The ensemble cast conjures some entertaining moments; I especially like the arguments between the fortune-teller and her comatose mom, who vents her maternal spleen by telepathically hurling dishes at the trailer wall. And a few of the clichéd images nevertheless resonate: the Siamese-twingirls playing cat's cradle, the brimstone preacher flagellating himself with a whip as his sister sits in the parlor below him, primly sipping homemade lemonade. Maybe this will be the kind of show that ambles unsteadily for a while before finding its groove; maybe its mysteries will pick up speed and turn Carnivale into a whirlwind; maybe it will find a less hackneyed, goggle-eyed way to deal with sin and redemption. If not, I may just look into self-flagellation myself.
A History of Animated Culture (Bravo, Friday at 8 and midnight) dashes through 100 years of cartoon history in 100 minutes, which means we learn a little about a lot. Audacious and frustrating, it teases us with snippets from hundreds of classic and obscure animated films from across the globefrom Emile Cohen's proto-psychedelic 1908 visions to Otto Messmer's Felix the Cat, from Walt Disney's American empire to contemporary anime. Because this is a cooperative effort between American and Russian production companies, it devotes almost as much space to Russian constructivists and Eastern European experimentalists as to the American canon, and in the process tries to give us some political and technical context. Mind-boggling though the clips are, I can't help wishing it were a 10-part series.