This calculatedly bizarre 12-episode cable drama series incorporated elements from Something Wicked This Way Comes, the Tod Browning film Freaks, and the entire David Lynch oeuvre. Set in America's Dust Bowl in 1934, the series chronicled the fortunes of a seedy carnival/burlesque troupe as it moved from one flyspeck town to another. Unfolding in a slow, deliberate and deceptively casual manner, the basic plot line boiled down to an allegorical battle between "a creature of light and a creature of darkness." The former "creature" was Ben Hawkins (Nick Stahl), a chain-gang escapee with a mysterious past and an even more mysterious gift for healing, who had latched on to the carnival almost by accident; the latter was sinister evangelist Brother Justin (Clancy Brown), who held the town of Mintern, CA, in thrall with a combination of charisma and mind control. Other characters included Samson (played by Twin Peaks alumnus Michael J. Anderson), the all-wise dwarf who narrated the series and who ran the carnival on behalf of the seldom-seen Management; Samson's right-hand man, Jonesy (Tim DeKay); sexy snake charmer Ruthie (Adrienne Barbeau); surprisingly prescient mentalist Lodz (Patrick Bauchau); tarot card reader Sofie (Clea DuVall) and her comatose mother Apollonia (Diane Salinger); "lizard man" Gecko (John Fleck); strong man Gabriel (Brian Turk); bearded lady Lila (Debra Christofferson); singing Siamese twins Alexandra and Caledonia (Karyne Steben, Sarah Steben); and Brother Justin's slightly unhinged sister, Iris (Amy Madigan). Created by Daniel Knauf, Carnivàle premiered September 14, 2003, on HBO.
by Hal Erickson synopsis