Bryan Fuller's Hannibal television series is notable for so many reasons. It foresaw our increasing fascination as a society with true crime and serial murders. The show feels massively ahead of its time and now almost a decade later feels like we've finally caught up with it, making it feel as fresh now as ever and a reason to check it out now if you never have before. It also ushered in the current era of prestige television and in many ways set out the model for the successful streaming show. Never a hit in ratings, it clung on to getting three seasons because of how well its viewership did on DVR, on-demand, and streaming on Hulu. Its artistry and willingness to push the boundaries of what network censors would allow was notable as well. It's also just amazingly good television and if you're looking for something to binge this spooky season (and through Thanksgiving if you can, er, stomach it?), Hannibal serves it up.
Hannibal, the series is based on the books by Thomas Harris, and his most famous literary creation, Dr. Hannibal Lecter, a murderous psychiatrist who likes to eat his victims, especially the ones he considers rude. The brilliance of the Hannibal show is that it takes Hannibal and his counterpart, Will Graham, an FBI profiler, and places them years before the events of any of the other books or films we know them from. Most prequels, and most prequel series, fail because of their need to explain everything and put in cute little easter eggs. Instead, this show does something entirely different. It attempts to deconstruct its two characters and then re-entwine them in a way that recontextualizes what we thought we knew.
It then places in those roles two master actors, Mads Mikkelson as the eponymous Dr. Lecter, and Hugh Dancy as Graham. Their relationship, from episode 1, is the driving force of the show. Sometimes brothers in arms, sometimes the closest of friends, sometimes friendly rivals, sometimes enemies who are literally trying to murder each other, and then this layer throughout of sexual tension that just drives all the right parts of the internet absolutely wild. I can imagine the pitch meeting:
Bryan Fuller: Remember Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter?
NBC Executive: From 'Manhunter' and 'Red Dragon?' Sure.
BF: What if they wanted to f@#$? And what if we wanted them to f@#$?
The Main Course
Of course, the show is more than just the sexual tension between two men. It is also a joyful cat and mouse game between these two people who become mirror images of each other the longer the series goes on. It is also, especially in its first season, a really solid police procedural that follows an FBI team chasing down serial killers.
It is also just gorgeous. Fuller rarely disappoints in this manner, but the show is fascinating in its ability to show the most disturbing and macabre imagery with the most creative and stomach-turning blood and gore and then a few minutes later deliver the most gorgeous food porn possible. It should come as no surprise when in the credits they note food consulting by Chef Jose Andres who made sure the food looked just right and Hannibal's chopping and knife work was up to snuff. It is mind-boggling that the guy known for food philanthropy and serving up meals in disaster areas is the someone who mentored Hannibal Lecter, but here we are.
The show also never gets completely pinned down by one thing. Season 1 represents a complete arc and plays out much like a procedural, bookended by the depth of how affected Will and Hannibal are by their first case together, the Minnesota Shrike.
Season 2 just completely goes off the rails. In some ways, it's excellent. In others, it is likely the weakest of the three. Season 3 is then divided into two arcs. The first brings in elements of Harris's Hannibal novel, some of which never quite made it to the Anthony Hopkins movie. It's definitely a choice, especially when you realize those things were left out because they are completely bug-nuts insane. And the second half is a retelling of the Red Dragon storyline which completely blows the other two filmed versions out of the water. While so much of this lies on our two main characters, the show also delivers with an impressive supporting cast including Lawrence Fishburne as Jack Crawford.
And about those rumors of a season 4, nothing would sound sweeter. Again, this show feels as fresh as ever and even more in the zeitgeist than it was when it originally aired. And in this era where streaming content is high concept, high art, even high budget, and generally the new home for prestige television, it's time to bring it back. So go fire this up on Hulu and have a rewatch. It's the perfect spooky treat this Halloween season.