Carnivàle is an American television series set in the United States during the Great Depression and Dust Bowl. In tracing the lives of two disparate groups of people, its overarching story depicts the battle between good and evil and the struggle between free will and destiny; the storyline mixes Christian theology with gnosticism and Masonic lore, particularly that of the Knights Templar. The show was filmed in Santa Clarita, California, and other Southern Californian locations.
Carnivàle was produced by HBO and ran for two seasons between September 14, 2003 and March 27, 2005. The show was created by Daniel Knauf, who also served as executive producer with Ronald D. Moore and Howard Klein. The incidental music was composed by Jeff Beal. Nick Stahl and Clancy Brown starred as Ben Hawkins and Brother Justin Crowe, respectively.
Early reviews praised the style of Carnivàle but questioned the approach and execution of the story. Carnivàle‘s first episode set a new audience record for an HBO original series, but the show was unable to retain its ratings in its second season. Carnivàle was canceled after 24 episodes, cutting its intended six-season run short by four seasons. The show won five Emmys in 2004, was nominated for 10 further Emmy awards, and received numerous other nominations and industry awards between 2004 and 2006.
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.
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