There’s a lot of TV out there, and some of it is underappreciated by mass audiences and freakin’ awesome.
This week’s column covers Hannibal.
What’s the premise?
Based off the best-selling novels by Thomas Harris, the series covers the early years of psychiatrist/serial killer Hannibal Lecter.
What’s the appeal?
Hannibal Lecter has been a popular character since Anthony Hopkins won a Best Actor Oscar playing the guy in Silence of the Lambs. Oh, and he was in the movie for less than twenty minutes. The suave, urbane serial killer who could get into your head and then literally eat you for dinner joined the ranks of various motion picture killers like Dracula, Freddy Krueger, and Norman Bates as a result. It’s almost a surprise no one tried this sooner.
Anything stand out?
Holy cow, does it.
First off, putting an ongoing TV series about a cannibalistic serial killer on network television doesn’t even sound remotely like a good idea.
So, series creator Bryan Fuller found a way to make it work.
This show is probably the most beautifully shot show on television. The closest I’ve seen lately to Hannibal‘s shot composition and overall look was the pilot episode of Netflix’s Sense8. And while I suspect that show continues in the style it started in, I don’t know for certain as of this writing. Hannibal, on the other hand, presents just about every scene (especially the ones featuring the title character) as works of art.
Part of that beauty is the beauty of the absolute grotesque. Hannibal is primarily a horror show, and much of that horror is psychological. There are a number of murders, obviously, but the violence tends to happen off-screen. The results of that violence is a whole other story. You’d never think a pile of corpses could be made into art the way this show does it. Frequent scenes also show Hannibal preparing various gourmet meals that may or may not have human flesh in them.
The show also makes use of a lot of odd imagery, like a black stag that may be covered with feathers, occasionally taking the form of a dark, antlered man, who may or may not have Hannibal’s face. It’s a Wendigo, the Native American cannibal spirit.
And many of these murders are about the most creative you could ask for. Dexter wishes it was this show. Hannibal would have had Dexter for both literal and figurative breakfast.
Special note should be made also for Dutch actor Mads Mikkelsen, who’s apparently a big movie star in his home country. His Hannibal is urbane, always dressed to impress, and with a raw charisma that rivals Hopkins’ take on the character. Yes, I said he rivals Hopkins. Hopkins’ take on Lecter outside of Silence was a bit hammy at times, chewing scenery while chewing his victims. Mikkelsen underplays Hannibal. And his Hannibal is every bit as smart as the viewer could ask for. Considering his M.O. is to seduce more people into murdering others, he needs to be someone the audience wants to get to know, to be charmed by when he isn’t horrifying.
And I’ll say this much…I read the first of Harris’ novels, Red Dragon, which coincidentally is what storyline the show is covering this year, and it wasn’t very deep. There’re a handful of fairly philosophical lines, but it reads like a basic murder mystery with one very charismatic character popping out (Lecter, obviously, but he’s barely in the book). Fuller’s people aren’t really adapting the stories as they exist but using them to thematically explore the characters. That they managed to get as much as they did out of characters like Will Graham and Jack Crawford is a testament to their skill.
The rest of the cast is uniformly pretty good. Laurence Fishburne plays Crawford, and season two opened with a very brutal fight between Crawford and Lecter that was left unresolved until the end of the season in many ways. Fishburne’s physicality clashed nicely with Mikkelsen’s graceful style, giving both men the chance to prevail in the fight before a final victor appeared. Hugh Darcy makes for a fine Will Graham, the borderline Aspergers profiler that may be Lecter’s biggest challenge. And X-Files star Gillian Anderson got promoted to series regular this season as Lecter’s own therapist, Dr. Bedelia Du Maurier, a woman who may be a witness or an accomplice, and who isn’t entirely sure herself.
Season two actually ended with a real shocker of a conclusion. Fuller’s never had a show run for three seasons (Hannibal is the first), and ended the second season with a conclusion that, had the show not been picked up for its current third season, would have been a major downer. And that is all I am going to say about that. If you’ve seen it, believe me, you know what I am talking about.
Actress Caroline Dhavernas plays Dr. Alana Bloom (Alan Bloom in Harris’ novels). She doesn’t have a lot to do much of the time, and may seem to be simply filling time during what scenes she has.