After the premature end of two critically acclaimed series (Wonderfalls and Pushing Daisies), as well as having contemporary Munsters reboot Mockingbird Lane cast aside before it really began, the talented Bryan Fuller is back with Hannibal, based on the series of Hannibal Lecter novels by Thomas Harris that have spawned multiple incarnations of the character on the big screen.
The casting in Hannibal is what intrigued me the most about this new series, and they do not disappoint. I’ve been a fan of Mads Mikkelsen (gotta love that name) ever since he caught my attention as the big bad in Casino Royale, and they certainly picked an actor that can portray the creepy along with the fiery intelligence of Dr. Lecter. The pilot episode, Apéritif (which literally translates from French as “Appetizer” Ha!), uses the character to a surprisingly smaller extent than you might expect, and it actually works quite well to establish him as a lurking, imposing psychological threat rather than a cartoon horror villain.
What the show focuses on early is unstable Special Agent Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) and his recruitment by Special Agent Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne) to help in the search for a serial killer. Graham is the lead, and sort of your stereotypical procedural character with a quirk that helps him investigate crimes, but Dancy brings some complexity and repressed danger to the role. He very much feels like Bruce Banner about to explode into The Hulk at any moment, and there’s even a reference to that in Apéritif. Graham and Lecter have a marvelously creepy kinship that seems foreshadowed to be the most unsettling bro-mance on TV.
The plot is a bit twisty-turny in Apéritif and Fuller’s script is intricately complex and full of red herrings. The strongest element of the premiere’s story is the game of musical chairs that takes place while trying to pinpoint the identity of the killer, and the level of Lecter’s involvement is always in question, which turns into a bit of cat and mouse with the audience. In addition, David Slade’s direction brings a nice aesthetic to the episode, but Hannibal also uses some interesting (if not a bit overdone) visual sequences to show how Graham recreates and solves crime scene scenarios in his head – they’re neat looking but feel a bit clichéd, and better suited for those CSI acronym type shows.
For those curious, there is a quite a bit blood and murder in Apéritif, but would you expect or want anything less? The cast is outstanding and lends a definite movie feel to this television series that manages to be more “creepy-scary” than the sort of “uncomfortable-scary” that Bates Motel pulls off. I would be concerned that the show couldn’t sustain a full length season, but NBC has wisely decided to keep the first season and any potential future seasons to a 13-episode standard. NBC has something pretty edgy and cool here with Hannibal, and it might have the right mix of risk-taking and familiarity to bring in the more broad audience as well as the niche ones.
Mads Mikkelsen. The restraint with which Fuller writes Lecter. The bro-mance!
The show tries to mask itself as a procedural. Supporting cast is clichéd. Some of the “wink-wink” stuff the show does with its audience.
Bloody, creepy, well-acted and sets things up nicely. The debut episode is a solid, polished pilot from script to screen, and should entice audiences to stick around after the appetizer for the next course.