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Reasons You’re Not Watching Hannibal (But Should Be)

todayJune 26, 2014 75 1

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hannibal-bannerThere’s a good chance that you’re not already watching the brilliantly executed TV drama, Hannibal. I’m here to tell you why every one of your reasons for skipping it are wrong.

First, the basics:
Let’s assume you know the story of Hannibal Lecter from Silence of the Lambs and the other movies. This show starts before any of those stories, setting up Hannibal’s timeline from start to finish without any mucking about in prequels. The show airs typically from February to May, Fridays on NBC, and has just completed the second season. Bryan Fuller is behind the wheel.

anthony-hopkins-hannibal1) Anthony Hopkins isn’t Hannibal

Let’s get this one out of the way first, because it’s the most obvious. It was also my biggest hang-up about the new show.

Aside from a bizarre pronunciation of the word Chianti, Anthony Hopkins’ performance as Hannibal was indeed legendary. It’s so iconic, you can’t wrap your mind around the concept of a different actor’s reinterpreting the role and doing it any justice, let alone doing it better.

That’s right. I said better. Don’t burn me at the stake for heresy JUST yet, because this is still up for debate in my mind, too. I can’t QUITE admit yet that Mads Mikkelsen might be a better Hannibal so I’m trying to rationalize it: “The story and mood is different, so the role itself is different, not just the portrayal of the character. If Anthony Hopkins was directed by Bryan Fuller, he might have done just as well.”

I’m usually one of the first to turn their nose up at a remake of a classic, whether it’s music or film. It’s CLASSIC for a reason, why bother? Make something new,  GOSH. However, sometimes, when the people in charge know what they’re doing, an exciting spin can be put on the material to please both new and old fans.

jack-nicholson_jokerMyCard_The_JokerAn example:

Everybody loved Jack Nicholson as the Joker. He was PERFECT. Conniving yet wacky, cruel and absolutely disturbed. And, of course, very colorful amidst the dark world of Tim Burton’s Gotham.

And then along comes Heath Ledger. Most people had their reservations, but it’s hard to argue now that he didn’t do the role justice. He played the Joker differently — he HAD to, because he’s NOT Jack Nicholson. No one is but Jack himself. It would do a disservice to Nicholson to try to reprise that version of the Joker rather than reinvent him in a new way.

Was Heath better than Jack? That’s of course your opinion. I favor Cesar Romero, but don’t let that opinion keep you from watching Hannibal either.

2) I didn’t like the original movies.HAnnibal-Drinking-Wine

On the flip side, maybe you’re one of the people who didn’t like the movies. Bryan Fuller seems to be a master at breaking from canon and yet sticking to the overall story arc – imagine it as an alternate universe version where the end result is the same but the path is vastly different.

The original Hannibal movie was a bit ghastly and over-the-top. I found Julianne Moore as Clarice to be incredibly nerve-grating, probably because she was trying to play Jodie Foster as Clarice, thus illustrating my point above. Hannibal had gone from being an unnervingly charming tiger in a cage to a caricature of himself.

Red Dragon is a solid film, but it feels a little too similar to The Silence of the Lambs with the Lecter helping an investigator from behind bars element even though, in the books, The Silence of the Lambs is a sequel to Red Dragon. Still, it’s worth watching to see where the Graham/Lecter story ends up going, and Hopkins’ final performance as Hannibal Lecter is less over the top than Hannibal and more akin to his performance in The Silence of the Lambs.

I’ve heard nothing good about Hannibal Rising and have successfully avoided it so far.

The television show Hannibal is much more of a psychological thriller than true horror. It’s smart, sophisticated, and artistic. If you even slightly enjoyed Silence of the Lambs or Red Dragon, you should give the show a fighting chance. I can’t say the show isn’t gory — in fact, it’s probably one of the bloodiest shows on television, right up there with Walking Dead, AHS, Game of Thrones, and True Blood. But, I’ll get back to that comparison in a minute…

3) It’s on NBC

Right, I get it. It’s network TV, which tends to be corny, or cheaply made, or just plain shallow. This was another major problem for me, especially since I think of NBC as more of a comedy network thanks to SNLSeinfeldCommunity (R.I.P.), andThe Tonight Show (Jay Leno era notwithstanding).

I heard about Hannibal right in the peak of my Breaking Bad addiction last summer. BB was better than most, if not all, premium channel shows I’d ever seen. “Why am I paying Showtime to watch Dexter when Breaking Bad is so magnificent?”

“I tied the small ribs of the lamb together to resemble praying hands.” – Janice Poon, Feeding Hannibal on Blogspot

In Breaking Bad‘s wake I found myself slightly less willing to trust new shows, let alone network television. Nothing could live up to this new standard of storytelling. Similarly, Hannibal will shatter any low expectations and leave you hungry for the next episode. Pun intended.

