Saturday, May 18, 2013

TV Review: Hannibal


The most amazing show I've seen on TV in recent times, I must say, is NBC'S "Hannibal". It's just a crying shame that the low viewership is causing the network to think hard if they want to make a second season. 

The problem is not the writing. Lesser writers would be tempted to turn the show into a serial-killer of the week whodunnit, or even worse, Hannibal worship, where each episode is merely a cheap freakshow performance regaling us with the gruesome ways Lecter kills and devour his victims. Fortunately, writer/executive producer Bryan Fuller doesn't do that. He even puts Lecter on a creative leash until the sixth episode, when we finally see the man kill. Instead, Fuller explores Lecter's relationship with his friend/nemesis Will Graham, who we know from "The Silence of the Lambs" and "Red Dragon" will eventually catch the good doctor. The show contemplates the nature of violence, of life and death, of hideously twisted creatures wearing human faces and acting like human beings. So, no, the problem isn't the writing.

The problem isn't the acting either. Mads Mikkelsen (you might remember him as the creepy European guy who scrambled Daniel Craig's eggs in Casino Royale) plays Hannibal "the Cannibal" Lecter quite differently from Anthony Hopkins. With all due respect to Hopkins, Mikkelsen gets under your skin in a different way. Hopkins' Hannibal was a caged beast in the first two films and a hunted animal in the third, still potent but past his prime, his human mask long-discarded. Mikkelsen's Hannibal is a predator in his natural habitat, a man of wealth and taste, unfamiliar with the flavor of defeat and incarceration, keeping any hint of his strange appetites well-hidden until he's ready to pounce. (NOTE: Let's forget "Hannibal Rising" ever happened, shall we not?) Again, the problem isn't the acting.

The problem, I think, is that the show makes viewers too uncomfortable. NBC's "Hannibal" is a victim of its own success as a story. Perhaps viewers expected the low-brow freakshow, preparing themselves for the cheap thrill of spilt human blood and innards that would disgust them for forty-or-so minutes before allowing them to shake it all off as just nasty fun afterwards. No harm done. What they got instead was a tale as suave and sophisticated and sensual as Dr. Hannibal Lecter himself.

If the show doesn't get another season, I suspect it will still be remembered for a long time.

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