To put it succinctly, HBO has done it again. The network simply has no fear. It prides itself on bringing groundbreaking programming to the masses, laughing in the face of such cookie-cutter faire as American Idol and Two And A Half Men. First there was Sex and the City, then the behemoth that is The Soprano’s, and now we have Carnivale.
I love TV shows that feel they don’t have to explain themselves, and this series is certainly that. Think “David Lynch vs. the Jim Rose C…rcus Sideshow”. The setting of the series is a traveling carnival in the dust bowl of the 1930’s. The plot is, well… let’s just say that magic, the battle between good and evil, and giving people with no hope something to believe in are all involved, though none of that quite fits. Like I said before, it’s HBO. You just have to see it to believe it.
This is brilliant storytelling, with first-class special effects and a the feel of an Oscar-winning feature film. The show is great on television, but it’s actually better on DVD. This is not an episodic television program as much as it is a really long film. Since it has been created for a premium network, there are no commercial breaks built in. Each hour-long segment adds one more piece to the strange and twisted puzzle, which works to add suspense and wonder to the story as a whole.
This boxed set is pricey, but it is well worth it. If you are looking for something more than the typical network show that has been dumbed down to appeal to a mass audience, look no further than Carnivale.
This is not a program that is ideally-suited for a dynamic audio track. Even so, the Dolby Digital 5.1 track on this set is fantastic. There is plenty for the subwoofer to do in these episodes, even if the tones are sometimes a little muddy. It’s not a major problem, but I would be remiss if I didn’t at least mention it. The sound stage is as wide as the Midwest plains, with great use of the surround speakers to produce a sense of eeriness and foreboding. The all-important dialog is clean and well anchored to the actors on screen.
Like I said, there is not much to work with in the source material, but this disc truly works miracles with what is there.
Wow. HBO has spared no expense to bring this show to the marketplace in the best quality possible. The transfer on this set is so breathtaking that it is easy to see where your extra purchase dollars are going. The picture on this set actually rivals – dare I say it? – the gold standard set forth by the Lord of the Rings Extended Edition DVDs.
And this is a television show!
I really couldn’t be happier about this transfer. Colors are expressive while not being uncharacteristically vibrant. Black levels are mind-blowingly deep. Much of the story in this show is told through moods and images, and this set looks like a window into another world. There is no grain whatsoever, save the specs of dust that harass the actors on this show like a biblical plague. This is the very definition of a perfect transfer.
The only area that is less-than-stellar on this title is that of the special features. There is nothing wrong with them, mind you, they are just a bit sparse. Three episode commentaries are included, conducted by the show’s creators and writers. There are moderately informative, but are mostly dry, and suited for serious fans only.
The HBO staple of an episode guide complete with “Previously on…” and “Next, on…” TV spots is also here. While these are not particularly useful, it is nice to have them here for those times that you want to watch a particular episode, but you don’t remember which one you are looking for.
Finally, there is a making-of featurette that runs 12 minutes in length. This token extra amounts to a glorified commercial for the show, and really only contains about 2 minutes of content of interest to anyone except for one who has never seen the show. As is the case with the other advertisements on this set, I’m glad this was included, but I would like to have something with some real content as well.
To be honest, I was hoping that I would not like this show. If I liked it, that would just be one more thing that I would have to spend money on every year or so. Unfortunately for me, HBO is not interested in my financial woes, and has created a show so compelling, that I am forced to buy into it in a major way. The slogan is true; It’s not TV, it’s HBO.
Special Features List
- Three Episode Commentaries
- Episode Guide
- “Previously on…” and “Next, on…” TV Spots
- Making-of Featurette