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: