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Circus Of Life
by Sherwin Loh, The Straits Times - Singapore (October 9, 2004)

The new HBO series Carnivale follows a group of unusual people in their tussle with good and evil.

Fans of David Lynch's seminal early 1990s TV series Twin Peaks might want to take a peek into HBO's new offering Carnivale.

The newly-minted Emmy-winning series - about a group of uncanny characters in a travelling carnival during the American Dust Bowl era in 1934 - follows the whimsical and bizarre template of Lynch's cult favourite.

Comprising two parallel storylines, the first one follows orphan Ben Hawkins (Nick Stahl), a teenager both blessed and cursed with the ability to heal and raise the dead.

He joins the carnival out of desperation, not realising its association with him is anything but incidental.

The other tracks Brother Justin Crowe (Clancy Brown), a pastor who discovers unusual abilities that he regards as gifts from God, even as he tries to live up to them.

'What I love about the show is its humanity,' says Brown over the phone in a recent interview.

He is best remembered as the violent prison guard, Captain Byron Hadley, in The Shawshank Redemption (1994).

'Are we creatures of darkness or creatures of light? And I still don't know the answer to that question.'

But it seems that viewers are reading into the show's Biblical imagery, and have decided what they are about on their own.

Taking the last names of both lead characters, one interpretation is that Hawkins (Hawk) is a winged creature of light, while Crowe (Crow) is spawned from darkness.

Such readings, among many others found on the Internet, are things series creator Daniel Knauf never expected.

'I'm not a big fan of sending messages,' explains the writer/director in another interview.

'I just want to tell a ripping good story. If people draw inference and messages from it, that's just a sign of it reaching people on many different levels.'

A relative unknown in Hollywood, he scored his biggest success with 1994's Canaan's Way, a HBO feature he wrote. It starred Armand Assante who played a blind gunfighter.

Carnivale's title was inspired by Knauf's long-time fear and fascination with the carnival show.

'It was a stab at irony. The carnival (in the show) is really a flea circus. And yet, they have the spunk to add this European affectation,' he says

And what about the religious aspects?

'They stem from the epic of good and evil, especially when back then, religion was a fabric of good and evil,' explains the Catholic-raised individual, who laughs when asked whether a higher power had told him to write the show.

'There's a word for people like that. And that word is 'crazy'.'

Carnivale premieres tomorrow at 8pm on HBO (StarHub Channel 60).