Fox has The Following, Showtime has Dexter, and now NBC has its own serial killer. But Hannibal is no carbon copy of what's already been done, nor does it feel like NBC's attempt to cash in on the interest in serial killer drama. Between its focus on Thomas Harris' classic character Hannibal Lector, and the slow-boil suspense Bryan Fuller is offering us in this adaptation of the characters, Hannibal sets itself apart from what's been done while paying tribute to one of the most notorious fictional bad guys of our time.
Created by Bryan Fuller based on Thomas Harris' popular novels, Hannibal focuses on the relationship between criminal profiler Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) and Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen), a well known forensic psychiatrist whose cannibalistic tendencies and serial killer behavior has yet to be discovered. The series is a prequel set in the modern day, much in the way Bates Motel has done with the Psycho characters. Hannibal opens with an introduction to Graham, indicating that this is as much - if not more - his story than it is Hannibal's. Graham has a knack for empathizing with killers, which allows him to piece together a murder when looking at a crime scene. The opening of the series visualizes the crime as Graham walks the investigators through it, putting himself in the killer's position, which gives us an early indication that this man isn't entirely stable.
As it turns out, Graham's mental instability is the reason he's not full-time at the FBI, and it's what brings Lecter into his life. His boss Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne) is fully aware of the risk he's taking in bringing Graham in to work on a tricky serial killer case, but he's covering his bases by enlisting the expertise of famed forensic psychiatrist Dr. Hannibal Lecter to team with Graham and keep an eye out for his mental wellbeing. Little does he know just how fitting Dr. Lector is to this case and the field. These two are a match made in heaven... if heaven were a bloody crime scene with a cooking station nearby.
Knowing that, at some point, Graham and Lecter are destined to become enemies makes the start of their relationship seem all the more interesting, especially when you factor in Lecter's secret, sinister nature. The focus of the story from the start is on Graham's work unraveling gruesome and tricky murder cases, using his intuition as his primary weapon. Factor in Lecter's involvement, and the psychology of Graham and his understanding of the killers he's trying to understand and track down come into play, adding an intriguing layer to the story.
And then there's the blood. Don't let the fact that Hannibal's airing on network TV lead you to believe there isn't plenty of gore in this series. In fact, what's revealed rivals Dexter in terms of blood spilled. That's hardly a complaint, nor should it be completely unexpected, given the nature of the source material, but when you consider the implication of cannibalism, and then add in plenty of blood and the occasional mutilated corpse or body part and you may have a general idea of what to expect here, which might be reason enough not to bring a snack to the viewing.
Rounding out the cast is Caroline Dhavernas, playing Dr. Alana Bloom, an FBI consultant profiler and psychology professor. Lara Jean Chorostecki plays Freddie Lounds, a nosy tabloid blogger who seems like a likely candidate to be offed in gruesome fashion if and when she finally goes too far with her snooping. Aaron Abrams, Hettienne Park and Scott Thompson play crime scene investigators Brian, Beverly and Jimmy respectively. And Gina Torres (Firefly, Suits) plays the recurring role of Bella Crawford, Jack's wife.
I've seen Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal, but I've never read Harris's books, so I can't comment on how the series stacks up against the source material, though I'll be interested to hear what fans have to say on Fuller's approach to the story and Mikkelsen's take on the character. As a fan of The Following and Dexter, and a budding fan of Bates Motel I was curious to see what Hannibal brought to the table in terms of murderer-focused dramas. With that in mind, the series gets off to a solid start. Not all of the episodes are perfectly paced, but the series is all the right kinds of dark and twisted, with Dancy playing up Graham's emotional and mental struggles perfectly, making it impossible for us to predict how he will react in intense situations, and Mikkelsen presenting Lecter as a composed, renowned and secretly sinister psychologist who now has a prime viewing position for the FBI's crime scene investigations. Watching his relationship develop with Graham as the two attempt to unravel these dark mysteries has real potential for some excellent television, and based in the first few episodes, the series is off to a great start.
Hannibal premieres Thursday, April 4 at 10:00 p.m. ET on NBC.