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The Sci-Fi Thriller Series Everyone Should Binge On HBO Max

For decades, sci-fi series have been part of the bedrock of American television. Since the days of Star Trek, some of the best writers on TV have used the genre to tell stories about everything from the distant future to the remote past. Although there are plenty of high-profile sci-fi series worth watching, there are also some, like HBO's Carnivàle, which ran for just two seasons beginning in 2003. 

The show wasn't a huge ratings success, which is why it only lasted for two seasons. In that time, though, it picked up a devoted following in part because of its unique combination of historical and science fiction elements. The show is set in the 1930s and follows a young man with some unique abilities who is picked up by a roving carnival that is traveling through the Dust Bowl. The show also focuses on a California preacher who delivers sermons predicting humanity's doom. 

Carnivàle has a deliberate, careful pace. It's a sci-fi series, but it's one that unfolds slowly. HBO, especially in the early 2000s, always allowed its shows to get as creative as they wanted to be, and Carnivàle definitely takes some liberties with that freedom. It's a show that has shades of Twin Peaks but set against a very different, much more historical backdrop. Although its slow pace can turn some people off, many of the show's fans appreciate the image of what life was like during the Great Depression that the show regularly evokes. 

Carnivàle's fans love it more than critics ever did

Through its two seasons on HBO, Carnivàle established a devoted cult following, but its reputation among critics was mixed. The show has an average Tomatometer rating of 53% across its two seasons, with many critics dinging it for continuing to unravel mysteries without actually resolving any of them. Carnivàle's audience score is significantly higher, though, at 86%, suggesting that the show's fans have kept the show alive long after it was initially assessed by the critical community. 

At its core, the show is about a group of misfits struggling to survive as a surrogate family against a harsh backdrop. While some critics didn't love the way the show played coy with its mythology, others enjoyed being immersed in the strange, beautifully shot world that it created. As the glut of new TV shows continues to flow, it can be hard to make time to rewatch something older. For fans of moody, evocative sci-fi, though, Carnivàle demands your attention.