Fans of American Horror Story who are up for something a little more subtle and historical but much richer in mythos will want to check out Carnivale: the terrific dustbowl-era supernatural thriller series from HBO set in a traveling carnival where the freaks, fortunetelling and magic are real. Both seasons are currently (as of 10/23/15) part of the Amazon Prime Video catalog, and are also available for purchase.
Carnivale pits good against evil in the form of an orphaned farm boy with the power to channel and even re-assign life versus an immigrant preacher with an overprotective sister and a shadowy past—but it’s not at all clear, to either the viewer or the characters themselves, which is a power for good and which is a power for evil.
1934, America. The Dustbowl. A fugitive named Ben Hawkins finds refuge within a traveling carnival comprised of a tarot card reader and her catatonic/telekinetic mother, a blind mentalist, a bearded lady, and conjoined twins, amongst others. The carnival is owned by the mysterious and unseen Management, who has designs on the young Hawkins, for the boy is concealing an untapped gift: he can heal the lame and raise the dead—at a price.
Ben also finds himself disturbed by cryptic and prophetic dreams, which he shares with a Methodist preacher in California, Brother Justin Crowe. Brother Justin, convinced by his dreams he is following God’s will, has begun to practice his own extraordinary talents, although the preacher’s plans increasingly lead to disturbing and tragic consequences. In this “last great age of magic,” Ben Hawkins and Justin Crowe are moving toward a great conflict between Good and Evil, although it’s not yet clear on which sides these men will stand. – Written by matta2k
As the carnival makes its way across the country, coming ever nearer to a showdown between Hawkins and Crowe, each town along the way has its own ghosts, monsters and mysteries to be explored. The show won 5 Emmys and 9 other awards in categories such as art direction, cinematography and costume design, and was nominated for 25 more awards during the course of its two-season run.
If you enjoy period pieces and supernatural thrillers, this is truly a landmark program that’s not to be missed, and that people are still screening for repeat viewings, talking about, debating and puzzling over more than a decade after it first premiered.
While the show ended its run prematurely, the second season ends at a good stopping point. All the key questions are answered, and the viewer is left with the ultimate truth: that the battle between good and evil never truly ends.
Carnivale – Season One (4.5/5 stars, currently priced to buy at $1.99 per episode to own in SD / $2.99 in HD, $14.99 to own in SD / $19.99 in HD)
Carnivale – Season Two (4.5/5 stars, currently priced to buy at $1.99 per episode to own in SD / $2.99 in HD, $14.99 to own in SD / $19.99 in HD)