Long before Game of Thrones became a money-printing machine for HBO, when most TV fans were captivated by the works of Tony Soprano, there was a show that slipped between the cracks of Sunday night television programming – but not without leaving an indelible mark on its fans. Carnivàle‘s complex mythology and fascinating approach to storytelling turned it into an instant classic and a headache for HBO’s marketing team.
While the show proved to be an overnight sensation with a small but loyal fanbase, the concern at the time was that the show wasn’t as accessible as something like Sex and the City, which aired immediately before Carnivàle every Sunday.
A considerably high production budget also meant that Carnivàle‘s relative success wasn’t enough for the broadcaster. The show ended its run after only two seasons even though the plan was for it to last at least six. Thousands of “carnies” were left heartbroken after the cancellation, clamouring to HBO for a revival. Unfortunately, this was the early 2000s, and internet campaigns didn’t carry the weight they do today, leaving Carnivàle in its current, truncated state.
However, if there’s one thing we learned when The Many Saints of Newark became a massive success for HBO Max last year is that there’s lucrative potential in resurrecting beloved TV franchises for new audiences. The same thing is happening right now, to a lesser extent, with House of the Dragon: a show that fans have taken as a remedy for Game of Thrones disappointing final season.
Would it be unthinkable to believe that Carnivàle could live on for season 3?
As we briefly mentioned, Carnivàle was intended to run for six seasons. Every two seasons would be considered one “book,” with the entirety of the show thus being a literary trilogy; this means that only the first book of Carnivàle got produced.
If we follow this logic, the first season of a tentative Carnivàle revival would be the first chapter in the show’s second book. In almost every regular series, this would prove too narratively disjointed to consider – but Carnivàle is not an everyday TV show.
At the centre of its mythos, Carnivàle was always a show about good and evil, and how those forces can manifest themselves on Earth in unexpected forms. This overarching plot reached its natural conclusion by the end of the show’s second season finale, but there are still many aspects of the show’s mythology that aren’t yet fully explored.
An eerily similar situation to that of Carnivàle took place a few years back when the spectacular Twin Peaks revival was announced. David Lynch hadn’t worked on the series since it ended in 1991, but he was given complete creative control to bring his surreal vision to life. He proceeded to produce 18 hours of mesmerizing television that kept longtime fans engaged while introducing the cult classic to a whole new generation.
Both shows were canceled during their second season, had complex mythology and allegories hidden throughout the plot, were deemed “too mysterious” for mainstream audiences, and both had Michael J. Anderson. If Twin Peaks got the revival it deserved, so does Carnivàle, especially now that streaming services have given new life to older franchises at half the production costs.
So please, HBO, give us another chance. The mysterious world of Carnivàle deserves it.