6. The Cast!
You will never look at Eddie Izzard the same way again.
If you made a TV show and you could cast anyone you wanted, I imagine you could do a lot worse than Hannibal did. You have a Bond villain playing Hannibal, and I know we all love Sir Anthony Hopkins, but Mads Mikkelsen is great, too. He has a sophisticated air in his old-fashioned suits and slightly-off appearance that somehow makes him both extremely creepy and yet charming enough that you understand him getting away with it. Laurence Fishburne is a little startling at first if you still think of him as Morpheus, as the years have not been kind, but he does seem to be in much better shape than he was in for Man of Steel. He also plays a surprisingly nuanced character, someone who makes unpopular decisions but still obviously cares about the people under his command.
The main point of excitement, though, is the minor characters. I love Eddie Izzard. He's definitely in my top ten people I'd most like to spend an afternoon or an evening with. He's brilliant, hilarious and an executive transvestite. Yet he's also peaceful and thoughtful. None of this really adds up to him doing an awesome job as a serial killer trying to find his way in the world after questionable psychotherapy. Surprisingly, it worked! Eddie Izzard is terrifying in this show, despite still being hilarious. Agent Scully also has a guest spot, serving as Hannibal's therapist in a role that hasn't completely paid off but is skin-crawlingly creepy in subtle ways. She also looks gorgeous despite the number of years it's been since the X-Files. All that and Zoe from Firefly is there, too, in a small but important part that she brings a lot of gravitas to. It's like being at a convention, without long lines and $20 autographs!
7. Even the Visuals Are Clever!
Mushrooms tend to be an ongoing theme. I'm just saying.
Will Graham undergoes a bit of a downward spiral in season one, which is to say that both Will and the audience think he's gone completely fucking nuts and probably eats people. This is despite you both knowing that, no, he really doesn't do that. Or does he? The show so effectively switches back from Will's increasingly clouded perceptions to what is actually happening that you really begin to wonder if Will is following things at all. He starts losing time at one point, and Memento-style cuts drive the point home. Will can wake up suddenly miles from home, walking steadily down the highway with no idea why. He can draw something and see a perfect circle, but suddenly the camera cuts and we see something drawn by a second grader. It really puts everything he sees in doubt.
It's not just Will, either. One of the more interesting parts of the Hannibal world is how strange normal things can look. When Hannibal boils a hallucinogenic tea for a young protege, you're suspicious in the first place because the establishing shot of the tea is so bizarre. You start with a disorienting close-up of the boiling ingredients and then you find out the whole thing is upside down. Sort of a cheap gimmick in some ways, but it lets you know there is something very wrong with the tea and that something is about to get very weird. It also provides a smooth transition to the "I am on special tea vision" scenes that follow soon after. Plus, there are no Alice in Wonderland references, which I for one appreciate. We all love Alice, but come on everybody. Other people wrote hallucinogenic stuff, too.
8. There Is a Plan!
NBC Hannibal Hannibal is just a nice guy doing Will Graham a favor.
Maybe I'm still bitter after slogging through Lost and Battlestar Galactica, only to be shit upon by the writers. It was two different kinds of shitting to be fair. Battlestar hammered all living plot-points with instant resolutions (all the extra messiah babies died and we've been in the Opera House the whole time! That was totally planned!). Lost just gave up then showed us good guy in white, a bad guy in black and a magic pit. One is less enraging than the other, but they both show something that is the bane of geek entertainment everywhere; writers seeding plots and weird bits of information that never, ever go anywhere. It's becoming endemic, to the point that Sherlock, which is based on a property that tended to explain everything, just refused to explain the central mystery at the heart of the season-ender.
Hannibal does not do this. Every weird aside and strange thing that doesn't fit in is eventually tied together. For instance, at one point Hannibal visits Will's house and feeds his dogs with homemade (people) sausage. He fiddles around and looks at Will's stuff and looks in his sock drawer. Then he does something odd with something on a table. If you are eagle-eyed enough or watching on Amazon so you can rewind a little, you realize it's a fishing lure. Why is Hannibal in Will's house and screwing around with his fishing stuff? Later Will thanks Hannibal for taking care of his dogs and you think that's the end of it. Except at the end of the season, Jack mentions it again. And then you understand that it was the culmination of a very long-term plan. And, if you're me, you fall out of your seat.
9. The Humor! The Horror!
The Hannibal marketing team is also in on the joke.
Hannibal is a cannibal. Get it? It rhymes. That really isn't that funny. But Hannibal himself is. In fact, he seems to have invented a whole genre of wordplay. I will dub this genre "cannibal jokes." As I said before, it isn't completely clear what Hannibal's deal is at first or if he's already a serial killer. You start to figure it out, though, when Hannibal starts having people over for dinner. They're eating food, and you start to wonder if they're eating people or not. It's sort of funny, too, since he's a cannibal and he's having them for dinner. Then he says that it's great to have friends for dinner. As he does he gets this weird little half smile and pretends to get absorbed in the wine. Yes, Hannibal is aware that you're amused by this.
He keeps doing it for the whole show. It's all about let me have you for dinner and this meat is so tender. At first its sly stuff such as the above mentioned dinner scene but then they abandon subtlety. Jack asks about the meat and Hannibal says they're eating rabbit. Jack says he's glad the rabbit wasn't fast enough to get away. Hannibal chuckles and nods, as we cut to what Hannibal is remembering; a real live human, trapped in what looks like an animal trap, pleading and trying to get away while Hannibal inexorably approaches.
Hilarious, right? Well, no. It's horrifying. Then again, it is pretty funny. Further muddying the waters is a scene where someone is a douche to Hannibal and Hannibal asks for his business card. Later, when looking through a recipe book and realizing he needs some juicy internal organs, Hannibal digs into his Rolodex and pulls out the man's card. It is cannibalistic grocery shopping at its finest. It's horror-larious!
10. It's a Faithful Adaptation and Deserves Support!
NBC Hannibal Planning is important.
The show runner for Hannibal has a plan. Not a Steven Moffat plan that gets distracted from itself and is punctuated by deus ex machina plot twists and strangely interchangeable characters. No. This is actually a good plan. Hannibal has a few years of history behind it, and the show was intended to start as a prequel but more than that; it is intended to actually retell the canonical events at some point. Assuming it all comes to fruition (and it might if more people actually get them the ratings they need), we will see brand new versions of Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs along with the sequels. There are even specific seasons mapped to specific remaps. This plan features a real lack of the usual "keep pushing out episodes until they stop us" that ruins a lot of shows. It also avoids the potential for a nigh-infinite prequel like Smallville.
More to the point, though, this is a show that actually respects and cares for its properties. This is getting pretty rare these days. Obviously, the people behind it are a bit too obsessed with a sometimes schlocky series of books about a cannibal psychologist. To which I say - these are my people! Also, it's on a network channel, which usually is a kiss of death as far as quality goes. Could this show inspire non-exploitative nerd fare and networks actually competing with cable to make awesome shows? It's a little far-fetched but by no means impossible. On a side note, it's a good show, and the season one ending episode both made sense and was interesting, which is more than I can say about a lot of shows lately.
Previously by David N. Scott