Friday, April 26, 2013

Why You Should Be Watching Hannibal

Like many people, when it was announced that NBC was adding a new show to the midseason schedule, Hannibal, about the earlier days of Hannibal Lecter, I sighed and thought, really? Haven't we had enough of this guy? I've read the books, I've seen all of the movies, and frankly, the early books are the best, and the early movies are the best. Like blood in a wine goblet, the Hannibal franchise coagulates with age.

And then I heard Mads Mikkelsen was going to play Hannibal Lecter. And then my fingers couldn't move quickly enough to set that PVR.

Before I had children, my best friend and I always took the week of the Toronto International Film Festival off. We bought our tickets in advance and mapped out the entire week, watching 30 films in nine days. And if there were any movies in there that starred Mads Mikkelsen (hell, even if he played an extra), it was a first choice. Yes, they were all Danish films, and if you haven't seen any Danish films, you really must. The Dogme movement is fascinating, and Mads featured in a lot of the films (just go watch Celebration for a truly magnificent example of a Dogme 95 film). Then he was cast as the villain in Casino Royale and I thought for sure he'd become a household name. He didn't, even though he was fantastic.

This is Mads:

I'm sorry, why are you still reading this and not seeking out every episode of Hannibal right now?! Oh, you need more convincing. OK, fine. But seriously, folks, you could sharpen a knife on this guy's cheekbones. And he is one of the most subtly remarkable and magnetic actors I've ever watched on screen.

On to Hannibal. The TV show, while firmly placed in the here and now, portrays Lecter in the early days (before the first book), when he wasn't incarcerated and terrifying Claire with those screaming lamb stories, when he wasn't for certain yet a cannibal. The main story is actually about Will Graham, a consultant with the FBI who is seriously unhinged, mostly because he has the ability to get right into the minds of serial killers. The show demonstrates this in a shockingly awe-inspiring way by planting him in a busy crime scene, and showing how he wipes away everything around him, one person or piece at a time, even resurrecting the corpse in front of him (in his mind, of course) to move backwards and see the picture as the killer would have. What would the killer have done? What next? What would he have said? And by doing this, he can then tell the detectives what they need to know, helping them track down the serial killer. Of course, he's not left unscathed... having been inside their head, he can't easily remove himself, and now walks around with the horror of having felt what they felt, desiring what they desire.

Will is played by Hugh Dancy in a truly incredible performance of a man who is on the edge and holding on by less than a thread. How this guy is still functioning is a mystery, and in every scene, with a quavering voice, facial ticks, and looking like he's going to turn and run out of the room screaming at amy moment, Dancy actually puts the audience in Will's mind. Watching the scenes, you begin to feel claustrophobic and anxious for him.

The cast is rounded out by the always amazing Laurence Fishburne, and Caroline Dhavernas. That latter name is tied to the show's creator, the other reason why I absolutely HAD to watch this series: Bryan Fuller. He of the impeccable and sublime Pushing Daisies and the wonderfully quirky Wonderfalls, two of my favourite (cancelled) shows, Fuller is definitely one of the best writers on television today, with a unique sensibility and an uncanny ability to write sparkling dialogue that is never boring. Dhavernas starred in Wonderfalls and it's great to see her here again. For Kids in the Hall fans like me, Scott Thompson plays one of the forensics guys, and he's amazing.

The only gripe I have with Hannibal is Freddie, who is male in the books but is recreated here as a redheaded know-it-all female tabloid journalist, willing to put lives at risk to get a good story for her blog. She gets in the way of police investigations and does illegal things, but of course for some reason no one touches her because you need that connection of everyone reading her blog. Then again, Freddie was a stereotype in the novels, too, so I can see why the character still isn't quite working. But maybe they can flesh her out over time.

Of course, every episode has a scene of Lecter sitting down to dinner, usually right after they've found body parts and know the person was eaten. Is he eating pieces of a human being, or is that actually a pork chop on his plate? It's never clear, but Mikkelsen performs each scene with flourishes of a gourmand, clearly loving the fact that every time he puts that fork in his mouth the audience wants to gag. The chemistry between he and Dancy in the scenes where Will talks through his cases with his doctor are great, mostly because Mikkelsen and Dancy are good friends off-screen as well.

I watched The Following when it first started, and while the performance by Bacon was good, and it had some intrigue, I found the whole idea so preposterous I just couldn't stick with it. Many people I know watch and love it, and I still have every episode on my PVR so I might continue, but one episode of Hannibal just sent it soaring above The Following. The dialogue was cheesy and forced on The Following; on Hannibal it's lively and clever. On The Following Bacon suffers from that oh-so-tired cliché of being an alcoholic (yawn). On Hannibal the demons dogging Dancy are far worse than anything happening around him, and this guy investigates serial killers, for god's sake. The secondary characters on The Following were not believable by any stretch of the imagination, and most of them felt like caricatures. On Hannibal the cast is small, and each person has an important place.

(I will admit, for anyone who loves The Following, that I have only watched the first two episodes. It's quite possible it got much better after that, so please take my comments with a grain of salt.)

Give Hannibal a shot. You really won't be disappointed. And unlike many other police-type shows, what I really love about Hannibal is that the case was opened in the first episode, and they're continuing to follow the same case throughout the season (because would we really believe it if there were cannibal serial killers everywhere?). This is not a police procedural, but a study of the human mind — the evil it's capable of committing, and how fragile it can be under harsh conditions. This has become a must-watch show in my house.

And while I was writing up this post, a friend of mine posted that David Tennant is rumoured to be joining the cast. So... I really didn't need to write most of this other than to say, "David Tennant will probably be on upcoming episodes of Hannibal...." and you would have just run off to check your On Demand shows right then and there.

As you should.


Ashlie Hawkins said...

Thanks for this, Nikki. I'd wanted to watch this, but I'm always so wary of NBC projects anymore, especially something high-concept and even more so with Bryan Fuller attached! Hopefully it gets picked up for a second season, and I'll have to get caught up. I also have all of The Following waiting on my PVR, hoping it will prove to be a good marathon!

Colleen/redeem147 said...

My only problem is understanding everything Hannibal says - which is sad since I've been married to a Dane for thirty-six years next month. It's Will that I find most fascinating.

I still watch The Following, but it's probably just to support Jimmy Olsen's brother. And because I like Marc Antony. Though you do need to watch a few more episodes to see a Buffy cast member.

I did read one article about Tennant - apparently it was down to him and Mads for the lead, and Mads got it. Which means I DON'T have David living here in town. Not that I've run into Gina Torres and Laurence Fishbourne (though I have family members who have.) I gather someone asked Bryan about David and he said something about how he would like to work with him, but I don't think it's anything definite. I'd love to be wrong.

TerriDufour said...

My husband and I LOVE LOVE LOVE this show. I've always had a soft spot for Hannibal and Thomas Harris. You are very correct in that the beginning of the story is the best.
Funny that you said they would 'flesh' out the Freddy Lounds character, it made me giggle.
And I also love your blog, Nikki. Keep it up!