HANNIBAL Series Premiere Review

NBC jumps on the serial killer bandwagon with its new drama series, HANNIBAL. The first episode, premiering tonight at 10 p.m., is called “Apéritif,” which, for those not familiar with the term, is an alcoholic drink served before a meal, sort of the liquid version of an appetizer. It’s appropriate in a series about cannibalism that we’ll get to see a little bit of the characters and story before the gory stuff starts. And there is gory stuff, even though this is a basic broadcast network, in the first hour.

HANNIBAL, surprisingly, is not about the infamous killer from Silence of the Lambs. He’s there, and we’ll get to him in a minute, but the main character is Special Agent Will Graham (Hugh Dancy, The Big C), a brilliant but unstable investigator and professor. Will is tasked by the FBI with figuring out who commits murders, and he’s brilliant at it, being able to envision himself at the scene at the time of the crime.

Bryan Fuller, creator of Pushing Daisies and Wonderfalls, has a lot of fun with Will’s character. Fuller doesn’t take things into the cartoonish or fantasy world settings here, like he’s done in his previous shows. Instead, he focuses on the artistry, with Will’s visions beautifully illustrated in creative and intriguing ways. Bodies will float and blood will spatter, but this definitely has a darker tone, more grounded in reality, than his other work.

Will gets to have such vibrant musings because he’s mentally unstable, sort of like the main character in TNT’s Perception. The reason the FBI can’t use him full-time is because he can’t handle the full-time work. His boss, Agent Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne, CSI, The Matrix), knows this, but decides to risk Will’s sanity in order to make use of his brilliance.

Does this make Jack a monster? In a series about bad people, one has to wonder if the good guys also deserve some of the blame. After all, if Jack never puts Will in the field, Will won’t suffer as he does. Jack is playing a dangerous game.

Jack first approaches Dr. Alana Bloom (Caroline Dhavernas, Off the Map, Wonderfalls) to be Will’s partner and handler, but after she refuses, likely of the same opinion I just expressed in the previous paragraph, he approaches Alana’s mentor, the genius profiler Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen, Unit 1, Casino Royale). Lecter is an odd duck, but seems to have it much more together than Will, and so is an appropriate balance. Seems being the operative word.

We all know who Hannibal really is, and while no one in authority yet suspects the good doctor of any wrong doing, Hannibal tempts fate right out of the gate by secretly impeding the investigation, giving their query warning that they are coming. It may be professional courtesy between serial killers, but it certainly doesn’t make Hannibal good at his new job.

Dancy is amazing. He plays the part with such nuance and detail! Granted, this is a role any actor would kill (pun intended) to play, with such a rich, vibrant patchwork of elements. It’s the type of part the Emmys were created for, and Dancy masterfully unfurls the layers of the damaged psyche. He will surely be on the short list come award season.

Mikkelsen, on the other hand, plays his cards very close to his vest, so we’re slow to get the full picture of who he is. If one can put what one already knows about the character from other sources out of their mind, it’s easy to agree with Will when he says Hannibal is not interesting. But Hannibal immediately promises that he will be, and by the end of the first episode, we get the early hints that he is right. Plus, one does have to wonder what kind of sausage Hannibal serves Will for breakfast…

Obviously, HANNIBAL will have elements of a standard crime drama, but the focus is much more character-driven than other shows. Like Dexter or Bates Motel, HANNIBAL promises to get inside the mind of what makes a psychopath, and explore paths both taken and avoided. Will and Hannibal are two sides of the same coin, and watching them interact and face off will be quite entertaining.

I do wonder how long HANNIBAL can realistically stretch out the two of them working together, though. Right off the bat, Hannibal is mucking things up for Will. Will is not stupid, and the two have plenty of FBI agents keeping tabs on them. Hannibal may be highly intelligent, but sooner or later he’s bound to get caught. If he doesn’t, it’s going to start making the other characters look like dolts, incapable of doing the jobs they’re supposedly great at, especially where Will is concerned.

Making Hannibal fully go to the other side would be the right move for the series to make eventually, not necessarily at the end of the run, even as it would completely change the show. Because of this, I doubt NBC will rush into anything. In the short-term, that means we are going to have to deal with plot holes and leaps of logic to make it work.

I really like the execution of HANNIBAL. It’s production looks fantastic, and the cast is terrific. I just worry that the scenario is not quite as well thought out as it needs to be. The show walks a very fine line of believability, and if it’s not careful, it will slip off too often.

At least it can’t be accused of being a copycat. Despite being one of only several serial killer dramas out right now, HANNIBAL does its own thing, and doesn’t feel like any of the others. That is a credit to its creator.

The rest of the cast includes Lara Jean Chorostecki (Camelot) as a blogger who will be on Hannibal’s scent, and Aaron Abrams (The LA. Complex, Rookie Blue), Hettienne Park (Young Adult), and Scott Thompson (The Kids in the Hall) as FBI agents. None of them gets any development to speak of in ” Apetrif,” though hopefully they will as the series goes on.

Overall, HANNIBAL is not a bad effort, and definitely worth checking out. There are just some things that need fixing if its going to be a long-running drama with the big fan base it seeks.