing supporting roles. If there is such a thing as an art house epic, Carnivale would be it. One of the most unique shows I've ever seen, it will be missed in its cancellation.
  • Why o Why does HBO do the horrid things the do?

    HBO isn't really one of my favorite premium channels for many of the following reasons. First (most importantly) they cancelled Carnivale! Second they didn't even give us any sort of closure! We don't even rate any sort of end-game with this my fav show! Thirdly I see them continuing shows like The Soprano's & Deadwood....they cost just as much as Carnivale per epi so I don't really understand the whole "we can't afford it” thing. Carnivale has an extremely loyal fan base and you would think they would take that into consideration. The only reason why I even subscribed to HBO was because of this show. Then when they cancelled it I took my 28$ a month and put it to use somewhere else. Grant it that isn't much in the scheme of things but you would think they cared about their viewers a little more.
  • The opening theme itself is enough to give you goosebumps!

    Great show. I hope the story is continued somehow in a book, comic, WHATEVER. But I just need to know what happens next. I heard it was supposed to be a trilogy and the writer of the show is now working with Marvel on Iron Man. I hope one day he'll just continue Carnivale in a comic book form.
  • Exotique, c'est le premier mot qui me viens à l'esprit pour décrire Carnivale. S'il vous plait messieurs De HBO, faites que Carnivale reviennes pour une troisième saison.

    Une trame bien distillée, des acteurs magnifiques et un scénario à toute épreuve. un show atypique, un peu déstabilisant certes, mais tellement jouissif et tellement en contradiction avec les standards connus.
    Le show vient de se terminé en France, et je ne peux me résoudre à ne plus retrouvé Samson et toute la bande à la rentrée prochaine.

    SVP messieurs de HBO, oubliez vos objectifs de rentabilité et laissez vivre carnivale.
  • Wow,I'm so glad I came across this,I wish there was more programmes like this out there.

    Amazing. Set in the 1930s in dustbowl America, we follow a healer who battles with his identity as he is taken on in a travelling carnivale.Complete with bearded lady,mystic,snake charmer,midget,evil priest,tarot reader and sisters joined at the hip, this dark tale similar to Twin Peaks is a gripping watch indeed. Filmed beautifully and in the same vein as Funland, Deadwood, and Twin Peaks. I wish there were more television like this out there. The ending of Season two is a bit disappointing as decisions to carry into season 3 must have been canned. A silly idea. Why does great television like this always get pulled? Because its not manstream. But thats why I like it.
  • Please bring it back!!!

    I bought both seasons on DVD, and you guys left a really horrid cliffhanger in the end, and now it's bugging me to bits.

    I RARELY watch TV. And this is the only show I've gotten hooked on (aside from the Pretender which had another really irritating cliffhanger).

    Please make a TV movie or whatever to give the story some sort of closure. PLEASE!!!


    I would've given it a 10 rating if you didn't make the ending so open-ended.
  • A traveling carnivale that has it's share of internal freak shows.

    I love, love, Love Carnivale. Why on earth would they take it off? This show was a non-stop twist and turn, unknowing where it was going next. Thanks goodness I recorded all the episodes on Tivo. I go back and watch them just to see if I missed anything or if I can figure out what I didn't understand in the beginning. I wish they would think about the fans for once and bring it back. HBO could do alot better than Deadwood, which I couldn't get into and will never like. I want more Carnivale and nothing is going to replace that.
  • Carnivalé is the story of Ben Hawkins and Brother Justin Crowe. Good and evil. Ben Hawkins begins to display healing powers as he travels with a band or carnies and Bother Justin discovers his inner demon in his church.

    The show was laced with mystery and by the end of the series you will be left wanting more. Unfortunately it prematurely ended. When I first watched Carnivalé I didn't know it had been canceled, and had the same perspective as a viewer watching it for the first time. Towards the end of watching the first season I read on the internet of it's terrible fate. Immediately I went out and bought the first two seasons on DVD. If you're thinking about watching this don't think another second. Carnivalé is a malicious story with extraordinary characters. A must see.
  • I'm a Believer!!!

    Just finished the final episode of Carnivale and give it a rousing *** This is one of the finest ensemble casts in TV history. Each and every character has his/her basic strengths and weaknesses. And each and every character develops throughout the series.

    This is a classic protagonist/antagonist plot with impressive cinematography and jointed plot lines.

    A late discovery now that I have Fire Stick. My only hope is that there will be a revival.
  • The greatest HBO series ever!

    The only bad thing about this show is that HBO cancelled it. You have to see it for yourself, there's no way to put into words how amazing this show actually is.
  • Good vs evil and a touch of magic and a lot of dirt.

    This is by far the best show I have ever seen. I loved it from the start. I was hooked right away. I've just seen it for the second time on DVD and it was actually better the second time. When you know what is going to happen you pick up more of the details than the first time around. Still a bit upset it was only produced for 2 seasons. Would've been great to the the whole 6 that was planed. I am also impressed with the fantastic cast they put together. Everyone is so good in this. Clancy Brown is fantastic here. So creepy! If you haven't seen Carnivale do it now but make sure you have got plenty of time. You'd wanna watch the next episode right away...
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