Carnivàle (2003–2005)
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Oklahoma Dust Bowl, 1934. 18-year-old Ben Hawkins is a young man who lives with his physically sick, God-fearing mother. After his mother dies from a long illness, Ben unceremoniously ... See full summary »




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Episode cast overview, first billed only:
Professor Ernst Lodz
Clayton 'Jonesy' Jones
Rita Sue Dreifuss
Libby Dreifuss
Felix 'Stumpy' Dreifuss
Iris Crowe
Karyne Steben ...


Oklahoma Dust Bowl, 1934. 18-year-old Ben Hawkins is a young man who lives with his physically sick, God-fearing mother. After his mother dies from a long illness, Ben unceremoniously buries her in the back yard of his home which is then repossessed for outstanding late payments. Ben is taken in by a traveling carnival troupe (titled Carnivale) and becomes acquainted with the residents who include the kind-hearted dwarf owner Samson; his right-hand man and head rigger Clayton Jones; Gypsy tarot reader Sofie; the bearded lady Lila; girlie tent owner Felix "Stumpy" Dreifuss, his wife Rita Sue who Felix solicits to some of the patrons, and their two teenage daughters Libby and Dora Mae; Gekco the Reptile Man; snake charmer Ruthie; Ruthie's son Gabriel, the low-IQ strongman; and conjoined twins Alexandria (Alex) and Caladonia (Cat). Ben is revealed to have strange mystical powers of clairvoyance and healing which worry Professor Lodz, the blind mystic of the traveling troupe. Meanwhile in...

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Release Date:

14 September 2003 (USA)  »

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Technical Specs



Aspect Ratio:

1.78 : 1
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Did You Know?


The approach of the bulldozer and its driver during a dust storm in the opening strongly resembles a similar scene in chapter five of John Steinbeck's novel The Grapes Of Wrath. See more »


Set in 1934, but a radio plays "The Shadow: The Silent Avenger" starring Orson Welles, first broadcast March 13, 1938. See more »


[first lines]
Samson: Before the beginning, after the great war between Heaven and Hell, God created the Earth, and gave dominion over it to the crafty ape he called man. And to each generation there was born a creature of light, and a creature of darkness. And great armies clashed by night in the ancient war between good and evil. There was magic then, nobility, and unimaginable cruelty. And so it was. Until the day that a false sun exploded over Trinity, and man traded away wonder for reason.
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Carnivale End Title (Ben's Theme)
Written by Jeff Beal
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User Reviews

Wonderful style and high-end production ; fascinating universe and mystical story ; freaking good characters and performers
9 January 2010 | by See all my reviews

I read that when Milfay was first aired back in September, 2003 it received raving reviews for its style. However it's only in 2005 that I watched it. Its universe instantly fascinated me and I couldn't resist its charismatic and freaky characters. A circus had never been so surreal and astonishing. Moreover even if Tim Burton's Big Fish was released on January, 2004, a film with similar elements, it didn't ruin all the things that made Carnivàle's pilot such a wonderful surprise.

First the timeless battle between good and evil can only mesmerize the audience when it's so well told. Indeed the episode begins with a dark close-up on Samson's face, a dwarf brilliantly played by Michael J. Anderson who appears to be the second in command. Moreover the opening credits are amazing, insanely creative and probably the best I have ever seen. So the very first minutes you should be fully immersed in the show imaginary but contemporary world.

The other elements which convinced me of the production cult status were the performers and characters. The acting's level is astounding and the different profiles so twisted that like a wormhole they shake your feelings and make you realize how much you want to learn more about them. How did they become who they are ? Do they have any plan ? But contrary to Heroes the men and women in Carnivàle have a Freaking Factor™ that is hard to surpass. From dream reading to fortune telling and alchemy the number of fantasy and esoteric topics covered is impressive. Some mystical scenes inspired by the seven deadly sins should also shock you thanks to their seamless visual effects and marvelous direction.

Last but not least the two arcs developed obviously have connections so it makes the story even more enigmatic. When are they going to collide ? Who's Management ? Who's Ben Hawkins father ? What about the strange case of Brother Justin ? This episode arose so many intriguing questions that I don't conceive for a second that someone could resist watching the first season.

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