It’s difficult to describe Carnivale
to someone who hasn’t seen it – not only is this series visually and symbolically dense but it is mired in mythology and a universe that takes a long time to reveal itself – and even then, never does so entirely. Carnivale is not for the faint hearted viewer, it takes commitment and a willingness to invest in characters who are often miserable and in despair – depression-era USA was no picnic after all. Carnivale is so visually rich that it lands the viewer right in the midst of the creator’s eye from the beginning, the attention to detail in the setting, costume, dialogue and general resonance of this series is something to behold – it’s a rare treat for those of us who thrive on visual pleasure and it never loses that edge for the full 2 seasons.
Carnivale has been criticised for being too dense, too esoteric or too oblique but I strongly disagree – it’s a show about good and evil, about a character who is searching for his arc and the impact that has on those around him – pretty standard fare as far as narrative goes. Where Carnivale differs is that it offers layers of symbolism, religious iconography and extra-textual references that are there if you want to see them – but it is possible to watch on a narrative level – just don’t expect to be spoon-fed. In a post-‘Lost’ vieweship, I think that audiences would be far more receptive to Carnivale now than they were at the time and there may have been the opportunity for the planned 5 seasons instead of cancellation after only 2 as audiences and critics complained that Carnivale was depressing and often difficult to understand.
From the bizarre Carnivale acts to the despondency of the ‘cooch’ dancers, Carnivale examines how the exotic and the sacred are often clouded and intangible, and how darkness comes in many, many forms. To have too much information about the characters and narrative would spoil Carnivale so I suggest that you free up a weekend, order in a few pizzas, turn off your mobile and immerse yourself in this rich and stunning world.