Thursday Thoughts: Hannibal

I tried to get into The Following. After a few episodes it felt like I was trying harder than the show, so I dropped it. A show called The Cult came out that seemed wholly uninteresting to me. Generally speaking, show on channels that are not FX, AMC, or HBO seem to tame to clutch my attention for more than a couple weeks (RIP Arrow). Simply putting a serial killer on screen is nary enough these days. There needs to be more. There needs to be…something.

I was hesitant with Hannibal. I had no plans on watching it before WonderCon, when a building-sized poster informed me that the series premiere was to be aired the following Thursday, one week ago. When I got home I set the DVR to record and figured I’d check it out if, somehow, I was overcome with boredom.

As it turns out, I did in fact find time to check it out. And, simultaneously surprising, I am very glad I did.

The big pull for me was Mads Mikkelsen (Casino Royale, Valhalla Rising). The man chews up screen time with the same fervor as DeNiro or Pacino–when he’s on screen I can’t help but stare at him. There’s a tension to his presence, like water too calm to be comforting, or a forest with no sounds at all… Mikkelsen always seems to me like a man about to do something terrible. He is a master of portraying “about-to-go-fucking-crazy”. Giving him the title role was enough to pique my interest in the pilot.

The more digging I did, the more the talent grouped together for the pilot intrigued me.

Two names on the production list screamed at me to give Hannibal a chance: Thomas Harris, Bryan Fuller and David Slade. Mr. Thomas Harris is responsible for creating the characters you’ve come to love and fear in films like Manhunter, The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal and Red Dragon. Bryan Fuller wrote on the geek-loved shows Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Voyager and Heroes (okay, mostly geek-loved). He was also the creator of several of the most fun television shows I’ve ever been fortunate enough to see, including Dead Like Me, Wonderfalls, and Pushing Daisies. David Slade is the director of several Stone Temple Pilot music videos, an episode of Breaking Bad, and the films Hard Candy, 30 Days of Night and (sigh) The Twilight Saga: Eclipse.

Great creators in all the right places working with brilliant source material? Sweet!

What about the team in front of the camera?

Hugh Dancy held his own for me in Black Hawk Down and Martha Marcy May Marlene, but I’m generally unfamiliar with him. He commands respect in Hannibal as Special Agent Will Graham. Unlike Ed Norton’s representation in Red Dragon, Dancy plays Graham as a wholly empathetic character, unable to escape his Asperger-ish personality (it is never made clear what, if any, condition Graham is specifically afflicted with). He’s a fractured being, incapable of socialization serving the plot with necessary skills that are simultaneously his social downfall. The tragedy is played without pity as Graham seems unwilling to succumb to the notion that he is any less capable than the “more normal” characters he is forced to interact with.

The rest of the cast is rounded out handsomely with Lawrence Fishburne, Hettienne Park, Caroline Dhavernas, Scott Thompson, and Aaron Abrams. While the pilot have only Fishburne real meat, all did a fine job giving me characters I’d like to learn more about and none of them made me loathe anyone. At this point not making me hate you is good enough to keep me going.

And we’re back to Hannibal himself, Mr. Mikkelsen. After the pilot we know enough about Hannibal to fear him. It’s impossible to come to the show without remembering Anthony Hopkins, which is unfortunate for Mikkelsen–nobody should have to face off with Hopkins. Know what? Mikkelsen kills it. Though he fills only the last half of the pilot, Mikkelsen’s Hannibal is a master of manipulation, utilizing his position withing the FBI to satiate his own, more hungry passions…

The show is not perfect but it’s pretty damn close. There is a production quality here that tricked me into thinking I was watching a film until the commercials showed up. Kudos to NBC for putting their best foot forward on the new show. The writing is tight. The direction is beautiful. The characters are intriguing.

Well done, team Hannibal. You’ve got me with one of the finest television premieres I’ve ever seen.

Can you keep me? We’ll see…

Hannibal - Season 1