In case you haven’t heard, TV is the new film. It’s true. Today, more than ever, viewers who favor layered plotlines complete with dynamic characterizations are investing in television series rather than shelling out their cash for increasingly cliched, big budgeted CGI fests on the big screen. With shows like Breaking Bad, Downton Abbey, American Horror Story and Bates Motel rolling out on a regular basis, it’s easy to see why. The high quality of the acting and writing found in the aforementioned shows more than makes up for their lack of Michael Bay-sized budgets.
Yet, making the decision to invest in a TV show is tough. It’s a lot like getting into a new relationship. You’ve got no idea how long it’s going to last, and there’s a major risk that things may end badly. Just look at How I Met Your Mother.
There’s so much out there to choose from, with even more on the way. We’ve got shows about zombies and vampires, shows about people who come back from the dead and aren’t zombie or vampires and even shows based off of old Michael J. Fox movies. Given the popularity of Netflix’s Orange is the New Black, the series is about to shed its television limitations, and the options will only continue to grow from there.
So just what should you be watching? Fear not, I’ve got the answer.
You really ought to be watching Hannibal.
Hannibal, NBC’s daring weekly thriller, serves up a smorgasbord of murder, manipulation and gourmet cannibalism that has, quite frankly, never looked so appetizing. Based on characters created by crime novelist Thomas Harris for his 1981 work, Red Dragon, the Bryan Fuller-helmed series takes the once familiar world of Hannibal Lecter and turns it on its head – creating new twists and unexpected turns for even the most seasoned of Lecter fanatics.
Like American Horror Story, Hannibal is a series that pushes the boundaries of network television on a weekly basis. It features some of the most disturbing imagery imaginable realized on-screen through breathtaking cinematography, which pays more than its fair share of homages to the late, great Stanley Kubrick, complimented by a piercing score. Thanks to its top-notch production, Hannibal is, without question, the best looking show on television. Each shot is crafted in such a fashion that it’s almost a crying shame to see it reduced to the small screen.
The series dually tells the untold story of Hannibal Lecter before he was captured for his crimes while completely reinventing the world previously established by Harris in his original trilogy of Lecter novels – Red Dragon, The Silence of the Lambs, and Hannibal. The novels, which themselves reveal very little of the details behind Hannibal’s time as an active serial killer and his capture, are only loosely adhered to by the show’s writers. Some characters are reimagined as members of the opposite sex, while others share no common traits with their source material aside from names. While it’s often absolute sacrilege to deviate so freely from source material, particularly source material as high quality as Harris’ novels, Hannibal‘s deviations are clever and ultimately only serve to make the story more engaging. Besides, Harris lost a whole lot of his luster when he put out the loathsome Hannibal Rising solely for the movie deal back in 2006. Best to just pretend that one never happened.
Though he was first realized on-screen by veteran actor Brian Cox in the little remembered 1986 adaptation of Red Dragon titled Manhunter, Hannibal Lecter, the psychopathic psychoanalyst with a taste for human flesh, did not firmly entrench himself into the consciousness of the mainstream until he was chillingly portrayed by Anthony Hopkins in 1991’s The Silence of the Lambs. Though he was only on-screen for around 16-minutes, Hopkins’ mocking monotone resonated with audiences for years to come. “Hannibal the Cannibal” became a household name, and the phrase “I’m having an old friend for dinner” took on a sinister new meaning.
Hopkins reprised his role in 1999’s Hannibal and again in the 2002 version of Red Dragon. From there, interest in Lecter began to wane largely thanks to the fact that there were no more books left to adapt and seemingly no more story left to tell. Though the film version of Hannibal leaves room for a sequel, the novel told a much different and less open ended story, making a follow-up by Harris extremely unlikely. As previously mentioned, Harris would eventually cave to the allure of yet another studio paycheck and quickly churned out Hannibal Rising, a prequel to Red Dragon that chronicles Lecter’s youth and transition into a serial killer. While this story certainly looks good on paper, the book consisted largely of material rehashed from flashbacks contained in Hannibal along with the bizarre revelation that Dr. Lecter received training as a Samurai. Like I said before, it’s really best to pretend that Hannibal Rising never happened.
Bad as it was, the idea behind Rising certainly contained a great deal of potential. For the most part, readers had previously only seen Dr. Lecter in captivity. His past was largely shrouded in mystery, with only a few sparse details sprinkled throughout Harris’ novels. How a man who seemed to mentally be ten steps ahead of everyone around him ever came to be caught in the first place was more-or-less unknown.
NBC’s Hannibal takes the nugget of a good idea present in Hannibal Rising, tosses out all the weird stuff about Samurais and love affairs with distant aunts, and replaces it with a fast-paced, hard hitting weekly roller-coaster ride through an increasingly terrifying world of madness.
Casino Royale‘s Mads Mikkelsen steps comfortably into the shoes of Anthony Hopkins as Dr. Lecter, completely erasing any lingering memories of Gaspard Ulliel. Some say that Mikkelsen tops even Hopkins with with his mesmerizing performance that intentionally parallels Milton’s Satan.
Putting Lecter and Satan in the same sentence isn’t much of a stretch, Lecter is, for all intents and purposes, a near omniscient force of destruction on the show. It would take a very unique individual to bring such a man to justice, and Hannibal gives audiences just such an individual in Hugh Dancy’s Will Graham. Graham’s knack for getting into people’s minds makes him a valuable commodity to the FBI, yet the dark places that murder investigations regularly take Graham leave his sanity in near constant plight. His struggle to come to terms with the toll his unique “gift” takes on him places Graham on a collision course with Dr. Lecter and drives the plot of the series.
It’s audacious. It’s gruesome. It’s disorienting. It’s even sophisticated. NBC’s Hannibal is the best show on television, and if you’re not watching it, the only question you should have is “How can I see it?” Now in its second season, Hannibal airs every Friday night at 9 p.m. on NBC.