Guest TV Review: Hannibal, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Embrace the Suspense

Adam Dietz is a regular contributor to Filmophilia.

In early January I made my mind up. I was going to make a concerted effort to follow the Kevin Bacon driven vehicle The Following. This decision was made partly out of devotion to Bacon for his excellent work in the (highly underrated) film “The Air Up There” (arguably the seventh best basketball film ever made) and partly because I wanted to make a genuine effort to add a bit of suspenseful programming to my life. I guess I am the type of person who considers watching hour long thrillers to be a legitimate and worthy goal, as opposed to getting myself in better shape or learning a new language. All three are, indeed, worthy of setting my sights on, but The Following was going to be first.

I oft myself often seeking refuge in the serialized 21 minute situation comedy and, I mean, why wouldn’t I? The plots are easy to digest and the characters are all attractive, funny, and smart. Situation Comedy stars are capable of coming up with more one liners in a two minute conversation than I could in an entire year and are intelligent/talented enough to land high paying jobs that afford the luxury of living in hip lofts, yet allow them plenty of time for their trivial escapades.

 Shows like The New Girl and Happy Endings are always on my radar for these reasons. With Breaking Bad nearing its series culmination and Mad Men never producing enough episodes to keep me satisfied, I hoped that The Following was going to be the next big thing for me.  However, I quickly realized that it was not. After three episodes, and roughly 120 minutes, I was quite certain that it was not going to quench my thirst for suspense and that I never wanted to think about it again. Kevin Bacon is the living example that it doesn’t matter how many films you have appeared or noteworthy people you have worked with (Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game/theory) that you are only as good as your last performance and Bacon’s most recent run on television is not something he will want to be remembered by. The Following takes the gore of  B rate horror film mixes it with a cliché cult figure and attempts to establish  Dr Gregory House precedence. You know the “I am in A-hole, but I am so good at my job that it doesn’t matter” trait. The Following left me more disappointed than I had been since Christmas 2001 when my parents bought me a RAD robot and I saw that all it could do was bring small cans of Coke at an absurdly slow rate.

 Yet, something has come and lifted my spirits. A show has filled the void that The Following was incapable of.  It has debuted on a network that has slowly become synonymous was failure and although I have only viewed the pilot episode to date, I am almost certain that this show will require an hour of my weeks’ time for years to come.

If you would have predicted a few months ago that I would be so on board with a show that……

A)           Is a spinoff off a franchise that has already birthed three unnecessary sequels to date and has not been relevant in twenty years

B)            Is on NBC. The network that this year brought you Animal Practice, Guys with Kids, and (the near to my heart) Betty White’s Off Their Rockers

C)            Has Lawrence Fishburne in a prominent role

I probably would have given a “whatchu you talking about Willis” type of look and then walked away shaking my head, but despite the odds, it seems that Hannibal is a quality show that deserves your time and may be around for the long haul.

 

Hannibal debuted on April 4th at ten o’clock on NBC to roughly four million viewers, already placing in in the pantheon quasi-successful NBC shows. The basis of the plot will not shock, nor surprise anyone who has watched any of the previous Hannibal Lecter related films (particularly Manhunter, Silence of the Lambs, and the Red Dragon). Hugh Dancy stars as criminal profiler William Graham who, through his past work, has earned the attention of Dr. Jack Crawford of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Graham excels in the art of tracking down killers because he has the innate ability to think like a psychopath and empathize with them. Graham and Crawford eventually venture north to Minnesota  in hopes of tracking down the person responsible for the recent wave of missing college girls. What they find is both disturbing and raises many questions about both the case and Graham’s ability to track down the killer.

Enter stage right, Dr. Hannibal Lecter, played by Mads Mikkelsen, renowned forensic psychiatrist who has been brought in to work in unison with Graham on the case. Lecter takes an immediate shine to Graham as he senses that they have certain “similarities” in their personas. Dr. Lecter, while seeming slightly offbeat, appears to be trustworthy enough and seems to truly understand how killer’s minds function. The two form a partnership and begin to further investigate the case. While what they discover about the case is definitive, the two men’s relationship certainly is not as they both harbor secrets that will fuel the show for episodes to come.

Hannibal works on several different levels, but primarily it’s the performances of Hugh Dancy and Mads Mikkelsen as Graham and Lecter that stand out. Dancy excels as the curt,  yet fragile criminal profiler who , through a series of flashbacks and imagined sequences, we learn is on the edge of a breakdown. Mikkelsen offers a cool, calm, and collected demeanor that does not attempt to out do his predecessors (Brian Cox and Anthony Hopkins). Mikkelsen through his mannerisms and drawn out speech is incredibly creepy, yet fairly likeable in the limited time we see him throughout episode one. The supporting cast does not “wow” in the way that the leads Dancy and Mikkelsen do, but Lawrence Fishburne comes out well as Jack Crawford is a performance that, while not flashy, gets the job done.

 

In addition to the performances, the overall aesthetic quality of the show must be noted. The cinematography and images are incredibly appealing to the eye. The scenes are very fast paced and edited in a way that never really allows the audience to relax. Hannibal is does not overdose on the blood or gore aspects of the genre in the ways that The Following did, but that’s not to say that there aren’t disturbing scenes.

Hannibal’s first episode should leave viewers very optimistic about the future outlook of the series. The roots have been planted and the characters are slowly beginning to be developed, slowly but surely secrets will be revealed and truths exposed. With Dunder Mifflin closing its Thursday night doors in a matter of weeks, seek refuge in the furthest possible thing from Scranton Pennsylvania and jump on the Hannibal bandwagon. There is plenty of room.

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