by Ray Richmond, Hollywood Reporter (January
I had this little problem with the first season
of HBO's moody, atmospheric "Carnivale"
that involved never really knowing what the
heck was going on. This can be a problem for
a dramatic television series. So I kind of dismissed
it as too artsy and esoteric to be easily understood.
Sadly, that still seems
to be the case in the first two episodes of
Season 2. It's still pretty much all style and
little substance, challenging even the most
perceptive soul to unravel its deep, dark mysteries.
I don't know about you, but any series that
forces me to think this much and still come
away empty is not a viewing experience I tend
to cherish. It's "Twin Peaks" minus
the black comedy.
still takes itself way too seriously in following
a traveling carnival as it wends its way across
the Dust Bowl of America during the Great Depression.
It does, however, feature dynamic performances
from Clancy Brown as a whacked-out evangelist,
Amy Madigan as his intense sister, Nick Stahl
as an enigmatic young fugitive who might also
have some ties to the Messiah and Michael J.
Anderson as the carnival boss. This carnival
also features a bearded lady, a snake charmer,
a tarot reader, a midget (back when they were
called that) and a strongman. But the show is
far less about freaks and mysticism than it
is the apocalyptic battle between good and evil.
That this ambitious,
cinematic show bites off more than it can easily
chew is consistently evident, as is its lack
of a cohesive story line. The arcane writing
produces meandering underpinnings that prevent
us from fully embracing what "Carnivale"
is trying to say or where it happens to be going.
Rarely has a TV program this mesmerizing to
look at been so confounding to interpret.