First episode impressions: ‘Hannibal’ (TV review)

In 1999, Thomas Harris’ novel “Hannibal,” the third of the now-four-part book series, was all the rage among my friends, who passed the hardcover around. For whatever reason — probably because I had seen the movie “The Silence of the Lambs” (the most famous of the five Hannibal Lecter movies) and found it boring — I haven’t read any of Harris’ books.

Going into the TV reboot of “Hannibal” (9 p.m. Central Thursdays on NBC), buzz for the franchise is not nearly what it was back then. In fact, the most recent movie — the prequel “Hannibal Rising” (2006) — was a barely blip on the radar. I don’t know if my old friends are still fans, but certainly the Lecter franchise has fallen out of the spotlight.

However, I couldn’t overlook “Hannibal” for a variety of reasons: It got good advance reviews, it’s produced by Bryan Fuller (the man behind “Dead Like Me” and “Wonderfalls,” the two best darkly whimsical shows ever made), and it has a stellar cast including Hugh Dancy, Caroline Dhavernas (“Wonderfalls”) and Laurence Fishburne. And besides, no one was clamoring for more “Psycho,” either, yet A&E’s “Bates Motel” is outstanding.

After seeing the pilot, I’d say “Hannibal” ranks halfway between “Bates Motel,” which does everything right in the serial killer genre, and Fox’s “The Following,” which does everything wrong. “Hannibal’s” entry point for viewers is Dancy’s Will Graham, who has a somewhat disturbing skill in the same ballpark as “Millennium’s” Frank Black. Whereas Black can see the violent murder in his mind’s eye — something that understandably makes him broody — Graham not only sees the crime in his mind, but also understands, to a certain degree, the mindset of the killer.

Dancy, in a toned-down version of his over-the-top turn in the Asperger’s drama “Adam,” does good work in the pilot, whether we see him at home with his cadre of dogs, or talking with his boss (Fishburne) or crime-profiler consultant Lecter (a thickly accented Mads Mikkelsen, playing the role low-key but with an undercurrent of weirdness). We’ll see more of his romance with Alana (Dhavernas), a college teacher, in upcoming episodes. Graham’s various relationships with people — and his relationship with reality, which could become tenuous — are the reasons to tune in to “Hannibal.”

The title character himself isn’t much of a hook so far, but I suspect that will change as Graham gets closer to discovering that Hannibal — who, ironically, is a successful psychiatrist at this early point in the game — enjoys eating people’s livers with a side of fava beans and a nice chianti.

The killer in the first episode is an afterthought, and — a little too much like “The Following’s” debut — his motivations are skimmed over. The way that the good guys track the killer is likewise breezed over far too quickly; I felt like they made a major discovery during a commercial break or something. Another mildly disappointing aspect of “Hannibal” is that Fuller’s dark-but-heartfelt humor isn’t present. Maybe that’s to be understood with this material, which isn’t quite comedic, but it’s still a kind of a shame that the latest Bryan Fuller Show isn’t particularly a Bryan Fuller Show.

Despite a few early flaws, at “Hannibal’s” heart are compelling studies of disturbed characters and the dark side of humanity. The show may not be a tasty main course yet, but I’ll continue to sample it.

Comments

Seth Stringer's GravatarJohn, Jenelle and I haven’t regretted adding “Hannibal” to our selective DVR rotation.

You say that Dancy’s Will Graham isn’t a hook, but I couldn’t disagree more. There’s a soulfulness and unhinged quality behind his madness that I just can’t pinpoint — His character is like nothing I’ve ever seen on TV. I’d say he and Laurence Fishburne are the breakaway stars of the show so far, while I’m still on the fence about the thickly accented Mads Mikkelsen’s Lecter.

I hear what you’re saying about the breezed-over reveals and lack of humor that would scale down the show’s darkness and add some more depth to Graham and Lecter, but hopefully that will be incorporated as the show hits its stride.

But so far the murders are gruesome and Dancy’s methods are a breath of fresh air. I’ll certainly keep tuning in.

# Posted By Seth Stringer | 4/25/13 11:45 AM
John Hansen's GravatarActually, I said Hannibal himself isn’t much of a hook. I agree that Dancy is the reason to tune in; he is one of my favorite actors. It sounds like you like the show a bit more than I do, though. Bryan Fuller did such better work with “Dead Like Me” and “Wonderfalls” (although “Pushing Daisies” was too whimsical for me); “Hannibal” is rather dire and dreary by comparison. I think the premise itself is a bit distracting when transferred from book/movie to TV. We keep wondering if Hannibal is killing and eating people, but that presumably won’t be important until the final episodes of the series, and it distracts us from the current serial killer. Also a knock against “Hannibal” is the timing, because I’m enjoying “Bates Motel” — about another serial killer rebooted from books and movies — so much more. Still, it’s a relatively thin crop of shows at the moment, and I do look forward to firing up “Hannibal” on my DVR every Thursday night.
# Posted By John Hansen | 4/25/13 2:54 PM
Seth Stringer's GravatarYeah, my bad. I read that wrong. The show is by no means great, but it has that new-car-smell, cool edginess about it. The show is literally dark — like damn, turn on a frickin’ light once in awhile. Perhaps too dark for my tastes. But like you said, Will is a great main draw worth coming back for.
# Posted By Seth Stringer | 4/26/13 5:40 PM
John Hansen's GravatarI enjoyed last night’s episode the most out of any so far. It’s starting to hit the right slow-burning vibe. I guess it’s going to be a thing where some of the cases last multiple episodes and some are tied up in one episode. I didn’t grasp that from the pilot, where the “plot holes” were actually addressed the following week. It’s starting to find it’s voice. But I’d prefer they just left the Hannibal “mystery” until the very end of the series. After all, we all know what his real story is, so there’s no need to waste a bunch of time with the “mystery” of him. Unless they do an entire episode of him killing, preparing and eating a human being. That would make for a remarkable piece of network television, I admit.
# Posted By John Hansen | 4/26/13 9:28 PM