The truth may never come out as to why HBO cancelled Carnivale after the show’s second season. They claim that it was a combination of decreased ratings and rising production costs equaling $2 million an episode. What doesn’t make sense, however, is that the network also admits that they received as many as 50,000 emails in a single weekend following the cancellation announcement. The facts also show that they followed up this show that was “too expensive to be profitable” with Rome, a show that has been widely recognized as the most expensive television series ever produced.
Several months after the show was cancelled, HBO offered the show’s producers the chance to shoot a 2-hour movie to finish up the story which was left hanging. They refused, as they claim that the entire story was planned out for six complete seasons, so a two-hour finale would not even come close to finishing up the story. The show runners then announced plans to finish up the story in comic book form, but nothing has been seen of this plan as of yet.
So is all this fuss justified? Absolutely. Carnivale is a brilliant and complex story of good and evil set around a traveling Carnival during the Great Depression. In the premiere episode, the traveling show picked up a mysterious orphaned teenager who is more powerful than anybody could ever know; even the boy himself. At the same time, a minister in California is also beginning to experience some extraordinary happenings of his own. The minister and the boy seem to have a date with destiny, and the mystery has only just begun.
This is an absolutely brilliant show that deserved to be produced for the full six seasons, no matter what it took to do so. Starting with season two would be a huge mistake for those that have not experienced this program before. You owe it to yourself to not only watch this show in the first place, but to start at the beginning and watch the series in its entirety. I realize that the price of entry is high, but it is well worth it. This is one of those extremely rare shows that is groundbreaking in every way. It is intelligent, it is slick, and it will draw you in like a moth to a flame. I have no problem recommending this as one of the best shows of the past 25-years.
The audio on this release will push your surround sound system to the limit. You wouldn’t think that a show set around the Dust Bowl would have a need for a dynamic soundtrack, but it uses one with incredible results. Particularly impressive is the subwoofer channel, as the bass comes strong, powerful and often. Dialog is also fantastically clear, as are the amazingly effective ambient sounds. This is without question one of the finest TV-on-DVD soundtracks that I have ever heard. It is quiet when it should be and loud when it should be. In fact, even plot elements themselves are sometimes conveyed through the deft use of audio volume and placement.
Just as the audio will challenge the limits of your home theater, so will the video. In fact, the video quality may actually be too good for many common home heater displays. Much of this show takes place at night, and the black levels on these discs are extraordinary. If your display is not properly calibrated, it may not be capable of displaying these images correctly, and the result cold be a very splotchy presentation.
For those that are able to view these episodes under the proper conditions, however, you will be handsomely rewarded. It is amazing how much can be done with black space, and the darkness in these frames only enhances the mysteries behind the stories. The viewer is left with the feeling that something could happen at any possible moment, and often times it does.
The extras kicks off with the crucial season one recap that viewers simply must watch, unless they are coming directly from the previous season. This story is simply too complex to just wing it without the brief review session. After that, the season is underway.
Be sure and take the detour on the three commentary tracks that you come across along your journey. They are informative and entertaining, and they may very well shed light on some additional plot points that you may not have caught on your own viewing. Like everything else having to do with this show, they are informative and very well thought out.
Once you finish the season, viewers should go ahead and dive into the bonus featurettes. “Magic and Myth: The Meaning of Carnivale“ is a half-hour documentary that goes well beyond the usual electronic press kit to deliver some fascinating insights into the series, including a few words on everybody’s favorite topic… what would have happened in future seasons? While the crew certainly doesn’t give away all their secrets, they certainly point viewers in the right direction to make their own speculations as to what happened to Brother Justin, Ben Hawkins, Sofie and all the rest of the characters.
There is also a panel discussion filmed at the Museum of Television and Radio with the entire cast, as well as Producers and even a representative from HBO. While the information shared here is very interesting, the presentation is a little awkward. The panel is shown on he back of Tarot cards which move on screen. It’s actually not as distracting as it sounds. The only problem with this set-up is it makes the images smaller than they would have been if they had just filled the screen in a normal configuration.
Finally, there is a set of four ”Creating the Scene” featurettes. These are sort-of a miniature “making-of” segment, each covering one particularly challenging scene from the show. They include animatics, storyboards and outtakes, as well as including extensive narration that discloses how the scene was created. If this sounds more like the kind of thing you find on movie DVDs, you would be right. However, a show this cinematic can easily handle such an extra.
As was the case with the Season One release, this set will unquestionably be on my top 10 list at the end of the year. The audio and video quality are perfect, and the show itself is obviously top-notch. The extras aren’t overwhelming in quantity, but the quality is certainly up to par. There are really not enough good things that I can say about this release and the show itself. I only wish that the party didn’t have to end four seasons too early.