Last night, NBC embarked on the 6th live action iteration of Dr. Hannibal Lector. When this series was first announced as just a prequel to Red Dragon following early exploits of Hannibal and Will Graham I wasn't very interested. But, things just kept moving in the right direction. Bryan Fuller? Okay, sounding better. The fact that he refused a 22 episode order in favor of a 10-13 got my attention mostly. This meant, he was bound and determined to steer this ship into the realm of focused, story-driven television. All the best dramas we talk about now-a-days run off the British/Pay Cable episode model anyway.
When you get to 22, things drag out, filler happens more often than not. This also made me believe we wouldn't be dealing with the "mystery of the week" scenario and maybe a more serialized approach. Then, the icing on the cake - Mads Mikkelsen as Hannibal Lector. The Casino Royale, Pusher, After the Wedding - Mads Mikkelsen. SOLD, I'm in! This shot straight to my #1 must see of the television season. It being held back and delayed did make me wonder about its quality, but also antsy to see it just that more.
The first episode features Agent Jack Crawford (Lawrence Fisbhurne) seeking the aid of former agent Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) in a case regarding abducted college girls. In order to help Graham with his social awkwardness in the investigation, Dr. Hannibal Lector is brought on board as a partner of sorts to Will. Will and Hannibal discover a man having trouble dealing with his daughter going off to college. In the end, the man murders his wife and almost takes out his daughter, but will guns him down. We are left with an image of a detached Will Graham and compassionate Hannibal Lector bedside with the young victim.
This is pretty much a damn near perfect pilot. The direction, the acting, even the sound was terrific last night. Hugh Dancy gives the best performance of anything I've seen him in. He's much closer to the William Petersen Manhunter Will Graham than Ed Norton's. Mads, yeah, he's great. Fishburne is actually quite good and better than he has been in quite some time (the "Use the ladies room!" line was a bit much, but had me laughing quite good). Fuller once again he's one of the best auteurs of the small screen.
There's some very graphic violence in this first episode, nothing compared to Walking Dead, but for network television this is almost pushing the limits. But Bryan Fuller crafts each horrific crime aftermath and reenactment as if it were a luscious, elegant painting. Nothing feels trite or pretentious, just graceful and imaginative. Its a real shock and treat when watching your hero put himself in the shoes of the killer. Whereas in Manhunter, Graham just walked around speaking crazy, this fully reenacts the crime, slow-mo blood and brutality included. Its a symphony of murder.
Mikkelsen, for the greater good, puts his own spin on Dr. Lector. He's still a man who appreciates the finer things in life, but he also seems very particular. While hinted at all over, there's no clear indication of Hannibal being a cannibal yet. Our meta knowledge has us squeeming every time the guy eat, and Mads does a terrific job enjoying every bite. There's a great scene 3/4 through where Lector brings Graham some breakfast with what looks like sausage. Fuller masterfully plays this out making you gross out and wonder "Did Will just eat somebody?".
The episode ends in a startling bloodbath, as our serial killer is caught and slices the throats of his wife and daughter. In keeping with source material, Lector looks out for his own kind. While Graham is away, he phones the killer and lets him know that the FBI is onto him. Very much a nod to the Red Dragon storyline. In the end though, there was a surprising display of humanity and compassion for the surviving victim from Lector, while Will is about to lose his mind after the events. Hannibal keeps his agenda hidden quite well. But its not like he's a brute. Its just a normal slice of life for him, which keeps him calm and unassuming.
The series premiere shot past my expectations. I can't remember enjoying a network pilot like I did Hannibal in a long long time (Friday Night Lights maybe?). I'm easily in this for the long haul. Hopefully NBC finally has a hit Thursday night drama on their hands. Oh, those of you still watching The Following, its ok, you can cancel that series recording and come over to Hannibal now. After seeing this, I don't know how you'd return to that one.
5 Deer Antlers Out of 5
Did you watch Hannibal last night? What'd you think? Are you in for the entire first season?