Tuesday, January 4, 2011

30 Days of TV - Day 1 A Show that Should Never Have Been Canceled

This one took me a long time to think about (which probably doesn't bode well for all the others to come). I knew I could go one or two ways on it. I could go the obvious, Joss Whedon route (Angel, Firefly, Dollhouse), or I could not be so predictable and think of something else. In light of the fact that all my friends already think that Joss Whedon's shows all could have used another chance (especially Firefly), I thought back through the annals of TV angst and remembered a show whose cancellation had me furious.

This show had it all. Unique time-period, diverse mythology, talented-cast, excellent writing, and a great opening:

The basic premise of the show (thanks to Wikipedia):

The two seasons of Carnivàle take place in the Depression-era dust bowl between 1934 and 1935, and consist of two main plotlines that slowly converge. The first involves a young man with strange healing powers named Ben Hawkins (Nick Stahl), who joins a traveling carnival when it passes near his home in Milfay, Oklahoma. Soon thereafter, Ben begins having surreal dreams and visions, which set him on the trail of a man named Henry Scudder, a drifter who crossed paths with the carnival many years before, and who apparently possessed unusual abilities similar to Ben's own.

The second plotline revolves around a Father Coughlin-esque Methodist preacher, Brother Justin Crowe (Clancy Brown), who lives with his sister Iris in California. He shares Ben's prophetic dreams and slowly discovers the extent of his own unearthly powers, which include bending human beings to his will and making their sins and greatest evils manifest as terrifying visions. Certain that he is doing God's work, Brother Justin fully devotes himself to his religious duties, not realizing that his ultimate nemesis Ben Hawkins and the carnival are inexorably drawing closer.

This was not a show that was running out of (good) ideas anytime in the future. The plot lines were so intricately developed they boggled my mind, setting up a really big mythology that expanded more each episode. Plus, each supporting character had his or her own story that could have supported a television show on its own.

Samson (Michael J. Anderson) - The dwarf manager of the Carnivale, who was tough as nails, but had a heart of gold when it came to his people.

Jonesy (Tim DeKay) - The ex-baseball player with a big heart, and Samson's right-hand-man.

Sophie (Clea DuVall) - The fortune-teller, who becomes even more special (and mysterious) as the series progresses.

Dora and Libby Dreifus (Amanda Aday and Carla Gallo) - The Cooch girls. In one of the scariest episodes (Babylon), the cooch dance drives a zombie-like bunch of miners (not the brain eating kind) into a very frightening frenzy.

Iris (Amy Madigan) - The all-to-creepy sister of Brother Justin who makes me wonder about sibling love (yuck).

Varlyn Stroud (John Carroll Lynch) - The convict who, after hearing Brother Justin preach on the radio, becomes a deadly apostle.

And of course, every traveling show needs its freaks:

Carnivale had everything going for it. Wonderful acting, great stories, and most importantly, it was on the right network. HBO. HBO wasn't the kind of network that gave shows the boot before their time. Watching a show on HBO meant that it would be there until the story was done. So when, at the end of Season 2, the show left on one of the craziest cliffhangers imaginable, I wasn't at all worried that I wouldn't be able to see how it turned out. It never occured to me that they would not bring it back.

But HBO had other plans, mostly involving not spending any more money on one of my favorite shows.

The Man: 1 Beth: 0


Don't let this stop you from checking the show out though. The first two seasons are absolutely amazing, and although you'll be super pissed off after you watch the last one (because you won't get to know how things end), I'd say it's worth it just to have experienced a truly original series.

-Over and Out-

Other shows that were ended before their time:


geek details said...

That looks like a neat show. I had to add it to the netflix queue. I missed this one when it aired. damn you being forced to live in japan for three years. damn you!

Betty (Beth) said...

I think you'd really enjoy the style of the show especially. :-) Hope you like it!

geek details said...

It looks neat! The guys aren't interested in watching it with me so i'll have to go it alone but I like the looks of the scenes.

Firefly is my show that shouldn't have been canceled. I miss cpt tightpants. and well... I still cry every single time I watch serenity.

The first time I watched the show was as a marathon with my husband and then we watched the movie. And then I ended up so upset at who died that we had to pause the movie because I was in shock. It makes me laugh now but I was so devastated at the time... for a character in show. haha

Betty (Beth) said...

I completely agree about Firefly. We first watched them when they aired on SciFi, then we went to see the movie in the theatre. I almost had to leave b/c I was crying so hard. Just like Joss to kill the best character at the moment you think he's safe.

Also, totally off topic, but I just watched Black Swan and it really rocked. Highly recommended. :-)

ReggaeVibrations_WTJU said...

For the first time in ages, Carnivale just came up in a conversation... and I found your site while I was looking for reminders.

Absolutely: everything about this show was amazing, for all of the reasons you described. The painstaking attention to period detail, bottomless characters, the high-contrasty, sepia-toned atmosphere of dread. They had me at the depiction of the Dust Storm.

The first installment was unsettling... and each one that followed descended into a darkness that was going to end up Very Badly.

I was one of those that signed the online petition to bring it back... so much for that great idea, HBO.