Like “Dracula,” which it replaces on NBC, “Hannibal’s” stay of execution stems largely from international largesse, and Yanks with an appetite for this meticulously crafted series are the Stateside beneficiaries. Still hamstrung, in part, by its place in Thomas Harris’ dense, frequently adapted universe, the series functions best on narrow terrain, as a psychological game of cat and mouse — or really, cats and mice — with a suave killer operating under the noses of his eventual captors. Bryan Fuller’s delicate rendering contains enough beautiful images and unexpected moments to operate a little longer, but this little lamb is perched on rickety legs.
The events of last season have left the tables rather awkwardly turned, with haunted profiler Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) under suspicion of murder, and Dr. Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen) consulting to FBI honcho Jack Crawford (Lawrence Fishburne), while plying him with epicurean delights.
Graham, meanwhile, doesn’t trust Lecter, but a fuzzy memory — yielding some “Twin Peaks”-like visual interludes — makes it difficult for Graham to be certain about his suspicions regarding the cannibal, even as Lecter can’t resist putting his head in the lion’s mouth, to the chagrin of his own psychologist (conveniently played by Gillian Anderson, a co-star in NBC’s upcoming “Crisis”).
Rightly celebrated for his darkly comic streak (see “Pushing Daisies”), Fuller has found in “Hannibal” a concept designed to indulge those impulses right up to the point of ghastliness, and there’s a slightly unsettling combination in the beauty with which he depicts murder and death against the pain and ugliness of it all. (One scene in the episodes previewed, in particular, is as cringe-inducing as anything witnessed on broadcast television in some time.)
That said, for those who have wondered how exactly one might prepare a human leg, there are some helpful hints here unlikely to be presented on, say, the Food Network.
The show succeeds, to the extent it does, thanks to the braininess of its characters, Mikkelson’s positively reptilian approach to Lecter — taking a character with which the audience is so familiar and making it his own — and the clever use of a bracing season-opening sequence that frames essentially everything to come as an extended flashback.
In pragmatic terms, NBC also appears to have stumbled upon something, thanks to the modest success of “Grimm,” by turning Fridays into a night to explore the macabre, including projects that might have a finite shelf life — two descriptions that aptly fit “Hannibal.”
For all that, those who savored the first season and clamored for its return despite mediocre ratings, by all means, dig in.