×

TV Review: ‘Hannibal’

NBC delivers a bloody good meal

At first blush, Hannibal looks like the conceptual twin of CBS timeslot rival “Elementary,” a series that seeks to leverage a brilliant literary character to sell a moody procedural. It’s also a little like “It Takes a Thief,” only here substituting a serial killer. Stick with the series through a handful of episodes, though, and it’s clear that showrunner Bryan Fuller has brought a semi-hypnotic quality to this prequel adaptation of Thomas Harris’ Hannibal Lecter character — ungainly and messy, but at times visually arresting, and thanks in large part to the central trio of Mads Mikkelsen, Hugh Dancy and Laurence Fishburne, quite interesting. Bon appetit.

Granted, NBC’s Thursday lineup is a devalued piece of real estate, and sustaining the show for any length of time seems like a high-wire act. As A&E’s “Psycho” precursor “Bates Motel” demonstrates, the benefits associated with such a well-known property can be creatively offset by the challenge of working backward from it, with all the limitations that entails.

For now, though, “Hannibal” is the tastiest drama the network has introduced in awhile. Although bearing some of the same hallmarks of more straightforward shows like “Criminal Minds” — with a protagonist uniquely gifted, or cursed, in seeing through a psychopath’s eyes — the program manages to incorporate some provocative twists as well, primarily in the interaction among its key players.

The tormented profiler is Will Graham (Dancy), who is enlisted by FBI honcho Jack Crawford (Fishburne) to help identify a particularly grisly murderer. Yet Graham’s inner demons cause Crawford to put him in contact with a psychologist, Hannibal Lecter (Mikkelsen, the Bond heavy in “Casino Royale”), who provides both a professional and personal sounding board.

Except Lecter, as only the audience knows, is a killer himself, one who uses access to these criminologists to his advantage, ingratiating himself to, and subtly manipulating, each of them. Part of that includes treating everyone around him to elegantly prepared meals, so sumptuously presented it’s no wonder “Hannibal” includes a “food consultant” among its principal credits.

“You won’t like me when I’m psychoanalyzed,” Graham snaps at Lecter in an early meeting — a callback to The Hulk that proves ironic, since he’s not the one with a giant monster hiding inside.

What makes the show work, mostly, is the creepy tone (Fuller’s preoccupation with death was put on comic display in “Pushing Daisies”) and Mikkelsen’s suavely understated take on Lecter, whose eerie sense of calm and reassuring manner make plausible the notion of such deep-seated evil hiding in plain sight, much like the antihero at the center of “Dexter.”

How long Lecter (and by extension Fuller) can maintain the charade is another matter, and even those who savor the show might find themselves wishing it were merely a limited series. More than for the gruesome imagery, this is a show that cries out for cable, simply because it’s hard to envision a 22-episode broadcast run of “Hannibal,” much less four or five such seasons. Besides, if Graham and Crawford let the bad doctor operate under their noses for that long, they’re not so brilliant, are they?

Still, “Hannibal” does create an unsettling atmosphere, leaving one wondering where the show will lurch from one episode to the next — perversely, perhaps, since the whole thing could so easily implode.

NBC’s broader struggles and woeful results with short-lived Thursday dramas have no doubt diminished some expectations, which qualifies as a mixed blessing. In that context, Hannibal feels more like a stopgap measure than a longterm solution. But this spring tryout tickles the palate enough that it shouldn’t be just another lamb to the slaughter.

Hannibal

(Series; NBC. Thurs. April 4, 10 p.m.)

Cast: Hugh Dancy, Mads Mikkelsen, Laurence Fishburne, Caroline Dhavernas, Hettienne Park

Filmed in Toronto by Living Dead Guy, Dino De Laurentiis Co. and Gaumont Intl. Television. Executive producers, Bryan Fuller, Martha De Laurentiis, Jesse Alexander, David Slade, Sara Colleton, Chris Brancato, Katie O’Connell, Elisa Roth, Sidonie Dumas, Christophe Riandee; supervising producer, Scott Nimerfro; Jennifer Schuur, Carol Dunn Trussell; director, Slade; writer, Fuller; based on the characters from the book “Red Dragon” by Thomas Harris; camera, Jim Hawkinson; production designer, Patti Podesta; editor, Art Jones; music, Brian Reitzell; casting, Cami Patton, Jennifer Lare. 60 MIN.

TV Review: 'Hannibal'

More TV

  • Jan Guillou's 'The Great Century' Being

    Jan Guillou's 'The Great Century' Being Adapted as Epic Drama Series (EXCLUSIVE)

    “The Great Century” is being adapted as an epic drama series by Dramacorp-Pampas Studios, which has landed the rights to Swedish author Jan Guillou’s book series. Guillou is known for his “Hamilton” spy-thriller novels, which Dramacorp-Pampas Studios has brought to TV as “Agent Hamilton.” That project had an international premiere at Mipcom and has presold [...]

  • Lilly Burns Tony Hernandez

    Variety to Honor Jax Media Chiefs Tony Hernandez, Lilly Burns at New Leaders Event

    Emmy Award-winning producer Tony Hernandez and Emmy-nominated producer Lilly Burns will receive the Creative Leadership Award on behalf of Jax Media at the Variety New Leaders event presented by City National Bank, taking place Nov. 14 in New York City. As founders of Jax Media, Hernandez and Burns have produced shows and specials such as [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    Virginia Leith, Female Lead in Stanley Kubrick's First Film, Dies at 94

    Actress and model Virginia Leith, who starred in Stanley Kubrick’s first film “Fear and Desire,” which he later disavowed, has died. She was 94. According to family spokesperson Jane Chalmers, Leith died after a brief illness at her home in Palm Springs, Calif. on Nov. 4. Born on Oct. 15, 1925, Leith met Kubrick in [...]

  • Friends

    'Friends' Reunion Special in Early Planning Stages at HBO Max

    More “Friends” could well be there for you when the HBO Max rain starts to fall. An unscripted “Friends” reunion special is in the works at the forthcoming WarnerMedia streamer, Variety has confirmed with sources. Sources say original cast members Jennifer Aniston, Lisa Kudrow, Courteney Cox, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer are in discussions [...]

  • TC3_SM_060718_238A4600.cr2

    'The Crown' New Season: Netflix to Offer Opening Episode for Free in the U.K.

    When Olivia Colman steps into the royal shoes of Queen Elizabeth II, viewers in the U.K. and Ireland will be able to watch for free as Netflix makes the eagerly awaited Season 3 curtain-raiser available gratis. The streaming giant will launch the series opener on a dedicated site for a limited period starting Sunday, making it [...]

  • T.R. Knight

    TV News Roundup: T.R. Knight Joins HBO Max's 'The Flight Attendant'

    In today’s TV news roundup, “Grey’s Anatomy” star T.R. Knight joins HBO Max’s “The Flight Attendant” and BET renewed “Games People Play.” CASTING T.R Knight has been cast in HBO Max‘s dark comedy “The Flight Attendant.“ Knight will play Cassie’s (Kaley Cuoco) older brother, Davey. When Cassie’s life starts to unravel, Davey deals with the [...]

  • Days of Our Lives Bill Hayes

    'Days of Our Lives' Cast Members Released From Contracts

    The entire cast of the NBC soap opera “Days of Our Lives” have been released from their contracts, Variety has confirmed. The daytime drama has run for over 13,000 episodes since first debuting in 1965. The show will go on hiatus at the end of November, though it has shot enough episodes to last through the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content