Of The Freak Show
by Kreangsak Suwanpantakul, The Nation - Thailand
(October 8, 2004)
HBO's Carnivale comes to Asian television screens
this Sunday after a years run in the West, where
theyre still trying to figure it out
You need more than time
to watch HBOs new television series Carnivale.
You need patience.
Unlike other HBO offerings
like Sex and the City and The Sopranos, the
individual episodes of Carnivale, while intriguing,
dont stand alone.
To enjoy the freak show,
audiences are required to stay tuned throughout
its 12 episodes, but a number of critics in
the US have blasted its crawling pace.
Ive now watched six count
em, six episodes and still I dont know what
the hell is going on, Linda Stasi complained
in the New York Post.
Premiering across Asia
on Sunday after a year on Western TV screens,
Carnivale follows a freak show troupe as it
moves from town to town during the Great Depression
of the 1930s.
The Bearded Lady, teen
Siamese twins and catatonic fortune-teller have
led relatively straightforward lives until the
carnies pick up a quiet 18-year-old named Ben
Hawkins (played by Nick Stahl from Terminator
3), who conceals his gift of healing powers
and is often haunted by strange and traumatic
In HBOs promotional ads,
his touch gets a paralysed girl on her feet.
Other strange occurrences ensue, then Hawkins
meets Brother Justin (Clancy Brown of The Shawshank
Redemption), a devout preacher who believes
God is speaking to him or is it some other entity'
Created by Daniel Knauf,
whose film projects have been shelved as too
damn weird, Carnivale reaped five Emmys this
The show, hosted by a
mysterious boss whom the carnies call the management,
is ostensibly about good versus evil. But dont
count on being told whos the bad guy and whos
the good guy.
Although he acknowledges
he wont tell the whole story in the first season,
Knauf knows where its going. He says it will
take at least three seasons but not more than
six to conclude the freak show.
Several Southeast Asia
journalists tried to get the full story out
of Knauf and Brown. They told us only that they
wouldnt want to be killjoys.
Would it be fair to say
Carnivale is somehow like X-Men set in the 30s'
Knauf: I didnt think
of the X-Men. I thought of [things like] Todd
Brownings movie Freak and epics from Dickens
to Star Wars fell into brew.
Stephen Kings books,
JRR Tolkien and a lot of literary references
stuck with me from when I was young, and I always
loved the carnival.
Im going to start telling
people I was thinking of the X-Men [laughs].
Even Harry Potter, believe it or not.
What kind of message
are you trying to send'
I subscribe to the belief
that if you want to send a message, call Western
Union [laughs]. Im not a big fan of sending
messages. I just want to tell a good story.
Has anything out of ordinary
happened to you during production'
Brown: No, I havent got
that yet. People do recognise you, but because
youre a bad guy, they dont bother you. This
guy, its not clear that hes a bad guy, so a
lot more people bother me, but nothing weird
Whats the strangest response
youve had from the audience'
Knauf: God, theres been
a lot. They did anagrams based on the names
of each character. The pilot is titled Milfay,
and if you rearrange the letters, it spells
family. And the truth is when we did Milfay,
we looked at a period map at the time and I
arbitrarily picked Milfay.
Id love to say Im really
smart, but it was a complete accident and once
it happened, people started coming up with a
wilder anagram with all these weird mysterious
meanings. That kind of freaked me out a little
Whos the management'
Find out in season two.
Youll find out many things in season two.
By casting actors like
Nick Stahl who havent been hyped by the media,
do you think it helps people identify with the
Absolutely. I want faces
to look a little dim. Im not a big fan when
everybody is underwear-model pretty. I want
them to look like the period.
Whats the meaning of
Carnivale with an e'
Its actually a stab at
irony. This is a really crappy little carnival
and theyre moving to all these crappy little
They just have the spunk
to call themselves Carnivale, like theyre fresh
from a tour of the continent.
Its basically a European
affectation that they put on. It was kind of
funny given the circumstances.
Brother Justin believes
God speaks to him. Does God speak to you when
Theres a word for people
like that and that word is crazy [laughs]. No,
God did not tell me to write the show, he told
me not to [laughs].
Are you religious in
Brown: I was raised in
a small town. I went to the church just like
Brother Justin. I dont proselytise or scream
during the hour, or try to convince anybody
of anything else. I just appreciate the simple
beauty of it all.
What can you relate to
in your character'
The struggle with your
place in life, the small, little things. Theres
a big disconnect between his public and private
He tries to reconcile
both of them, but he cant because he has a certain
position in the community and certain feelings
about justice and equality, but then he also
has these very primal urges and desires and
wants. You know, human stuff.
Does your background
in theatre help in this religious role'
Yes, the only thing I
dont do is my funny cartoon voices. [Brown has
voiced Superman, Spider-Man and Sponge Bob Squarepants.]
Will Asian people with
little background in Christianity understand
the show, given its Christian undertones'
Knauf: I dont know. Im
very interested to see that. But I do think
the human condition involves bad and good people
thats a universal aspect of the story.
Brown: Boy, Im dying
to see what Asia makes of it!