- Cult Classic: Never the most popular show on HBO, it nonetheless has a loyal following to this day.
- Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy: Some critics during the first season's run felt this way about the show, as its bleak, macabre take on the Depression-era U.S. and moral ambiguity made it difficult to care about its characters. The second season was better about this, but the show suffered a large enough ratings drop between seasons to be Cut Short.
- He Really Can Act: Turns out Michael J. Anderson is just as good playing a human character as he was a backwards-talking, dancing spirit.
- Hilarious in Hindsight:
- Magnificent Bastard: Iris Crowe is a fairly spectacular example. The sweet, innocent spinster sister of Brother Justin? Has not only spent her entire life playing Xanatos Speed Chess with her brother's true nature, but burned down her brother's church to get him publicity, allowed an innocent man to go to jail and eventual execution for what she did, lured an innocent woman out beyond the camp and then bashed her over the head with a boat oar, to keep her from talking about how evil Justin really is and kept the secret of Sofie's paternity from everyone. After the big battle, when Ben and Justin are lying dead in the cornfield, the New Canaan faithful have almost been completely slaughtered by Justin, and the Carnivale has had to slip away for fear of the authorities in the early morning hours, what is Iris doing? Cooling her heels as the Last One Standing.
- Moral Event Horizon: Multiple.
- Iris when she set the ministry on fire.
- Brother Justin's treatment of his maids.
- Sofie shooting Jonesy and resurrecting Justin in the finale.
- Nightmare Fuel: Start with the raining blood and possessed Madonna and child statues, and just keep going. Every single episode has something terrifying in it, though especially the end of "Pick a Number".
- "She's screaming!"
- The town of Babylon. Not during the day, but the nightlife is, well...
- Every scene involving Ben's extended family. Forests full of doll's heads is NOT charming!
- The death-mask scene with Evander Geddes.
- Retroactive Recognition:
- Tear Jerker: Many, most especially the immolation of the orphan children in Justin's ministry.
- Vindicated by History: Of a sort. The show itself was always an Acclaimed Flop, but it was also the network's unsuccessful first attempt at bringing a fantasy series for adults to the small screen. At the time, many people wrote off Carnivale's failure as the inevitable result of trying to run a history-inspired fantasy saga on HBO. Because a show like that could never possibly find a wide audience, right? But after the absurd success of Game of Thrones (currently HBO's most popular show ever), the idea doesn't seem nearly as strange.
- There's also the rather slow pace of the show, with individual episodes mattering less than the season as a whole. Maybe it's not the best approach for a weekly series, but it's been good for several streaming shows.
YMMV / Carnivāle