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DVD: 'Carnivale' The Complete First Season
by Matt Casamassina, IGN (December 10, 2004)

You might not be able to tell the good guys from the bad, but you'll be thoroughly fascinated all the same.

In HBO's gorgeously surreal horror series Carnivale, nobody smiles. And we can't really blame the characters for being miserable. After all, they are all searching for the meanings of their lives in 1934 amidst an onslaught of disease, widespread poverty and, most of all, dust. It's everywhere. The Great Plains have been drowned in violent dirt storms and so have the people unfortunate enough to pass through them. Everyone seems to wear the same clothes day in and day out and their rags are thick with powdery crud. There is corruption at every corner. Theft. Rape. Death. Murder. Your basic formula for some good old-fashioned eyes-glued-open television.

Except that Carnivale, created by writer and producer Daniel Knauf, doesn't follow any formula. In fact, you might say that it successfully bucks the cliches and trends that so commonly soil many of today's most popular television franchises. Perhaps this is because HBO isn't afraid to take a chance on something different. Or maybe it's just sheer luck. Whatever the reason, there is some compelling, if disturbing entertainment to be found lurking beneath the dust in the show's 12-episode first season.

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