Spotlight On: NBC’s Hannibal
NBC has seen better days. Their late night host shuffle has welcomed ridicule. The Law & Order security blanket has whittled down to just one show. They never really did find a proper replacement for ratings giant, ER, and their Thursday night lineup, once known as “Must See TV” is now full of misfits with low ratings (that are at least consistent) and non-starters. I’m pretty sure Revolution and Grimm are both doing pretty well, but they definitely are struggling behind the other networks. Networks have it rough already anyway. They shoot for the broadest audience possible. They almost never take chances, and when they do come across something even remotely interesting (like Firefly or Awake or The Black Donnellys), they are really quick to pull the trigger. I’m surprised Fringe lasted as long as it did, and I’m even more surprised that Community got renewed for another season. This is why I am so scared for Hannibal.
I wasn’t really expecting much from a TV series based on the Hannibal Lector franchise. It is pretty gory and graphic, and while they get away with a lot on FX and AMC, they still play by the rules on NBC. I assumed it would be watered down into just another procedural. Technically, that is what it is: a procedural about an FBI consultant, Will Graham, helping the FBI catch serial killers week to week, with the added help from psycho expert, Dr. Hannibal Lector. But I guarantee none of the procedurals on TV right now are as visually stunning and hypnotic as Hannibal is. Will Graham has this ability to get into a serial killer’s head, so much so that most of the crime scenes are reenacted by Will in his own imagination (all of which we get to see). So far, I feel like NBC hasn’t tried to downplay the gore. There are some absolutely gruesome and terrifying visuals on the show. They take it even a step further by pairing those visuals with the food that Dr. Lector is making and with some really trippy nightmare sequences for the Will Graham character.
While it is essentially a Case-of-the-Week structure, the show is able to find depth elsewhere, specifically in the Will Graham character. Will Graham has already been brought to the screen twice: William Petersen in Manhunter and Edward Norton in Red Dragon. They are both the same story checking in on Will Graham after a couple of traumatic cases. One such case involved him catching Dr. Lector who almost disemboweled Will. The other was a serial killer nicknamed the Minnesota Shrike, a case which caused Will to have a mental breakdown brought on by PTSD. The Shrike case is the case that is solved during the pilot, and we get to see Will pushed to the brink of sanity. A lot of props go to Hugh Dancy, who is doing such a phenomenal job. The base of the character is charming in an anti-social struggling genius sort of way, just like Adrian Monk or Dr. House before him. Dancy is so great in the silent moments. His eyes always feel like they are screaming. Unlike other procedurals that either make a gross face or a snappy pun to just move on from the graphic nature of the murder, Hugh Dancy is constantly struggling to keep composure. The weight of the pain and disgust of the actual crime follow him through every episode. Solving the cases aren’t bringing enough closure to release any of that weight either, so Will’s emotional problems have been constantly compounding. Dancy is brilliantly depicting a man who is slowly wasting away without being too gaudy or chewing too much scenery. Just like Silence of the Lambs, this doesn’t just rely on the killers to be scary; the terror is very much dependent on the victims being scared. It’s a small distinction that makes all the difference and tends to make or break any horror story.
Of course, there is no show if you don’t pick a good Hannibal. A lot of people loved Brian Cox’s performance. I thought it was good, but he has a surprising lack of screentime. Anthony Hopkins won an Oscar for his portrayal (and deservedly so). The one thing both Cox and Hopkins seemed to know was that Hannibal is no slasher. He isn’t the bogeyman. He’s a werewolf. He’s charming, intelligent, and cultured to the point where everyone instantly likes him which is what makes the skeletons in his closet that much more frightening. I think Mads Mikkelson understands this too. Mads is an interesting actor. American audiences probably first saw him as the Bond villain, Le Chifre, in Casino Royale, but he has an incredibly strong presence in the trippy viking movie, Valhalla Rising. He seems to do much darker and more dramatic work in his native tongue (Dutch) than he does in America. So far we have put him in the awful Clash of the Titans and offered him the villain in Thor: The Dark World. Vague European accent equals sword and sandal flicks because Paul Walker sucks with accents. He ended up turning down the role in Thor: The Dark World for this project if I remember correctly. At the time, I thought, “Big mistake!” The Marvel movies are about to take off, man. This isn’t a good time to jump ship for a network “horror” show. Man, was I wrong. He is absolutely killing it (your damn right pun intended!) as Hannibal, and NBC found themselves a winner, as far as quality goes.
Ratings wise, its a fucking disaster. Low ratings aren’t always a death sentence though, like I said, look at Fringe. Or Seinfeld or The Office. Neither of those shows was doing that well at first. But those are sitcoms, and they tend to cost less. Hannibal apparently is a very expensive show (they have a CGI deer in a bunch of episodes), and I think that tends to be a problem with a lot of drams. It might also help if you didn’t debut it in April. I think it technically is only one of a handful of shows actually showing new episodes before the summer season kicks in. That might also be its saving grace. NBC has already cancelled a bunch of shows, including the show Hannibal was back-up for, Do No Harm. What that means for the time being is they aren’t going to stop scheduling the show until there is no more episodes because they literally have nothing else to show. What that means for the long run is they might renew this low rated critical darling instead of greenlighting a new show that has a high probability to fail. The critics seem to dig it so at least NBC can pretend to be proud of it and at least make it looked like they tried saving it. After all isn’t that kind of what they are doing with Community?
Basically what I am trying to say is: PLEASE WATCH THIS SHOW! I really like it. I bet you will too.
UPDATE: AS of May 30th it is officially renewed for a second season, but the show still needs higher ratings.