Okay, here’s the deal — if you follow my “writing” (am I being too generous already?) either here on TTSL, on my own site, http://trashfilmguru.wordpress.com, or on other places where my “byline” (again with the generosity!) occasionally appears such as dailygrindhouse.com, geekyuniverse.com, or what have you, it’s probably become apparent to you by this point that I don’t talk TV that much. Movies? Sure, all the time. Comics? Yeah, what the hell, I opine on those plenty, as well. But TV? This is, to my knowledge, a first. A new frontier. A new era. A new beginning. A bold, vast, wide-open, new horizon.
Okay, now I know I’m being far too generous. And grandiose. So I’ll cut it the fuck out right now.
Seriously, though, there’s a reason I don’t talk TV that much — I don’t watch TV that much. Alright, fair enough — I more or less never miss a Wolves or Wild game, so what I mean to say is that I don’t watch series TV that much. It’s just not my bag. Even with DVR and cable on demand, both of which negate the need to be in front of your screen at a set time every week, it’s fair to say that continuing, serialized television just ain’t my thang for the most part. I’m a die-hard Doctor Who fan and have been since age, I dunno, six or seven, but my absolute, long-standing love for that show precludes me from saying what I really think about its current, depressing, lowest-common-denominator iteration too publicly. And I watch The Walking Dead and Bates Motel but Arleigh and Lisa Marie, respectively, have got those bases covered around these parts already. I’d been kind of wanting to dip my toes into the metaphorical waters of TV criticism on this site for awhile now, but there just didn’t seem much to be much point.
Then, I heard that the network suits at NBC had become either adventurous or desperate enough to green-light a series based around Hannibal Lecter, and furthermore that said new series was actually good, so I figured here’s my chance. Fair enough, the new show, simply (and unimaginatively) called Hannibal, shared a title with Ridley Scott’s genuinely atrocious entry into the Lecter cinematic canon, but why hold that against it? Especially since the territory it was going to mine, the backstory set before both the very best (Michael Mann’s Manhunter) and very worst (Brett Rattner’s Red Dragon) of the cannibal shrink’s celluloid exploits, seemed ripe for mining. Plus, rumor had it that the first episode was going to be directed by David Slade, who gave us 30 Days Of Night and Hard Candy, two films I absolutely loved (we won’t hold the Twilight flick he did against him).
So, I figured, here it was — a show I could get in on the ground floor of and review every week for the edification of you, dear Through The Shattered Lens reader, whoever you are.
Confession time — I still missed the first episode anyway, despite my best intentions. The Wild were playing that night, so sue me. But I dutifully watched it on Comcast On Demand the next evening, and went in with pretty high hopes. It seemed that pretty much everyone liked this thing, from the most cynical corners of the internet to the most pompous and self-important to the most populist to, frankly, the dumbest (Entertainment Weekly, for instance, raved about it). Yup, everybody seemed to be in agreement — TV is bad bad for you, except for Hannibal.
So, yeah — maybe my expectations were too high. Maybe I just don’t “get” how series TV works. Maybe I stupidly wanted it to look and feel like Manhunter on, probably, a fraction of that film’s budget. And maybe — just maybe — I don’t know what the fuck I’m talking about, but I thought that episode one of Hannibal, titled (again rather unimaginatively) “Aperitif,” sucked.
The setup, developed/dumbed down for television by series semi-creator Bryan Fuller (Thomas Harris should still get the lion’s share of the credit in my book) probably should work (and maybe on paper it does) — FBI special agent Will Graham, here played by Hugh Dancy (he of the bloodied glasses in the photo below) is paired with noted psychoanalyst Dr. Hannibal Lecter , here played by Mads Mikkelsen (he of the refined table manners pictured above) by Bureau big-shot Jack Crawford, here played by Laurence Fishburne (he of the admittedly rather uptight appearance pictured far below). Yup, Graham and Lecter are, for all intents and purposes, partners.
Cool, right? And let’s just for the time being leave aside the fact that Dancy is no William Petersen circa the mid-1980s and that Mikkelsen is no Bryan Cox (still the best screen Lecter, I don’t care what anybody says) or Anthony Hopkins. This is TV, we gotta set our sights lower. But even making allowances for all of that, this was still a thoroughly lifeless, clinical, dull affair. Mikkelsen’s Lecter is closer to the version seen (by those who actually did bother to see it) in Hannibal Rising, which I guess makes sense given that he’s still in the early stages of his cannibalistic career here, and by that I don’t just mean that his vaguely eastern European accent is still present. I mean he’s not the older, accomplished, seen-it-and-done-it-all super-genius criminal of the Cox and Hopkins variety — he’s still, for lack of a better way of putting it, nothing but a pompous ass who happens to eat people. Which I guess makes him more interesting than a pompous ass who doesn’t eat people, but only marginally so.
As far as Dancy’s interpretation of Graham goes, he probably does a better job in the role than Ed Norton did in Red Dragon, but the ultra-trendy twists Fuller gives the character — placing him somewhere in the autistic disorder spectrum, making him single so he can apparently spark up a love interest a few episodes down the line with co-star Caroline Dhavernas — are both unnecessary and, frankly, kinda patronizing. A lot of people seem to love the the way that this show has Graham mentally “re-live” the murders he’s investigating (all of which in this opening episode supposedly take place in my home state of Minnesota — probably by way of either rural California or Vancouver) by re-casting himself in the role of the killer, but I found it to be pretty gimmicky, to be honest, and already thoroughly predictable by the second time the conceit was employed. I’ll take William Petersen’s anguished-and-angry version of the character from Manhunter any day of the week, even if I did promise not to hold the series to the same standards as the films.
And, since I opened that door anyway — one thing that both Michael Mann and Jonathan Demme understood about Hannibal Lecter that, frankly and depressingly, no one else has seemed to be able to figure out is that, underneath his civilized and erudite trappings, this is essentially a blackly comic character. The greatest flaw of Hannibal the TV series — even greater than the lame-as-hell, wrapped-up-way-too-quickly-and-conveniently murder “mystery” here in episode one — is its insistence on continuing the humorless, morose trend previously established by Ridley Scott, Brett Rattner, and whoever the hell it was who directed Hannibal Rising. Fuller and Slade just plain don’t seem to get this guy at anything beyond the most surface level, and that’s a shame, because apparently we’re in for 12 more weeks of this shallow, thoroughly unsatisfying interpretation of the character.
Or, should I say, you are. My days as an armchair TV critic are over (at least for now). Hannibal had a few good things going for it, I suppose — particularly Laurence Fishburne’s spot-on take on Jack Crawford and the nifty little scene where Lecter feeds human meat to Graham (unbeknownst to him, of course) — but not enough to get me to tune in for more. I’m going back to what I know best. CSI with a cannibal just doesn’t do it for me. Now, Cannibal Holocaust on the other hand —