Arguably the best show NBC has produced in a long time, fans and critics can’t stop raving about Hannibal. Headlines will tell you that the show has dropped off in live viewership but fail to note how DVR adjustments and a strong ground-swelling of support have kept the show alive, at least for another season. With the finale set to air tomorrow night and another year to join the Cause, let’s review why you should quit your job, stop reading that book and get on this show immediately.
1. The Setup Is Brilliant
Based on the characters of Thomas Harris’s 1981 novel Red Dragon, Hannibal acts as a prequel series for many of the main players in Harris’s world. FBI profiler Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) lives out his days teaching trainees how to get into the minds of serial killers. Having taken himself out of the field due to his “pure empathy” ability, Will is recruited back into active duty by Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne), the head of the FBI’s Behavioral Sciences, who believes he can help stop a serial killer with a rising body count.
Due to the nature of the case and Will’s fragile mental state, Jack enlists the help of Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen), a brilliant forensic psychiatrist who enjoys killing and eating people (not listed on his résumé). Curious about Will’s profiling abilities, Hannibal manipulates his way into the good graces of the FBI, becoming Will’s personal psychiatrist, where he tests and pushes the limits of his unstable mind.
Note: You need no knowledge of prior Harris stories to get enjoyment from Hannibal.
2. The Violence Is as Tasteful as It’s Horrifying
You can’t really have a conversation about this show without noting how you can’t believe they get away with such graphic violence on network TV. Fuller is a visual master. Only this time, instead of the candy-coated colors of Pushing Daisies, he’s serving candy-coated HUMAN LUNGS! Up close! Being cut into! SERVED FOR DINNER?! OHMYGOD!
It’s not just the fact that the show refuses to shy away from Hannibal’s cannibalism. The crime scenes investigated by Will and Jack are often gorgeously render, albeit macabre, set pieces that are meant to be deconstructed. In these moments, the violence, while still unsettling, become a running commentary on the cracks that form in the human mind. You might squirm, but you’ll want to see where the road leads. And you’ll never look at foodies quite the same way.
3. It Features a Career-Making Turn by Hugh Dancy
This is Hugh Dancy. This is his face. That face alone is reason enough to watch TV. It only helps that he is the surprise revelation of the show, with his pitch-perfect turn as Will. Like many heroes (or these days, anti-heroes) of TV, Will is often the smartest man in the room.
But rather than make him an egotistical asshole, Will is vulnerable, withdrawn and socially awkward. In lesser hands, he could easily be a one-dimensional lead overshadowed by an iconic figure of horror. In Dancy’s hands, he becomes a remarkable character study of a man struggling to do the right thing, potentially at the cost of his own sanity and safety.
4. Mads Mikkelsen Is Not Your Parents’ Hannibal
Aside from his the villainous turn as Le Chiffre in Casino Royale, American audiences don’t know enough about Mads Mikkelsen to be afraid. After his take on Hannibal, they really should be; possibly more so than the interpretations of Cox and Hopkins. That isn’t meant to spit on the greatness of either, but when dealing with an icon like Hannibal Lecter, you need to attack with your own, unexpected angle.
Where past performances of Hannibal have been straight-up menacing, the show allows Mikkelsen to play a glorious cipher that can’t be fully understood. He is as much a mentor and (twisted) guardian as he is a villain. His slightest twitch can speak volumes and nobody does the vacant, wheels-turning stare better than Mikkelsen. You might not be able to fully understand him, but you won’t be able to take your eyes off him. Actually, it’s better that you don’t.
5. The Guest Stars Are to Die For
In only one, 12-episode season, Fuller has managed to build not only a great main ensemble, but has recruited several awesome guest stars to play against type. Only instead of simply putting them in dark roles, he throws them in a pitch-black room, locks the door and demands they claw their way out. Eddie Izzard, Molly Shannon and Gina Torres are just a few to leave their mark. But the best guest star by far has been Gillian Anderson (The X-Files) as Hannibal’s own psychotherapist.
And that was just one season. With a second season on the way, one can only dream that other Fuller alums may appear. Kristen Chenoweth and Lee Pace, anyone? And Fuller wants David Bowie as Hannibal’s uncle!? GOD, YES.
6. Bryan Fuller Is an Unsung Master
As revered for his writing as his visual style, few have ever called Fuller shows dull. Regrettably, none of his shows have had the numbers needed to survive and most were cancelled after only one or two seasons. But few players in TV are as persistent and dedicated as Fuller and he’s primed to turn Hannibal into his masterpiece.
Under his guidance, the show veers away from the “killer of the week” model and has meticulously built a web of a show, focused on visual stimulation, mental power-plays and minute details. Past cases come back to haunt you and play into the show’s overall arc. You immediately want to go back and rewatch to catch what you didn’t notice before.
Pre-Hannibal, it was easy to peg Fuller as a provider of fun, albeit light TV viewing. But now, he’s reached a new personal level of mastery in storytelling; building an atmosphere and cast that can’t be resisted. Just when you think you have the show figured out, he brings something new to light, often by throwing someone deeper into the dark. With Fuller, it’s not just candy, pies and light-viewing anymore. It’s a full-blown feast.
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