Truth be told, I don’t watch a ton of TV these days. Money and market saturation aside, there’s something about getting invested with a TV show that usually feels like too much of a commitment to me.
And when I DO watch TV, I’m typically trying to find things outside the overcrowded room of crime procedurals. If you’ll permit me to paint with an unfairly broad brush, there’s a billion of them, they’re cheap, and they’re often content to provide nothing more than temporary thrills.
So when I say I’m sticking with Hannibal for the foreseeable future, you’ll know that I mean it.
Now, admittedly my interest in the show didn’t come totally out of thin air. The first thing that piqued my interest was Bryan Fuller. I’m an avowed fan of the man’s previous show Pushing Daisies, which, if you haven’t seen that show then I’m afraid you’re part of the problem. The problem here being that it got cancelled after two truncated seasons and was possibly the best thing on television at the time.
Anyway, that show rocked the house. It, too, was an off-kilter take on the crime procedural format. Seeing Fuller return to that arena had an immediate appeal, particularly once you lace his return with the potential of the Hannibal character.
The other name that had me turning on the pilot of this show is the actor behind the titular character, Mads Mikkelsen. I don’t have much to say about him except that he is one of the coolest character actors working today, and I’m just thrilled that he’s got a role with as much potential as Hannibal Lecter to tear into.
Okay, while I’m here I should mention Hugh Dancy, too. He’s the show’s actual main character, Will Graham. I haven’t read the books, but Dancy’s character is defined by what the show calls “total empathy.” For the show, its the gimmick that lets him see into the mind of the killers he chases. For the character, it’s a curse that turns almost every social interaction he has into a nightmare of mixed emotions. Dancy’s great in the role, playing an intensely motivated investigator forever on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
Also, y’know, this talented guy.
So yeah, the quality names involved here led me to check out the pilot. When I did, what I found was an intelligent, ambitious show by any standard. Judging against the typical network crime standard, it looked like a miracle.*
Hannibal doesn’t trade much on shock value. This may sound like a strange statement, given the show’s horrific subject matter, but I’m serious. Like its titular character, Hannibal prefers a more insidious approach. Its crime scenes, ghoulish creations though they are, are typically rendered with a perverse sense of beauty. Dead girls mounted on deer heads, human beings as fertilizer… the show is like a waking nightmare. Things sort of have the appearance of reality, but absolutely nothing feels normal at all.
So, talented people and style to spare. You have my attention. And the first couple of episodes did pretty well in paying off the intrigue. Fuller and his crew are definitely spinning a lot of plates here. They’ve already dealt with sensationalist press, multiple psychologists, personality disorders, murderous fathers, and near-constant manipulation from Lecter as well as others.
From what I can tell, this is above and beyond the call of duty for a show like this. Its ambitions are definitely more subtle than something as wildly visionary as Pushing Daisies, but if they manage to build from here, they’ve got some fascinating stuff to play with.
Fortunately, the show’s most recent installment took a step away from the “freak of the week” style storytelling of the first two episodes to deliver an hour of television solely dedicated to furthering the overarching storyline. This is a possibly make-or-break moment, especially given how many interesting long-form ideas were teased in the show’s first two episodes.
Fuller, Mikkelsen, Dancy and the rest delivered. Sure, the show is still visibly getting its feet underneath it. A couple of beats felt a little off; the episode still felt a little rushed. There were some minor problems.
But this show is absolutely going somewhere. Not only that, but it’s going somewhere interesting. Either that or it’s not and I’m just seeing things. But after seeing the early payoffs to a couple of threads they’ve dangled so far, I’m pretty well sold on this show’s potential.
And honestly, I’m encouraged by the fact that the show simply cannot be good if it finds a status quo. The relationship between Lecter and Graham is too interesting. Lecter’s famous dining habits are too provocative. To survive at all, the show is going to have to be redefining itself pretty regularly.
The best part is, I have no idea where Hannibal intends to take me. Or maybe I’m just not an insightful TV watcher. But since the show’s already gotten its characters and its imagery stuck in my head after a scant handful of episodes, I sure as hell am sticking around to find out what’s in store.
So, you guys watch it too, so it doesn’t get cancelled.
*I’m really not trying to beat up too bad on network crime shows. I happily stuck with Bones for several years. In the end, though, it’s a format that simply leads to a ridiculous amount of lazy storytelling.