Friday, April 5, 2013


After a certain other horror prequel show failed to completely deliver on it's promise, I had severely managed my expectations for NBC's new take on the charismatic cannibal Haniibal Lecter. Much to my delighted surprise, the inaugural episode comes out of the gate swinging and works like all pilots should: as a mini-movie. In fact, this episode is probably better than the majority of Brett Ratner's Red Dragon (Ralph Fiennes performance excluded). It sets everything for the series into place perfectly while simultaneously succeeding at telling its own self-contained story.

The opening scene lets us into the head of our main character (don't let the title fool you) Will Graham, as he visualizes how a murder occurred. It's a fantastic bit of flourish by director David Slade, and I hope the stylish liberties shown in this first outing stay consistent throughout the run. It gives the show an aesthetic that is sorely missing in genre television. Seeing what a character experiences isn't anything new, but given the dark nature of Will's ability to empathize with anyone (specifically murderers), it allows for some delightfully ghoulish bits of eye candy while also furthering the plot along in a compelling way.

Hugh Dancy plays Will with shaky certainty. He's a man afraid of the abilities he possesses, and Dancy conveys that fearful resolve very well. We also get a little peak into who he is at home, and it's a touching (if kind of goofy and sad) piece of character development. It's definitely the most complete performance of the character we've seen on the screen. Sorry, Edward Norton and William Petersen.

I'm sure plenty of people will complain about Mads Mikkelsen's accent, but those people would be taking into account only the most superficial aspect of his performance. While I didn't have trouble understanding him, I can see viewers getting caught up with that nitpick. Too bad, because Mikkelsen is doing some great stuff here. Instead of going the Shakespearian villain route Hopkins took with the character, Mikkelsen plays Lecter as cold and sharp as the scalpel he uses to sharpen his pencil. There are so many tiny moments in this hour of television that help formulate the kind of monster Lecter is. I love when he places the scalpel and pencil down and neatly arranges them on the table. It's an almost unnoticeable moment, but it adds serious legitimacy to the work Mikkelsen is cultivating. I'm very interested to see his more toned down and shark-like take on America's favorite cannibal.

The rest of the supporting cast are just as solid, specifically Laurence Fishburne doing his authoritarian thing like he wrote the book on it. I'm sure we'll be getting to know more about the investigative team we've just met, and I'm actually interested in that. Just as long as it doesn't take away from Will and his serial killer second sight.

Bryan Fuller is the showrunner for Hannibal and he also scripted this pilot. I hope his (and David Slade's) presence is kept strong, because this is a great introduction into this version of the story. It's tightly paced, a visual smorgasborg, transgressive yet not exploitative (there's a bit with Lecter chopping up some newly acquired meat that was pitch perfect), and has crafted multi-layered characters that leave me wanting to know more about them. I may have to jump ship from Norman Bates and his mother's hotel and start making appointments for Dr. Lecter's therapy.

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