Sunday, 15 August 2010

Not a lot of fun at the Carnival

It’s strange how you can just miss things.

Danielle and I are great fans of the relatively recent genre of the TV series. The beauty of the format is that it has time, in a way that films just don’t. Jane Austen’s Persuasion is beautifully paced, taking just the time it needs to develop the characters, to unfold the story, even in its own highly domesticated way, to build suspense: why did Captain Wentworth leave the concert in Bath? Was it jealousy? And if so, would it draw him back to Anne or drive him away?

The novel has the space to develop all these themes.

But all the cinematic version of Persuasion, and I sometimes feel there’s a new one every couple of years (do all American actresses dream of playing Anne Eliot some day and queue up for their turn?), you can see the effect of having to get it all into two hours. Things that take fifty pages in the book have been dealt with in ten minutes. There just isn’t time to deploy the narrative devices Austen masters so well.

The series format doesn’t suffer from those problems. You can build, you can develop. The actors can age with their characters. Look at the kids in The Sopranos turning into young adults. They mature, they learn to understand their environment, they adapt to it.

So Danielle and I have become fans. Some series, of course, disappoint and we stop watching them. But many are outstanding and give hours of entertainment: The West Wing, Six Feet Under, House and of course The Sopranos to name just a few of the best.

So it was surprising to discover the other day that there was a significant series about which we knew absolutely nothing, even though it had been around since 2004.

We decided to watch Carnivále. What breadth of vision! It sets out to explore the great questions that have puzzled humanity for centuries, the nature of good and evil, of destiny and free will, of man’s relation to God. The background is the depression and the dust bowl in the US. It’s a rich pageant, with all the material you need to produce something absolutely riveting. And, thanks to the possibilities offered by a TV series, it has all the leisure it needs to develop it as it deserves.

The trouble is that leisure is a double-edged sword. If you're not careful, using all that time doesn’t mean you develop things well, it can mean you take powerful ingredients and produce a package which can be summed up in just one word: boring.

Carnivále’s writers weren’t anything like careful enough. Wikipedia quotes a review saying ‘it's as if executives at the premium cable network want to see how far they can slow a narrative before viewers start tossing their remotes through the screen’. Yep, that about hits the nail on the head. I stood four episodes. That leaves twenty. Had the final four seasons not been cancelled, it would have left 140. The mind boggles. I’d prefer to watch the England football team.

What I thought at first had been a loss, when I realised I'd missed out on Carnivále, I had to re-evaluate after four episodes. As a mercy. 

And anyway: what’s with the weird spelling of the title?


Awoogamuffin said...

Hahaha! Yeah, I muddled my way through Carnivale because it was given to me as a birthday present by some students.

Lucia had got through four seasons of Lost, which is also slow and rambly and boring, and she now views every new series with suspicion, for fear it might be lost like. She quickly saw Carnivale for what it was.

So I suffered through the rest on my own. Not worth it.

Oh, and

"Some series, of course, disappoint and we stop watching them"

whatever could you be talking about?

David Beeson said...

Glad you agreed about 'Carnivale'. And no jibe was intended in my comment about disappointing series - there are a few I've stopped watching...