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copyright Š1999-2005

tv: carnivāle, deadwood
by Yee-Fan Sun
| 1 2 3

TV is so dumb, detractors are always decrying, just mindless entertainment for killing time. And while I'll concede this might be true for a good chunk of the drivel on the boob tube, I still maintain: TV's just another creative medium like any other, and in the hands of those with a genuine vision, it has the potential to be every bit as imaginative and thought-provoking as film or books. Here are two utterly original, inventive TV shows that are guaranteed to keep your brain a-working…

Starring: Michael J. Anderson, Adrienne Barbeau, Patrick Bauchau, Clancy Brown, Debra Christofferson, Tim DeKay, Clea DuVall, Cynthia Ettinger, Carla Gallo, Toby Huss, Amy Madigan, Diane Salinger, Nick Stahl
The First Season

It's the year 1934, and a young man in the Oklahoma dustbowl, Ben Hawkins [Nick Stahl], finds himself alone and homeless. A traveling circus just happens to come rolling by at the very moment when things look like they couldn't get any worse for Ben. When the boy drops down unconscious in front of them, the carnival folks decide to take him in, despite the fact that they barely have enough money to support themselves. The carnival's diminutive manager, Samson [Michael J. Anderson], mentions their newest addition to the mysterious Management. Much to his surprise, he learns that Ben, as Management puts it enigmatically, was expected. Though Management doesn't provide much more insight as to what Ben's expected to do or why his arrival has been anticipated, it's enough affirmation for Samson: he offers Ben a full-time job with the carnival. The rest of the carnival crew aren't nearly so welcoming. Amidst the bearded ladies and reptile men and Siamese twins, psychics and snake charmers and strippers, giants and midgets and strong men, Ben just looks like an ordinary hick, certainly not one of them. The only one who reaches out to Ben is the fortune-teller, Sophie [Clea DuVall], who's grown up in the carnival and can't help but be curious about what life's like for those in the "normal" world. Meanwhile, the blind psychic Lodz [Patrick Bauchau] grows particularly suspicious when he tries his usual parlor trick of reading people's dreams on an unsuspecting Ben, and the accompanying visions nearly kill old Lodz. Ben, it seems, isn't so ordinary after all. He dreams things, terrible things, frightening, apocalyptic, potentially prophetic things. But Ben's real talent is his ability to heal. It's a power so strong that he can bring the dead back to life, but the healing comes at a price, and Ben's not at all sure whether his is a gift of God or the work of the devil. Meanwhile, out in California, a charismatic minister named Brother Justin [Clancy Brown] has been seeing visions as well. It soon becomes clear that Justin and Ben are somehow linked. As Samson tells us in the introduction to the series, "And to each generation was born a creature of light and a creature of dark." Carnivāle introduces us to two such creatures, taking us on a long, meandering journey to see what will happen when darkness and light finally meet.

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