Compared to the last few shows I’ve written about in these binge reports, it took me about three times as long to finish the first two seasons of NBC’s Hannibal. This does not have anything to do with a lack of enjoyment- I actually quite liked the show. But man, its gruesome nature and frequently irritating characters make it difficult to watch more than a few episodes in a row. I knew I was in trouble when it was revealed in the pilot that the main character, Will (the ridiculously handsome Hugh Dancy) is a big dog lover and has essentially a pack of dogs that he has rescued and taken in as pets. Those of you who know me know that I have a thing about watching bad things happen to animals onscreen. It is truly a miracle I am still watching Game of Thrones. I literally turned off The Walking Dead during the pilot and never looked back after a certain scene involving a horse. So, as you can imagine, this abundance of adorable canines was a source of constant anxiety for me throughout the 26 episodes of the show that exist thusfar. Also, I may add that the anxiety was not unwarranted, given a couple of scenes that occurred in the final episodes of season 2. (I am happy to report that all of Will’s dogs are still alive, but there were some close calls.)
The TV adaptation of Hannibal is the brainchild of Bryan Fuller, known for the woefully short-lived Pushing Daisies, Wonderfalls and Dead Like Me, all three of which I completely adore. Although Hannibal is different in that it is based on existing characters and mythology, Fuller’s signature style shines through in nearly every frame, with bold visuals, loud colors, and a surrealist feel. Another thing I love about Bryan Fuller is that he is very loyal to the fantastic group of actors he has worked with over the years, and the same people often pop up on multiple shows. For example, Caroline Dhavernas, who I loved as Jaye, the snarky main character on
Wonderfalls, is a series regular on Hannibal as Dr. Alana Bloom. Ellen Muth, who was fantastic as the lead on Dead Like Me, also popped up in a couple of episodes of Hannibal.
The most frustrating part of watching Hannibal is dealing with the oblivious stupidity of basically every character who is not Will or Hannibal (Mads Mikkelsen). It does not require an advanced understanding of the Hannibal universe, which was made famous in books and movies long before the show, to know that the titular character is a cannibalistic serial killer. Guess who does not know this bit of information for an excessively long time? Basically everyone else on the show. As a viewer, this can be incredibly aggravating, and causes responses like yelling at your television and wishing you could reach through the screen and shake fictional characters. Special Agent Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne) is the worst offender, although Alana gives him a real run for his money in season 2. Will, however, is the actual best, and this makes up for many of the failings of the supporting characters.
This show is definitely not for the faint of heart. While I have friends who claim they have no problem eating while watching it, I always made it a point to avoid that. I personally would just rather not watch involved sequences of Hannibal sauteing human flesh (of which the show has many) while chowing down on my dinner. One of the many admirable things about Hannibal is how much they get away with for a network television show.
The best example of getting away with essentially murder (before Shonda made it cool) is the season 2 finale. When it ended, I had to sit back and go “wait, did that really just happen?” I feel the need to discuss this in detail, so, please stop reading now if you don’t want spoilers for the season 2 finale. When the episode ends, Hannibal is sipping champagne and flying off into the sunset after leaving the other three series regulars bleeding to death, fates unknown. Yes, that is correct: when season 2 faded to black, three out of four series regulars were bleeding to death. What other show does that? It was such a bold choice, and left me with no idea what next season could be. I have very minimal knowledge of the Hannibal universe outside of the TV show, which I actually find to be an advantage because it keeps me in suspense. Those who know the classic story more closely may have a better idea of what to expect in season 3 but I personally enjoy not knowing, and can’t wait to find out. End spoilers.
This show wouldn’t be what it is without the fantastic performances of Hugh Dancy and Mads Mikkelsen, who play off one another in their often erotic-seeming game of cat and mouse in a way that is delightful to watch. In the pilot, Mikkelsen’s thick accent is difficult to understand and a bit of a turn-off, but he was clearly instructed to tone that down for the series, so don’t let that dissuade you. The show also features some outstanding high-profile guest stars: Gillian Anderson (who will be a series regular in season 3), Cynthia Nixon, Gina Torres, Eddie Izzard, Anna Chlumsky, and Raul Esparza, among others.
I am sad that season 3 won’t air until 2015 because not only am I dying to know what happens next, but I believe this is a show that is better NOT binge-watched. Aside from being visually and thematically overwhelming at times, I think it is a story that is best told in small doses, drawn out over time. I look forward to experiencing it that way.