Every scene is shot artfully, with careful consideration toward minuscule detail. Eerie dream sequences, surreal visions and symbolism punctuate every episode.  Meanwhile, Hannibal‘s gourmet meals are literal works of art, created expertly by Janice Poon, and and will leave you feeling disturbingly peckish.  Never once have I felt that the network was cutting corners to save a dime or cheaply play to advertising dollars.

4) If it’s not getting high ratings, how can it be any good?

Ummm... Spoilers?
Ummm… Spoilers?

Plenty of really fantastic shows struggle with ratings all the time. Maybe the stars aren’t aligned for them or maybe they’re on against popular shows that get more attention for whatever reason.

One thing that impresses me with Hannibal is that the show’s actions, unlike some others on TV, don’t seem to be driven to create a ratings buzz. I doubt anyone is standing around the water cooler at work saying “Oh man, did you see that crazy shit on Hannibal last night? The way that guy was sliced open and his entrails strewn about everywhere like some sort of grisly baroque painting and it was all set to classical music? That was FUUUUCKED UP!”

Don’t get me wrong, it’s got its shock value moments, but they’re not with the intent to shock you. Each moment is purposeful and even the gory scenes are artistic and often beautiful. While I can’t speak for all of Hannibal‘s viewers, these scenes often leave me feeling just.. disturbed. Mostly, I think, because they are so beautiful, making it enjoyable to watch something that you’re not supposed to. PRO TIP: One friend suggested watching cartoons immediately afterward to help shake you out of your weird mental state.

Meanwhile, Hannibal has gotten the attention of critics, nabbing Vulture’s “Best Drama” award and Hulu’s 2014 Best In Show award, and I would not be surprised if it FINALLY started winning Emmys. Not that those usually mean anything but… when it does happen, don’t you want to be ahead of everyone else? To have the smug satisfaction of saying, “Yeah, I watched that before it was popular.”

5) I watch too many shows already.

Who doesn’t? Listen, it’s only 13 episodes a season, 45 minutes each. Don’t marathon it, just find time here and there to watch when you can.

If you were trying to cut calories, you might find yourself needing to cut down your daily snacks, choosing between  bottle of soda or a delicious freshly-baked cookie. Either is going to be enjoyable but you can’t have both. Find one show in your schedule that isn’t as good any more but you’re just watching it for completion, and put it off a week while you check out Hannibal. We’re in the off season right now so you have plenty of time before it returns in 2015.

And, by the way, don’t give up on Hannibal if you don’t like it right at first. It evolves from a crime-of-the-week drama with a running back story into a psychological thriller.

6) It’s not on Netflix.

Ok. You have a point. NBC is being very short-sighted about this, allowing only the last four episodes to be streamed on Hulu, and as of right now  only season one is on Amazon Prime. But, the episodes are out there, and there’s a good chance Amazon Prime will add season 2 in plenty of time for you to catch up.

Other Reasons: 

Comedian cameos. Eddie Izzard and Scott Thompson play recurring characters. Molly Shannon shows up once too. One of my favorite things is to see comedians/comedic actors playing serious roles out of their element, and these are no disappointment. Except, Eddie Izzard’s American accent leaves a little to be desired.

Even more star power: Gillian Anderson also has a fairly regular part on Hannibal. Who’s rumored to be on next year? Well let’s see… David Bowie as Hannibal’s uncle, and some guy named David Tennant who was also rumored to have been considered for the lead role. No big deal.

“Dead Like Me” easter eggs: Bryan Fuller was also the creator of the wonderful, but short-lived, Dead Like Me on Showtime. The story focused around a girl named Georgia “George” Lass, played by Ellen Muth, who dies and returns to Earth as the average girl-next-door grim reaper. Ellen Muth shows up in Hannibal as Georgia Madchen, a girl who thinks she is dead. I don’t believe this is coincidental at all, nor do I think it’s particularly relevant to the Hannibal story line. It’s just a cool little tie-in for those of us who loved Dead Like Me, thanks to Bryan Fuller.

The score: A minor detail, of course, but the score on Hannibal is unlike anything else that is on television right now. It doesn’t have the Hans Zimmer “BAAAAAMBS!” and “ALL OF THE ARPEGGIO STRINGS EVERYWHERE!” aesthetic, nor does it have a typical tv series score that is hardly worth remembering. What series composer Brian Reitzell is doing is creating a nightmarish score that underlines the nightmarish feel of the show. Gone are traditional melodies, and in their place are sparse uses of percussion and almost avant-garde like string plucking. The score doesn’t make you feel like you’re watching a tv show. It makes you feel like you’re inside of Will Graham’s nightmare.

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