Sunday, May 20, 2007


My survey of HBO shows has now brought me around to Carnivale, a good vs. evil allegory that centers around the people who make up a travelling carnival in 1930s America. Often, good vs. evil allegories turn me off. Allegories in general turn me off. They feel dishonest. If somebody wants to tell me a story, they should just tell a story, and not tell a story that pretends to be about A when it's really about B.

That's isn't an issue here, though. At least not so far. I watched the first two episodes this weekend. For one thing, i like the setting. It's very Americana, and i've enjoyed other stories set in that era. Also, the allegory is both blatant (making it more "honest" per my idiosyncracies) and unclear (making it more interesting). How? Well, it's blatant in that it uses real world beliefs. It's unclear in that we don't know which side the series' two foci--the Farmboy and the Preacher--represent. The Preacher is a preacher, so you'd think he's the good guy (unless you know about irony, then you might think he'd be the bad guy, but if the writers of the show know about iron, and suspect that the viewer does too, then maybe they'd be double-ironic and make the obvious good guy the actual good guy, or...), and the Farmboy is an escaped convict, so you'd think he's the bad guy (again, unless the irony...) . However, the Preacher mostly scares the living crap out of people, and the Farmboy can heal people. The preacher does help people, but apparently feels really bad about scaring the crap out of people. The farmboy can heal people, but his mom takes it as a sign of the devil.

The dialog is great. They use a lot of period slang. I love how the English language can be so indirect and yet so evocative at the same time. There's a character named Samson, who's a little person with some undefined role of authority in the carnival. He talks a lot. In one scene, he's trying to convince Ben (the farmboy) to work for the carnival. When he admits that the job pays nothing to start with, Ben sulks off towards a farmhouse, presumbably to find work there. Samson yells a tirade after him, ending with "when John Law shows up, you ask him what kinda wages he's payin' for breakin' rocks!"

The carnivallians include a card-reader in a coma, a giant (that guy from the movie Big Fish), a pair of siamese twins, a couple of "cooch dancers", an ex-baseball player with a bum leg, and the mysterious, unseen "Management".

There are some very creepy scenes, like whenever Justin, the preacher, performs one of his wonders, some instances of telekinesis, and a few surprises that shouldn't be ruined.

The supernatural and mystery aspects are intriguing, but i think i could be just as into this show without that stuff, based just on the setting, characters, and dialog.

Side note: All of HBO's shows have these really complex intros! It's like they're saying, look how much time and money we spent on the title sequence--you know the show is going to be good! Or maybe it's that they don't have real intros on broadcast TV anymore, so producers go nuts when allowed to use them. (Curb Your Enthusiasm is an exception, and i don't remember Entourage's intro.)