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A Carnivàle of Delights

Most of the time, I demand things from my television shows like narrative logic and dialogue that doesn’t sound like it was written by shaking the Magic 8-ball, but every once in a great while, I’ll make an exception and sink a considerable amount of my precious free time in a show that’s real pretty, but as lucid as an Ann Coulter column. This is a roundabout way of justifying my season pass for Carnivàle. I watched all of last season, yet I am incapable of identifying what are presumably the key points of the plot line. After season one, the only Carnivàle-related statements I could make with any confidence were these:

1. There’s a filthy, slack-jawed Okie whose eyebrows are gearing up for a career move to Peter Gallagher. This gaping yokel is evidently humanity’s savior. Or maybe not. It depends on whether or not you think the creator of the show really hates people, or merely hates Type-A people.

2. Although Michael Anderson adds a warm, morally complex touch to the show, every time I see him delivering some spooky bit of mumbo-jumbo dialogue to the aforementioned gaping yokel, I immediately channel Peter Dinklage from “Living in Oblivion” and his rant:

“Have you ever had a dream with a dwarf in it? Do you know anyone who’s had a dream with a dwarf in it? No! I don’t even have dreams with dwarves in them. The only place I’ve seen dwarves in dreams is in stupid movies like this! ‘Oh make it weird, put a dwarf in it!’ Everyone will go ‘Woah, this must be a fuckin’ dream, there’s a fuckin’ dwarf in it!’ Well I’m sick of it! You can take this dream sequence and stick it up your ass!”

This diminishes the intended mystical effect on the viewer.

3. Somewhere, there is a group of Undeclared fans who had their wildest fantasies realized the minute Carla Gallo peeled off her top.

3a. However, it is very disturbing to see Artie, the Strongest Man in the World, pimping his wife and daughter.

4. David Lynch is cackling into his Lucky Charms. Or possibly drawing deep breaths off an oxygen mask and crowing, “Whose symbolism-fraught show is running off the rails now, Mommy?!”

5. Them credits sure are pretty. Viva photo-manipulation software!

I’ve since stashed the first three episodes of this season on the TiVo, hoping that watching them sequentially will help me grasp the subtle, intricate, symbolism-freighted plot machinery that Daniel Knauf and company must surely be erecting behind the scenes. After all, all those cast members are trudging around smudged in show dirt for nothing, right?

Well, maybe they are. Watching this show is akin to watching Kingdom Hospital or Twin Peaks, where I’m left with the creeping suspicion that I should have waited until the entire series was over before tackling it, so I could at least have the assurance that there was a beginning and an end. So why am I still tuning in?

Because of Clancy Brown. Oh, sure, he may be working for Satan. And yes, he’s just tattooed a big tree on his chest and inflicted a number of truly disturbing and incomprehensible hallucinations on hapless bystanders. Plus there’s that weird relationship Brother Justin has with his sister. But who cares? Brown has one of the best smoothly evil voices in the business, and the reason it’s so enjoyable is because he’s mastered the art of amiable malevolence. Moreover, he’s got a great expression — carefully polite, yet shot through with a glint of “Ain’t it great to be me?” self-regard.

So now, in addition to wondering if I’m mentally defective because I still can’t succinctly sum up what this show is about, I’m now plagued with the worry that perhaps I’m evil for digging Clancy Brown. Oh, Carnivàle, what a dark and twisty road you’ve set me on.


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