With TV just about managing to cling on to its status as a legitimate art form (CELEBRITY SHARK BAIT? mean, I ask you!!) it? startling to come across a TV series which is more than just another TV show, genre or otherwise. Very rarely do we stumble across a show which is a genuine work of art – but here? one for you. CARNIVALE, HBO? quite incredible fantasy drama set in 1930s dustbowl America, is something else entirely – TV transcending TV and becoming something very special indeed.

CARNIVALE tells of the ultimate battle between Good and Evil. But its story has no heroes and it has no villains. Ben Hawkins (Stahl) is a refugee from a chaingang who, in the act of burying his recently-deceased Mother, is persuaded to join a travelling circus (or carnivale) by its diminuitive ?oss?Samson (Anderson). But there? a very particular reason why the Carnivale is keen to have Ben aboard – he has some very special powers, powers which are going top be extremely useful in the apocalyptic battle ahead. But it transpires than ben isn? the only weirdo travelling in the Carnivale as it rattles through the dust and deprivation of Great Depression America. There? Sofie (Duvall), a tarot card reader who spends most of her time communicating with her eerie, catatonic mother (Salinger), the blind mystic Lodz (Bauchau) – who clearly knows more about Ben and his place in the scheme of things than he? letting on, Gecko the Lizard man (Fleck), burlesque man Stumpy (Huss) and his?rm?ulsome and accommodating wife Rita Mae (Ettinger). The lives and loves of this somewhat other-worldly bunch run through the core of CARNIVALE and their stories, languidly told and dripping with atmosphere, are as engrossing and fascinating as any more traditional drama or even any of the better fantasy shows of recent vintage. Running parallel to the story of the CARNIVALE – and apparently entirely unconnected to it – are the tribulations of the tormented Brother Justin (Brown) and his sister Iris (Madigan). Justin too realises he has some very special powers but where Ben? powers have the capacity are benevolent, brother Justin begins to realise that the road he has to travel is very darker?n

CARNIVALE is a very different series. Made by HBO in America (home of outstanding modern shows like SIX FEET UNDER, DEADWOOD and CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM) this is a show which makes no allowances for its audience. This is adult story-telling, dealing with adult themes and situations with no talking-down to its audience. It isn? aimed at the post-BUFFY generation and, in truth, it? hard quite to know who it? aimed at. Quite simply though, it? probably designed for people who don? want all the answers, an audience who [prefer to immerse themselves in the story and the characters and make up their own minds about what the show? all about. It? not easy television – which is what makes it so very important.

Part of the show? attraction is in its style. There? been nothing like this on TV before. The 1930s have been recreated with almost painful accuracy, from the clothes, the cars, the way of life. The whole series looks grimy and dusty and the cinematography is breath-taking, every episode packed with outstanding imagery and beautifully-shot sequences which really do take your breath away. The show? rich visual look, combined with its marvellously-layered storyline and outstanding performances by its sprawling cast, make this a show not to be missed by anyone who purports to appreciate quality television.

In an interview a while ago, CARNIVALE? creator Daniel Knauf stated that ? don? think you could tell this story in less than five years.?Sadly, and presumably for reasons of cost because CARNIVALE was clearly an expensive production, the recently-screened season two was the end of the road for this particular caravan. This glorious boxset is pretty much essential; if you yearn for something more than simple space shoot-?m-ups or rampaging monsters. This is about as good as fantasy TV can get. Incredible.

THE DISCS: The quality of the transfer of these episodes is so good you can practically taste the swirling dust in your mouth as you watch. The 5.1 sound mix is amazing, particularly in the dust storm episode where unholy howls mix with the sound of the storm itself. Not much in the way of extras save a desultory, but quite informative, twelve-minute ?aking-of?and a couple of episode commentaries.]]>

More to explorer