If you're like me, and I'm going to assume you are, then you weren't excited when you heard about Hannibal. You wondered how many more properties from your youth would be plundered for profit and it made you unhappy. Why? Because how old are you getting if they're rebooting the Silence of the Lambs? Wasn't that out maybe ten years back? No. It came out a long time ago. In fact, that crappy sequel with Julianne Moore was actually more than ten years ago. You're getting old. Actually, as the kids say these days: PLOT TWIST! The show is actually good! Holy shit! You didn't see that coming, did you?
Don't believe me? I've got ten reasons why you should dig it...
1. Will Graham is a Real Nerd Hero!
Will Graham is (arguably) the protagonist of Hannibal, a super-detective who specializes in serial murders, but he's not a square-jawed badass type. No, he's a guy who failed the psychological exam for field work and would probably be better off as a teacher for the FBI Academy. He wears glasses and is a sensitive type that spends his spare time fishing and taking care of stray dogs. Most nerd heroes talk about being nerds and super smart but then turn their super-intellect into things like bad-ass martial arts or thinking so fast you constantly ambush baddies. They also tend to be pretty good around people, which really isn't my experience in honors classes or with gamers.
Nerds of the "super-smart yet somewhat autistic" type tend to be bad at things like eye contact. They also tend to develop nervous tics and generally be overloaded by contact with people. Watching Will in this show, I see things like this. He's still an awesome detective but he's an anti-Batman. We all love the Caped Crusader, but he is kind of super handsome, super rich, super badass, and super banging Catwoman. This is not the nerd life. Will, who probably has never had a girlfriend, is much closer. He's actually burdened by his brain instead of being a superhero. I can imagine him being that guy at a game demo who's scared to ask how to play. But when he overcomes his neuroses and self-doubt enough to takedown a badass serial killer, you want to shout YES!
2. Super Powers!
Will has a murderous psychic vision... I mean, analyzes the clues.
Will likes to say that his deductions are based on evidence, with logical leaps. In other words, he says he is like Sherlock. Sherlock can look at a dog hair on your coat and declare that you are a widower because you pay too much attention to your fur-babies. In real life, this is basically cold reading and it is about as efficient as the situations you are dealing with are simplistic, so when I say this show involves super powers, I mean more than the normal TV magic or logic.
Will can step into a crime scene, almost literally. He imagines himself there and acts out the crime. At first you buy into him being super attentive to detail, but at later times he manages to pull out information that seems impossible, such as realizing the exact identity of a murderer with a cursory examination of a body (see above). He also talks to a dead murderer and seems to get information that he would not have access to without actually being able to talk to a dead person. He remembers things that didn't happen to him with such overwhelming clarity that he forgets that the memories aren't his. This is in addition to the just plain weird stuff, like Hannibal being able to smell cancer. I have no explanation for that one other than him apparently having the nose of Scooby Doo.
3. The Villains!
Will on the trail of the "angel" making killer. Probably NSFW? Certainly not for the squeamish.
Hannibal is a show about serial murderers. Not just people who kill a series of people in tidy ways like poison or suffocation. Things get pretty gruesome, enough so that I was surprised when I realized it was a NBC show. People are chopped up, mutilated, and (of course) eaten. This is a prequel to all those movies with Hannibal already being in a cell (twenty year-old spoiler alert), and it turns out he's sort of a respectable guy right now. In fact, they play it pretty straight. So straight that halfway through season one I was starting to wonder if this was a prequel in the sense of Hannibal actually being on the side of the angels when things started. Maybe this show was his Phantom Menace and he was Jake Lloyd, except that this show didn't suck.
I was wrong. I mean, I was very wrong. Hannibal turns out to be the absolute worst of all of them, an uber-killer who trades out serial killer identities and shticks as the concept strikes him. But before you figure that out, you meet a whole bunch of other murderers that actually have understandable motivations, as that's mainly the point of the show. Will gets in their heads and so do you. Some of these killers are misunderstood, some are proud of themselves, some like to partially skin people while they're still alive and make them into "angels" with wings made of skin. They're all creepy as hell if not monsters in human flesh, like Dan Didio (Seriously. Who obsesses over killing Nightwing? BITE ME DIDIO!)
4. The Characters Are Smart!
NBC Hannibal Brains. Delicious Brains.
Hannibal is almost completely lacking in dumb jocks and stubborn strongmen. When you think about it, our heroes and villains are often pretty anti-intellectual. Thor and Superman beat up Loki and Lex Luthor because they punch real well, not because they're smart. Not only are the main characters of Hannibal a psychiatrist and an FBI profiler, but the supporting cast is all fairly brilliant. Will has a small team of CSI-types who are quite brilliant in their own anal-retentive way. They actually make useful suggestions and do not seem in any way to be there just to make Will look smart. They also feature Scott Thompson, who I have not been seeing nearly regularly enough since his Kids in the Hall days.
The closest thing to a stereotypical alpha male on the show is Jack. Thing is, Jack is a bit pudgy and actually is quite smart in his own right. He's an active crime fighter instead of a moronic bureaucrat. In fact, just when you start to get irritated with him, you find out he has a sick wife and is just trying to keep his mind off of her while keeping his work going forward. Will's on-again and off-again love interest is another psychiatrist; notably the only one of the whole group who actually seems to remember the human victims and casualties that pile up during the episodes. She's pretty gorgeous, but also smart and surprisingly approachable (Call me!).
5. Slasher Cage Matches!
There can only be ONE... awesome serial killer in this show.
In the real world, I don't think serial killers have much to do with each other. There are certainly a few exceptions, but it's not like they all know each other, Sandman's "Cereal Convention" notwithstanding. Things are a little different in Hannibal. The writers are tasked with coming up with a different killer for most episodes and they certainly could have treated each as an isolated incident. It would have been a little far-fetched but still fundamentally plausible as the FBI does tend to travel all around the country. One episode could be in Washington, another in Florida, another in Guam or some other fake state like "West" Virginia.
They didn't go that way. Instead, they decided to embrace the "large number of serial killers in a small area" plot and have killers envy each other, imitate each other, kill in specific ways to send messages to each other... all sorts of strange variations. My favorite, though, has to be the "slasher cage match". Basically Hannibal meets another serial killer and that killer immediately (on sight no less) develops a minor obsession with Hannibal. He manages to stalk his way to a dinner invite, at which point it only takes a few minutes before they are both talking about serial murder. They both share a joke about how they had meant to kill each other and part a bit awkwardly. But, from there, it's only a short countdown before they confront each other and feel compelled to fight to the death. Why? I really have no idea. But I think it would be pretty awesome to live in a world full of murderous madmen who are inexorably drawn together with the only outcome being A FIGHT TO THE DEATH!
As long as they do that before they get to me, I mean.