The Complete First Season
Region 1 Edition

Starring: Michael J. Anderson, Nick Stahl and Clancy Brown
HBO Video
RRP: $99.98
Certificate: Not Rated
Available 07 December 2004

In a time of titanic sandstorms, vile plagues, drought and pestilence - signs of God's fury and harbingers of the Apocalypse - the final conflict between good and evil is about to begin. The battle will take place in the heartland of an empire called America, where a travelling carnival harbouring Ben Hawkins, a troubled healer, will clash with an Evangelical ministry led by Brother Justin Crowe. And when it is over, man will forever trade away wonders for reason...

At least that's what the blurb on the back of the DVD slipcase claims this series is about. In reality, this is the build up to those events. And boy is it a slow process getting there.

That's not to say that I didn't enjoy the first season of Carnivāle. It has a hell of a lot going for it. It's just that at times it's like pulling teeth out of a dead horse's mouth and I can imagine a lot of people, watching this on a weekly basis, getting fed up and tuning out after a few episodes. This is a shame, because underneath all the filling is a damn fine story bursting to get out.

There are plenty of Millennium and Buffy style shows where the forces of good and evil battle it out in an apocalyptic style. But this is the first time that a TV show has set the Apocalypse in the past - 1934 to be exact. I loved the way they use the depression and the rise of evil (Hitler, the KKK etc) as the backdrop to Biblical predictions.

Ben Hawkins has a gift that allows him to heal and Brother Justin Crowe is a man of the cloth who can't believe how society is crumbling around him. Both men share a common set of dreams about events to come. And all indications are that one of them is here to do Satan's bidding, while the other is working for God. However, neither of them know this, nor whether they are on the side of good or evil - and neither does the audience.

Clancy Brown is an inspired choice to play Brother Crowe. Brown has made a career as the villain of the piece so our instant reaction is that Brother Crowe is evil, but is he? I'll leave that for you to discover... maybe - the conclusion to this first season is a little ambiguous. Although there are enough clues to work out who you thing is working for which side. But then again it is still not totally clear.

But it is Michael J. Anderson (who Star Trek: Deep Space Nine fans may remember as Rumpelstiltskin in the episode If Wishes Were Horses) who is the real star of this show. Sadly though, towards the last few episodes the writers start to use Anderson less and less as the head of the Carnival and more as a man who has a few small piece of information to impart to Hawkins.

Also, I don't know what was going on towards the end of this season, but for some reason we had to have at least one of the following in each episode: a pair of naked breasts, a graphic sex scene, a lesbian scene, a full frontal nudity scene or a shock relationship scene (love between a young man and a woman twice his age, incest between a brother and sister and a lesbian affair - in fact the only thing we didn't have was a group orgy with the Siamese twins, the bearded lady and the lizard man. I'm sure that they are just saving that for season two.

I couldn't understand why the lengths of the episodes varied between 45 minutes and 55 minutes. This seemed a little strange as American shows tend to stick to their one hour of screen time (take out the ads and you're left with your standard 45 minutes).

I think a lot of people may also feel short changed by this release. Firstly the only extras are a 12 minute featurette on the making of the show and three audio commentaries. And, for some reason I still can't fathom (oh, maybe it's to squeeze more cash out of the fans) they have stuck this out as a six disc collection. As there were only 12 episodes, that works out (quick get out the calculator) at just two episodes a disc.

Huge moans aside, I really did find this series enjoyable. Sure it's slow and going nowhere fast plot is a pain sometimes, but there are a lot of b-plot story lines bubbling under the surface. Not only that, but it really is a show that you need to watch again once you've sat through it once - and it never patronises the audience.

It's a good job that a second season is on the cards (due to start broadcasting in America in January 2005), because if this series had been cancelled I really wouldn't recommend you bother watching this first season. It acts as a good build up to what, hopefully, will be better things to come. But the end of the last episode is a bit of an anticlimax.

Darren Rea

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Region 2 edition

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