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by Ray Richmond, Hollywood Reporter (January 7, 2005)

I had this little problem with the first season of HBO's moody, atmospheric "Carnivale" that involved never really knowing what the heck was going on. This can be a problem for a dramatic television series. So I kind of dismissed it as too artsy and esoteric to be easily understood.

Sadly, that still seems to be the case in the first two episodes of Season 2. It's still pretty much all style and little substance, challenging even the most perceptive soul to unravel its deep, dark mysteries. I don't know about you, but any series that forces me to think this much and still come away empty is not a viewing experience I tend to cherish. It's "Twin Peaks" minus the black comedy.

"Carnivale" still takes itself way too seriously in following a traveling carnival as it wends its way across the Dust Bowl of America during the Great Depression. It does, however, feature dynamic performances from Clancy Brown as a whacked-out evangelist, Amy Madigan as his intense sister, Nick Stahl as an enigmatic young fugitive who might also have some ties to the Messiah and Michael J. Anderson as the carnival boss. This carnival also features a bearded lady, a snake charmer, a tarot reader, a midget (back when they were called that) and a strongman. But the show is far less about freaks and mysticism than it is the apocalyptic battle between good and evil.

That this ambitious, cinematic show bites off more than it can easily chew is consistently evident, as is its lack of a cohesive story line. The arcane writing produces meandering underpinnings that prevent us from fully embracing what "Carnivale" is trying to say or where it happens to be going. Rarely has a TV program this mesmerizing to look at been so confounding to interpret.