A week may have passed, but I’m sure many of you are still sharing my pain at no longer having new episodes of either Lost or 24 to look forward to. The network schedulers responsible for ending both of these long-running shows in the space of two days are clearly evil incarnate.
So for the rest of this week we’ll be running through ways in which the world of on-screen drama can help fill these gaps. For everything you loved about Lost and 24, there are other productions — and related activities — which share the same qualities: think of them as the TV and film equivalents of nicotine replacement patches.
So the obvious place to start when talking about two of the best TV shows ever (albeit arguably in different degrees of artistic quality) is with the greatest TV show ever: Carnivale.
I may well be preaching to the converted, but with audiences falling to as low as 1.7 million at the end, Carnivale is not a widely-remembered show. It ran for two seasons on HBO from 2003 to 2005 before being dropped.
Answering the question “What’s Carnivale about?” is simple: it’s set in the Great Depression and follows a priest experiencing strange events and a fugitive who joins a travelling carnival. It’s about good vs evil, light vs darkness, mythology, science and wonder, and much much more.
Most reviews I’ve read get bogged down in listing the characters, and it’s a trap I’ve had to struggle to avoid. Simply take it that of the ensemble cast, arguably the majority of actors put in the finest performance of their lives, including one who spends most of the second season communicating solely through the expression is his eyes.
Story and performance aside, perhaps the biggest strength of Carnivale is its cinematography. It’s period drama television truly produced in the style of an epic Hollywood movie. Each episode cost a reported $4 million dollars, and it looks it. It’s perhaps the only TV show to ever have a budget for dust, and if I were to encounter somebody who watched it on a pan-and-scan 4:3 television set, I wouldn’t be responsible for my actions.
I have no qualms about urging, nay pleading, that you buy both seasons on DVD, but will add some notes of caution. One is that the show was fully sketched out to run six seasons and is by no means complete. However, the good news is that it was always planned to be broken into three “books”, each of two seasons, so what was made does stand by itself. It’s largely the same situation as if Tolkien had died immediately after writing The Fellowship of the Ring.
Another point to remember is that the first season is undeniably slow going at times. If you demand Prison Break-style plot development in every single scene, you may not get the best enjoyment of Carnivale. But stick with it: the second season picks up the pace and soon builds up the inevitable climax.
It’s also a show which does require that you pay attention: it’s not hard work as such, but you won’t be able to cook dinner or check your Twitter feed while watching. It’s also a show where the mysteries really are answered, but it won’t be until the second viewing that you realize just how explicit and clear the revelations really are.