Carnivale: Season Two

What if you spent two years planning for and awaiting an apocalypse that never came? That’s where Carnivale creator Daniel Knauf found himself after spending two years in the dust bowls of Texas and New Mexico following a Depression-era carnival that happened to harbour at least one "avatar” — a descendent directly in line to participate in the great battle of good and evil. In this case, that’s Ben Hawkins (Terminator 3’s Nick Stahl), whose nightmare visions point to a date with destiny — and an evil preacher named Brother Justin (Clancy Brown), who’s spreading the word of his new society through the radio airwaves. Peppered throughout this dramatic life at the carnival are a host of eccentrics, from snake charmers (Adrienne Barbeau) to Tarot card readers (plot turning point Clea Duvall) to the fair administrator (Twin Peaks’ dancing dwarf Michael J. Anderson). The action all moves toward a large-scale good-and-evil showdown between Ben and Justin, only the first foray of which happens by the end of this, the show’s final season. Viewers frustrated by the show’s first season twists get some satisfaction here; its second instalment is clearer and more straightforward than the twisty, convoluted machinations of its first. But alas, viewership damage had already been done and not enough eyeballs stuck with this innovative and beautifully constructed show to keep it afloat. That makes this second season a gamble, addictive enough to garner some serious frustration while checking out featurettes like "Myths and Magic,” where we are offered only a brief, sketchy outline of where the show might have gone following its cliff-hanger conclusion. Nice while it lasted, this Carnivale packed its tents and left town too early. Plus: select episode commentaries, panel discussion. (HBO / Warner)