The Fedex guy showed up at my door one morning last week with a package containing a photocopied letter that read, “I’m very excited to send you the first five ‘courses’ from Hannibal’s tasting menu.” It was signed by Bryan Fuller, the creator of “Hannibal”. His new take on the Hannibal Lecter story premieres April 4 on NBC.
The five episodes on the pre-screener DVDs inside the package were each named after a part of a meal, starting with “Aperitif.” Lucky me! I couldn’t wait to … excuse me … sink my teeth into it. (At SXSW, the producers even set up a “Hannibal” food truck with items like “Terror Tacos” and “Killer Sliders.”)
Food puns alluding to cannibalism aside, you can count on any television series about Hannibal Lecter to be macabre. But this stylishly shot show is also psychologically intriguing. That’s what drew me in immediately and will keep me watching. But don’t worry – there are no spoilers here.
Expanding on Thomas Harris’ novel, Red Dragon, we get to know criminal profiler Will Graham (played by Hugh Dancy) more intimately than ever before. Graham studies psychopaths, but his uncanny ability to empathize with killers is due to his own cornucopia of mental problems. On “Hannibal,” his near-psychic talents make him almost as much like Allison DuBois from “Medium” as Sherlock Holmes or Columbo.
We are taken into Graham’s head space, which is far from a pleasant place to be. He puts himself so deeply into the shoes of each murderer he investigates that he nearly loses his own identity. Dancy gives an Emmy-worthy performance, playing Graham as a man constantly on the edge – nervous, disturbed, antisocial, both tragic and triumphant. Because of his vulnerability, Graham is appealing almost in spite of himself. (It also helps, of course, that he looks like Hugh Dancy.)
Fuller has been quoted as saying that the show will explore a kind of “bromance” between Graham and Lecter. Much of the dialogue outside of the crime scenes focuses on a psychological dance between the two as they grow to understand one another better.
As played by Mads Mikkelsen, Lecter is refined but animalistic. He’s creepy only to the audience because we’re in on his secret (unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last 20+ years). He appears to his colleagues as merely brilliant, charming, and enigmatic – at least so far – so it isn’t a stretch to believe that they don’t suspect his secret life.
Playing a character whose emotions are kept so close to the vest can’t be easy for the actor, but it’s fun to watch Mikkelsen give the audience clues about his true self in ever so subtle facial expressions. Stoic though he may be, Lecter expresses sympathy (whether real or pretend), and this ability to appear so dimensional makes him all the more terrifying.
Filling out the core cast are Laurence Fishburne as FBI agent Jack Crawford, Lara Jean Chorestecki as a female Freddie Lounds (the ruthless tabloid journalist played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman in the feature film version of “Red Dragon”), Caroline Dhavernas as Dr. Alana Bloom, and Hettienne Park as forensic expert Beverly Katz.
Raul Esparza shows up in episode five as Dr. Frederick Chilton (the role originated in “The Silence of the Lambs” by Anthony Heald) and plays the doctor with a deliciously snake-like arrogance. (See my interview with Esparza from January.)
Eddie Izzard enters the fray as a brutal killer and, like Dancy, is a Brit playing an American on the series. Izzard’s comic abilities are a tremendous asset in the dark role.
The lighting for most scenes in “Hannibal” is suitably stark, giving the color red a dramatic backdrop whenever blood appears (which is, of course, often). Fuller has said that he believes the horror genre is modern day opera. I agree that his “Hannibal” is operatic. Slow motion, flashback, and imagination sequences are used effectively to illustrate the emotional impact of the show’s events on its characters.
Some of the images made me recoil, but as a big fan of “Dexter,” I now find it easier to watch these kinds of scenes than in the past. I’m not desensitized; they still horrify me. But like many viewers seem to feel these days, I’m fascinated by what makes serial killers tick. How have they become who and what they are?
I have high hopes for the series, and I think it has the potential to find a devoted audience. Much like we wonder when the other characters will discover Dexter’s identity, I believe viewers will look forward with bated breath to the moment when the people who populate “Hannibal” learn the truth about their revered Dr. Lecter.
The first course premieres on NBC on April 4, 2013. Make a plan to pull up a chair to the table, or set your DVR now for Thursdays at 10/9c. Then, come back here and tell us what you think.