HBO's Cirque du So-So

Carnivale is mysterious and vivid--but leaves us feeling as if we've seen this freak show before

When a TV show advertises itself as "magical" or "surreal," be afraid. Since David Lynch's Twin Peaks, the supposedly bizarre has evolved its own cliches. These were best satirized in the 1995 movie Living in Oblivion, in which Steve Buscemi plays a director who casts a dwarf in a dream sequence, only to have the little person mock him. "The only place I've seen dwarfs in dreams is in stupid movies like this!" the tiny actor says. "Oh, make it weird, put a dwarf in it!"

In HBO's magical, surreal new drama, Carnivale, the first thing we see is ... a...

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