The Good

Once again, HBO gives us a perspective on a lifestyle that we otherwise wouldn't know anything about.

The Bad

This is one of those shows that is somewhat hard to follow and the fact that it was cut short doesn't make things any easier.

Carnivale: The Complete Second Season is an interesting show to watch primarily because this is where it ends. It wasn't planned this way so everything ends up being very open ended in a David Lynch-type way, even though the show seemed to be going along that route anyway. Carnivale is an ensemble piece of the highest order. Starting with whether Ben (Nick Stahl) killed Professor Lodz, or Sophie (Clea Duvall) who is searching for guidance after losing her mother in a fire, or even Brother Justin (Clancy Brown) who seems to have some incestuous feelings for his sister and designs on establishing a temple called Jericho. This doesn't even take into account the subplot of characters like Iris (Amy Madigan), Ruthie (Adrienne Barbeau), or Scudder (John Savage). All of these characters are thick and multidimensional.

Carnivale is a thickly layered show that does it's best to get inside this world without the world itself knowing it. I was quite impressed with not only the McCabe & Mrs. Miller look of this show, but I also appreciated the acting. At first I thought that Nick Stahl might be a tad out his depth with such a strong cast, but then I realized that he himself is really a character actor as well. Also, it was terrific seeing Clancy Brown again as he is one of our finest (and underappreciated) actors.

Features

Commentary Tracks

Series creator Daniel Knauf, executive producer Howard Klein and members of the cast and crew take part in these. As a big fan of Clancy Brown I chose to listen to a track with him on it. Having grown up watching him in the film Bad Boys, it was nice to hear him discuss this show. He is very complimentary toward the production, the other actors, and is very humble for someone who has been around in the business as long as he has. While he didn't blow me away with any of his insights, I found that he took a cerebral approach to his character which made his portrayal all the more menacing.

Museum of Television & Radio Panel Discussion

Knauf and other creative types behind this show sit back and discuss what it's like working on this set day after day. They talk about the environment, what other actors bring to the table, the goals the show had, and everything it does to achieve the effecting perspective that it lays on the viewers. This is certainly something for the fans because we get to see a more naturalistic, human side to some of our favorite characters.

Creating the Scene

Magic & Myth: The Meaning of Carnivale

I wish they would have cut this segment together with the Museum of Television & Radio Panel Discussion. I say that, not because either is overtly redundant, they just felt similar enough that they could have benefited by being juxtaposed together. The writing of the show as well the myth behind it is more broken down in this section, and I couldn't help but wonder what real "Carnies" think of this made up world.

Video

1.78:1 - Aspect Ratio. Like Rome, there is a darkness to this show that oozes out of every frame of film. In fact, and I don't mean this in a bad way, Carnivale is a dirty show. The compression and everything else is done in such a way so that these characters seem to function in a world of darkness. As such there is always mystery because we never truly know what is lurking in the shadows.

Audio

English and French Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround. Carnivale has a quietness to it that I didn't mind mainly because the world presented seems like it should have that. I don't care if characters are talking in whispers if that is right for a given show. In the Depression-era, Dust Bowl setting that this show takes place in, it makes sense that these characters would be drained of life. I can understand that here. Where it kills me is on a procedural show set in the fast world of criminal justice.

Package

Ben walks toward us on this front cover with Brother Justin seeming springing up behind him. Aside from a little color on Ben, the black and white look this show employs is very much a product of the time in which it is set. The back shows us some images from the show, it offers up a description of what Carnivale: The Complete Second Season is about, and it gives us Special Features and Technical Specs listings. All the discs are neatly stored in this slipcase packaging, which on the inside features more artwork from the show as well as episode listings and where the Special Features are located.

Final Word

I didn't expect to like Carnivale: The Complete Second Season as much as I did. I found that I was engaged throughout all the episodes, and I even thought that the Special Features added a lot to the overall lore of this show. I am wondering why HBO wouldn't see fit to renew it but it's probably a ratings thing. What bothers me about that is that HBO always seemed to operate very independently of the other stations. In today's free TV climate, it seems like if you don't perform immediately than a show isn't given time to grow. This is a shame because there are so many shows throughout TV history that have started off slow and then gone on to become major hits.

While I do think that Carnivale's audience is limited, I also think that it's certainly sizable enough for HBO to have at least let creator Daniel Knauf tie things up with a third season.

Carnivale was released .