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HBO's 'Carnivale' Remains A Maddening Mystery
by Rob Owen, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (January 7, 2005)

HBO's "Carnivale" (9 p.m. Sunday) is one weird show. In its first season, I initially found its complex plots intriguing, but as the season wore on, the show became convoluted, confusing and tiresome.

In part this was due to having two-headed leadership behind the scenes in the form of the show's creator, Daniel Knauf, and veteran show runner, Ron Moore.

Moore has left to run the new "Battlestar Galactica," which should allow one vision -- Knauf's -- to prevail on "Carnivale." And that should mean the series, which begins its second season Sunday, will improve.

The first two episodes of the new season are less obtuse than some first-season episodes, but they still haven't drawn me into the series the way the first four episodes of season one did.

Sunday's season premiere picks up where the cliffhanger left off, revealing the fates of several characters. Set in the Great Depression-era dust bowl, the series follows two primary opposing characters who have yet to meet. Ben Hawkins (Nick Stahl) is an 18-year-old fugitive who works for the traveling carnival and has the power to heal by touch. His opposite, the evil Brother Justin (Clancy Brown), is a Methodist minister with a radio show.

The Carnival's mostly unseen Management (voice of Linda Hunt) orders Ben to track down his father, Hank Scudder (John Savage); Justin has the same goal and aims to accomplish it with the help of an "apostle," a prison inmate named Varlyn Stroud (John Carroll Lynch).

Swissvale native William Schmidt, now a co-executive producer on "Carnivale," wrote the Jan. 16 episode that finds Justin getting some body work done.

The new season of "Carnivale" continues to showcase the series' potential, but it still doesn't live up to the show's enormous promise. It's a cryptic series full of mysteries and that should suck viewers in. But I've yet to feel the full effects of its gravitational pull, which is disappointing because, as they said so often on "The X-Files," I want to believe.