Bring It Back!: Carnivàle

Drew Dietsch

Television has been experiencing a welcome surge in revived shows lately. The X-Files, Gilmore Girls, Arrested Development, and many others have been (or are going to be) resurrected thanks to fan support and demand. We here at Fandom think this is always a good thing, and we’d like to look at some shows we believe they need to bring back. SPOILERS may occur, so read at your own risk.

In 2017, we’ll be getting a brand new season of David Lynch and Mark Frost’s surreal masterpiece Twin Peaks. One of the most memorable characters from that show was The Man from Another Place, played by Michael J. Anderson. Anderson was a key player in another show that also warped reality and left its audience equally mesmerized and horrified. That show is Carnivàle.

Set during the seemingly apocalyptic eras of the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression, Carnivàle is a mythic tale of good versus evil. It tells the story of two fated enemies: Ben Hawkins (Nick Stahl), a young farmer who joins up with a traveling carnival, and Brother Justin Crowe (Clancy Brown), a Methodist minister who has begun to create his own specific brand of religion. These two have been chosen as avatars in a never-ending battle between the forces of light and darkness, and the show chronicles their parallel journeys of discovery.

carnivale 1

Carnivàle was and still is an ambitious show. It has an immense scale, trekking across most of America in order to form a picture of a civilization on the brink of collapse. With a carnival as its main setting, the cast includes an incredibly large number of main characters that viewers have to keep track of. The show is also purposefully cryptic when it comes to a lot of its mythology, preferring to create fantastical imagery that the viewer has to try and figure out on their own.

Talk to any fan of the show and you’ll find all of these things are reasons that they love Carnivàle. Like Twin PeaksCarnivàle was a true mystery. It lures the viewer in with intriguing and well-developed characters, but keeps them watching thanks to its specific brand of modern day magic. Some of that magic is utterly terrifying, but some of it is also inspiring and wondrous.

So, why did Carnivàle fail? It was planned to run for six seasons but HBO cancelled it after only two. Of course, ratings are always the obvious culprit, but what contributed to that loss in viewership? Was it the intentional obfuscation of certain story elements? Was it the large cast of characters? Was it a larger than usual budget? Was it an emphasis of mystery over explanation? It’s hard to say since all of these qualities helped another show, Lost, become a cultural sensation just one year after the airing of Carnivàle‘s premiere episode.

The depth of Carnivàle‘s mythology is so rich that it could harbor dozens of untold stories. Creator Daniel Knauf even wanted to do a comic book series after the show was cancelled, but those plans inevitably fell through. The series ends on an enormous cliffhanger that has never been given a satisfying conclusion. Carnivàle was just a little too ahead of its time, but the show now has a cult following that would love to see some level of closure. If we can get Twin Peaks back for another season, surely the same could happen for Carnivàle.

Previously: Caprica.

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