Hannibal, Season 1, Disc 1

7.6 Overall Score
Writing: 7/10
Product Value: 8/10
Performances: 8/10

Beautifully executed.

Deeply unoriginal.

Hannibal, Season 1, Disc 1
AXN Original Series
Laurence Fishburne, Mads Mikklesen, Hugh Dancy

This review addresses Season 1, Disc 1 of the NBC series Hannibal, available on disc for purchase at the usual places as well as on Netflix.

Hannibal is a reboot of the universe, not a prequel to the films. In this way it serves up some familiar dishes; like in the movies, Hannibal Lecter the suave monster is also a useful genius, providing vital counsel to the FBI as they hunt serial killers, although in this iteration Hannibal is undetected and uncaged. In fact, the show’s extensive unoriginality is its burden. We’ve seen it before in the films. On television, we’ve seen these investigation procedural recipes cooked up on CSI, Law & Order, and Bones. And of course, Dexter. Hannibal is Burger King to Dexter’s McDonald’s, adapting the same process to give us a very similar menu. The psychological suspense; the whodunits; the police atmosphere; the queasy gray areas; the queasy-making red and roast beef pink areas, often broad and wide. The first few episodes of the series don’t bring one original concept to the table.

But if Hannibal is ladling out familiar stuff, it does it so beautifully. The cast is top notch. The performances are excellent. And the production values deliver beautiful set design, beautiful cinematography, beautiful everything, to a degree frankly surprising in the sweatshop conditions of television production. This is to be admired, because the show understands the “psychological” in “psychological thriller”, and adeptly expresses its themes in its images. It presents mutilated corpses with the same verve and panache as it plates the gourmet meals Hannibal so likes to lay out for his guests, a subtle reference to the title character’s view that a butchered human being and a butchered rabbit are interchangeable in a freezer or on a sideboard.

This show is bravely subtle, confidently nuanced. It deserves a place in this golden age of television drama, our age. It has got the courage to teeter on the edge of being stupid and ridiculous, a foot perilously off the ground.

The FBI Behavioral Sciences Unit has to have something to do, otherwise Aristotle makes a sad face at a lack of action. So the writers offer up one serial killer after another. Struggling to stand out in this familiar fictional field, they make a Guignol buffet of tortured, baroque and just improbable demons. Hannibal doesn’t do strangled prostitutes in rivers beside highways. It does Angel Makers and one perpetrator with an intense interest in mushrooms. It’s all much more twisted than anything you’d read in the news, a flayed hyperrealism of the grotesque.

Hannibal Lecter stands on the dais in the middle of all this, the calm little anthropophagic center this world swirls around, just this side of believable. In its early episodes, the show does not state outright what Lecter does in private. It hints, with cut-away shots done in the same style as main character Will Graham’s dream sequences. It assumes we already know, although it hasn’t told us with anything but the title.

And the show gets its mileage out of Hannibal. He loves to cook, he’s a gourmet chef, and he loves to share what he makes with his friends and coworkers. The viewer is left to wonder what the secret ingredient is. Lawrence Fishbourne’s Jack Crawford, the head of the FBI unit, says, “What am I about to put in my mouth?” Hannibal pauses a beat and says, “Rabbit.” When Crawford arrives alone for dinner, Hannibal says, “You promised to deliver your wife to my dinner table.” Hannibal says, “My kitchen is always open to friends.”

Admittedly, this is funny the first few times. But how long can Hannibal do this trick before it turns into Iago telling us in asides how he hates the Moor? And how long can the FBI serial killer unit go on slapping their eccentric consultant on the back like buddies before they just start looking like morons?

Overall, the show is gorgeously crafted and exciting to watch. But when I said it was “bravely subtle”, I didn’t mean the gore. To see blood like this on NBC shows how the networks are mimicking the cable channels. If you’re going to sit down in front of Hannibal, bring a strong stomach.



Brian Downes
Author: Brian Downes View all posts by
Brian Downes is a writer who lives in Orlando, Florida. His novel, The Berlin Fraternity, about a man who hunts vampires for the Third Reich, is available on the Kindle and through Amazon.com. He enjoys pen and paper roleplaying games and geek culture. He clearly remembers waiting for The Empire Strikes Back to hit theaters, and vindicate his opinion that of course Vader was not Luke's father. You can't trust Vader's word!

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