Developed for television by: Bryan Fuller
Based on: Red Dragon by Thomas Harris
Starring: Hugh Dancy, Mads Mikkelsen, Lawrence Fishburne, Carolina Dhavernas, Hettienne Park
Running time per episode: 42 minutes
I have been a huge fan of the Hannibal Lecter series ever since I first watched a great chunk of the 2001 film Hannibal (starring Anthony Hopkins as Lecter and Julianne Moore as Clarice Starling) on AMC and enjoyed it immensely. I then proceeded to read Thomas Harris’s prequel story Hannibal Rising, which details the development of a young Hannibal into the cannibalistic serial killer we see in the original trilogy, and I later watched the rather mediocre (but still enjoyable) film adaptation starring Gaspard Ulliel in the role of Hannibal Lecter. After that, I watched the rest of the films (including Michael Mann’s superb 1986 thriller Manhunter, adapted from Red Dragon). When I heard in the spring of 2012 that they were developing a TV series for NBC about Special Investigator Will Graham’s relationship with Dr. Lecter, I was quite excited. The excitement only grew when I heard that they had cast Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen (famous for playing Bond villain Le Chiffre in Casino Royale) in the role of Hannibal. The first role cast was that of Hugh Dancy as Will Graham, but I was not familiar with him. The show was also being developed by cult-favorite Bryan Fuller (Dead Like Me, Wonderfalls, Pushing Daisies), who I also was not familiar with.
Here are some things you need to know before watching the series: this show is not in the same canon as the films, but takes place in the “Fullerverse” (which includes this, Dead Like Me, Wonderfalls, Pushing Daisies, and Mockingbird Lane). Also, the first season (and the soon to be released second season) are about Will Graham and Hannibal’s relationship before the latter’s capture. This relationship was not present in the books, but adds an interesting depth to the characters. The idea of Hannibal and Will being friends and colleagues before Lecter’s capture originated in the 2002 film Red Dragon. This show is not derivative of the films, but makes references to both the films and the books which are usually quite amusing. The show has a very different atmosphere from the Anthony Hopkins Hannibal adaptation series, as well as Michael Mann’s Manhunter.
Here is my synopsis of the series (with as little spoilers as possible):
Criminal profiler Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) is tortured by his ability to empathize with anyone, including psychopaths. His mental and emotional instability made him unable to become a real FBI agent, but they continued to use him as a consultant until he decided to become a teacher at the academy. Will is eventually asked by the head of the BAU, Special Agent Jack Crawford (Lawrence Fishburne) to help him catch a new serial killer who has arisen: the Minnesota Shrike. Will reluctantly agrees. They are soon stumped by the killer’s psychology, and through the advice of Dr. Alana Bloom (Caroline Dhavernas), famed Baltimore psychiatrist Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen) is brought into the investigation. No one suspects that Dr. Lecter is a serial killer himself. Hannibal is instantly fascinated by Graham’s “pure empathy” and believes that he can help him catch the Shrike. Hannibal does this primarily by doing a Minnesota Shrike copy-cat murder, which gives Will everything he needs to figure out who the killer is.
While Will is initially not interested in Hannibal’s proposal for friendship, he and Hannibal begin a friendship and find the Shrike: Garret Jacob Hobbs together. Hannibal manipulates events so that Will shoots and kills Hobbs after he kills his wife and injures his daughter Abigail (Kacey Rohl). Will then becomes Hannibal’s unofficial patient as he struggles with feelings over the shooting of Hobbs.
Over the course of the season, Will and Hannibal become closer friends and develop father-daughter relationships with Abigail Hobbs, who gravitates closer to Hannibal. This causes friction between them and Jack, who suspects that Abigail was involved in her father’s murders. As more killers are caught, Will and Hannibal’s friendship becomes more and more deadly as Hannibal tries to “help” Will find the killer inside him.
This is easily the best material we’ve had based around Hannibal Lecter in a long time, and I believe it to be the best. The characters, while different from what we’ve seen before in the films, are very faithful to the books. This holds true especially for Hannibal and Will.
Edward Norton (who portrayed Will in Red Dragon) utterly failed to capture the tortured aspect of the character. The tortured side of Graham is only seen when he is visited by Jack Crawford in the beginning of the film. This aspect of the character seems to be totally dropped for the rest of the film (only resurfacing a few times, usually while Will visits Anthony Hopkins’s Hannibal). William Petersen brought out the tortured aspect of Will, but failed in capturing his vulnerability. Hugh Dancy managed to make Will strong, but still mentally and emotionally tortured, as well as being very vulnerable and neurotic.
Anthony Hopkins was the Bela Lugosi portrayal out of all of the Hannibal Lecter’s. He was larger than life and creepy, but also came across at times as rather hammy. Brian Cox (the Hannibal “Lecktor” of Manhunter) was subtle and intelligent but did not seem anywhere near as refined as Anthony Hopkins did. Mads Mikkelsen perfectly captured the subtle manipulator in the Hannibal character, as well showing his noble upbringing and intelligence. Like Anthony Hopkins, Mads Mikkelsen is very fun to watch (even though Mikkelsen is much more subtle). While the things he does are terrible and he is much more evil than Anthony Hopkins’s portrayal, he is actually much more likable. You can’t help but get a few laughs whenever he makes cannibal puns and when he cooks the rude in S1E7 (Sorbet). I skipped Gaspard Ulliel because he portrays Hannibal at a completely different stage of his life.
The relationship between Hannibal and Will (Mikkelsen and Dancy have great chemistry), as well as their relationships with those around them, are the hallmarks of the series. While the murder investigations and the criminal profiling are important parts of the show, the show is first and foremost a character study. Lawrence Fishburne’s portrayal is an example of the masterful character development that is shown in the show as he juggles catching serial killers, worrying about Will, and coping with his wife Bella’s (Gina Torres) recent cancer diagnosis.
The acting and casting is top notch. I can’t picture anyone else playing the roles as effectively as the current cast. I knew that Mads Mikkelsen would be good, but I didn’t think he would usurp Anthony Hopkins’s portrayal (in my mind) as the best portrayal of Thomas Harris’s character. Hugh Dancy took me by surprise and nailed his role as Will Graham in a way I never expected also, as he played the Will Graham from the Red Dragon novel almost perfectly. The guest stars have given delicious performances as well. Eddie Izzard and Gillian Anderson are the ones that primarily come to mind, but Lance Henricksen also appeared in a small role in S1E9 (Trou Normand) as a serial killer. Eddie Izzard’s character, murderer Dr. Abel Gideon, was easily the best guest villain in the season for me. Gillian Anderson’s Dr. Bedelia Du Maurier has the fascinating privilege of acting as Dr. Lecter’s psychiatrist and is also a very suspicious character.
The entire scope of the first season was so intense and epic that I was dreading getting to the finale, and I am still in dread waiting for Season 2 to premiere. I’ve never seen a premier or a finale in a show that gripped me as much as in Hannibal. I was immediately invested in the characters, especially Will Graham. The performances and scores add volumes to the intensity.
If you enjoyed the Hannibal films and books, like crime shows, or miss Michael C. Hall’s Dexter Morgan slicing through his victims, I highly recommend you give the show a viewing. The show is currently out on DVD and Blu Ray and Season 2 premieres on February 28. Prepare to embrace the madness!