From the first rumblings of a television series about Hannibal Lecter, the little hairs on my arms were set aquiver. Granted, it was being developed by NBC, which automatically means temper one’s expectations; the combination of the source material and Bryan Fuller as writer/showrunner balanced the scale. Because I’m not terribly familiar with him, I didn’t have much of a reaction to Hugh Dancy being cast, but the second Mads Mikkelsen came on board, that sealed the deal; no matter how badly they might fork things up, I was going to watch. Last Thursday, “Hannibal” made its promising debut, and let me tell you what…you need to jump on this train. While most of us have quietly and quickly quit “The Following” and “Bates Motel,” both hammy and heavy-handed, I think “Hannibal” could be a long hauler. Jump on now before you miss one more second of this “love story” between Agent Will Graham and Dr. Hannibal Lecter.
1. Hugh Dancy as Will Graham
Let me start out by saying I haven’t seen Dancy in much, so I was completely unprepared for how great he was. As in Thomas Harris’ Red Dragon, the character is extremely empathetic, here to the point he imagines himself in a killer’s shoes—committing horrific murders. This version Will Graham has the added twist of being on the Asperger’s end of the autistic spectrum, semi-forced into identifying himself to his boss (Lawrence Fishburne as Jack Crawford). Dancy seamlessly transforms from violent criminal (we see Graham actually committing the violent acts as he imagines them in his head) to a brilliant, disheveled investigator who can barely look someone in the eye, to a haunted and vulnerable man on the defense, as Hannibal sizes up his intellectual competition. For me, Dancy is the surprise star of the show—where I thought Mikkelsen would dwarf everyone around him, Dancy’s raw throw-it-all-on-the-table style of acting commanded attention. Interestingly, I noticed a similarity to his wife’s acting style, albeit without the contorted cry-face.
2. Mads Mothereffin’ Mikkelsen
As filled with anticipation as I was to see Mikkelsen’s take on Dr. Lecter, I did wonder how he’d sound, and whether it would be troublesome were it so different from the iconic Anthony Hopkins version of Lecter. Even though the two actors generally have a different appearance, there is some similarity in facial structure that lends itself to the imagination.
Someone wisely made the decision to just let Mikkelsen go with his own Scandanavian accent; the natural thickness in his voice gives his Lecter enough of a European polish—it works. And though he may be well known for his gruff, tough film roles, refined Mads translates beautifully. The angles of his face seem sharper, giving way to those of his tie and tailored suit. His slow, careful movements give this Lecter an unsettling calm and grace—almost a softness we might have expected of a younger Hopkins. It’s the violent history we already know that unconsciously aids Mikkelsen’s performance, but he is already playing us (and Will); foolish fiddles we are. There’s a moment at the end of the pilot episode, “Apéritif”; a disarming gesture by Hannibal that catches us off guard. But it is the utterly serene, slight-hint-of-a-smile on Mikkelsen’s face that leaves us knowing we should be terrified.
3. Bryan Fuller’s Glorious Use of Color, His Vision and References to The Shining
I practically peed my pants when I saw that bathroom scene, directly
lifted from inspired by The Shining. Fuller is a huge Kubrick and Shining fan; he especially loves its visual distinctions. And if you’ve seen Fuller’s other shows (“Pushing Daisies, Wonderfalls, Dead Like Me”), you’re already aware he’s developed a brand of visual style that commands as much attention as characters and plotlines. Because the story of Will Graham is that of a man who is driven to breakdown, Fuller is pursuing the series along some parallel Shining lines. (As long as rights can be secured, future appearances by Clarice Starling and Jame Gumb can also be expected.)
4. The Elaborate Reenactments and Crime Scenes…The Horror!
Any Silence of the Lambs fan remembers the crime scenes as much as Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins.
I’m happy to report that neither the show nor the network seems to be shying away from the dark, dirty or disgusting (we’ll have to wait to see if any cellmates do the ol’ fluid flinging). Hannibal’s already cooked up a liver and some lungs, but I’ll be damned if I’ve spotted any beans as yet.
5. Eddie’s Coming
That’s right, our buddy Eddie Izzard shed that terrible Grandpa Munster costume and traded it in for a prison jumpsuit. Come to think of it, he’d be a perfect fling-ster.
6. And Gillian Anderson, Too
Our favorite former redhead joins in the fun as Dr. Bedelia Du Maurier, Lecter’s psychiatrist. I can’t even imagine the greatness that will happen when Anderson and Mikkelsen sit across from each other.
The series isn’t perfect; Fishburne is just serviceable, and the supporting cast of FBI agents are little more than distraction. But with Dancy and Mikkelsen, who cares? Their cat and mouse/dance is the real reason to watch. What are you waiting for? It’s not to late to play catch up tonight, before the second episode, “Amuse-Bouche” airs Thursday night at 9 pm EST. Here’s the pilot: