Between college graduation and moving to Berkeley, No. 1 lived with us, and she brought home some interesting things—molasses cookies, philosophical discussions and interesting books to read. She also brought home an interest in Carnivale, an HBO show from 2003.
In the winter when we're most likely to watch TV in the evenings, we watch several HBO shows. We've gotten hooked on In Treatment and The United States of Tara and The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. But we missed Carnivale several years ago when it aired. It was supposed to be a six-season show based on three books, but HBO canceled it after two seasons.
It always irritates me when networks cancel really smart shows that don't draw enough viewers, and subsequently don't bring in enough revenue. Doesn't that seem to happen quite a bit? The smarter the show, the more well-made it is top to bottom, the fewer viewers it has. What does that say about the viewing public?
Anyway, No. 1 introduced us to the first episode of Carnivale, and we were hooked. Night after night, we sat down to watch the next of 24 episodes, which we bought on Apple TV. Sometimes we would watch two episodes back to back, but we usually stuck to one until we finished the series.
Carnivale follows two story lines that share their roots in Russia in the early 1900s, and they eventually converge. One is of a carnival that travels the dust bowl circuit during the Depression with characters like a bearded lady, a Tarot-card reading girl and her quadriplegic mother, a snake charmer, a family that dances the cooch, a big ferris wheel, etc. It's run by a little person named Samson who takes orders from Management, an elusive figure no one ever sees.
The other story line follows the evolution of a minister named Brother Justin and his helpful sister Iris. They start out with a small church in California and manipulate events until they oversee what they call New Canaan, basically a Hooverville where 17,000 people live and worship. Mainly they worship Brother Justin.
The basis of the show is the tug of war between good and evil, but it's turned on its head. You'd think the evil would be found among the dirty carnies, who literally always seem covered in dirt and sweaty clothes, and that good would be represented in the church—that's what people are conditioned to assume—but the opposite is true. The savior figure is hiding among the carnies, and evil lies in the secrets Justin keeps.
The dialog, the setting, the music, the richness of storyline and character treatment all work together to make a beautiful program—or, if you watch it all one episode after another, it's a beautiful and very long movie.
Here is the trailer, which is so full of significant details, you almost need to read the explanation here to figure it out: