In the Watch This Next column, Man of Many takes a look back at a great TV show or film that may have slipped under your radar. Given the near-limitless entertainment options in the Netflix era, it’s easy to overlook amazing content in favour of the latest hit. For every Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad or Stranger Things, there’s another thing equally worthy of attention and we make the case for why you should watch it and where you can find it.
Human emotions are a gift from our animal ancestors; cruelty is a gift humanity has given itself. – Hannibal Lecter, ‘Hannibal’
Developed by Bryan Fuller, creator of ‘Dead Like Me’ and ‘Pushing Daisies’, NBC’s ‘Hannibal’ was a shot in the arm to the increasingly formulaic serial-killer television genre when it premiered in 2013. Darkly atmospheric and richly observed, it concerned itself more with the nature of violence and human morality than cheap twists and gratuitous gore.
‘Hannibal’ was inspired by Thomas Harris’ best-selling book series, in particular ‘Red Dragon’, as well as the iconic 1991 film ‘The Silence of the Lambs’, which featured Anthony Hopkins’ unforgettably sinister turn as Dr Hannibal Lecter. Hopkins netted the Oscar for Best Actor despite only appearing on screen for a total of 16 minutes, helping cement the character as one of film’s all-time greatest villains.
The show is centred around Will Graham (played by Hugh Dancy), a troubled FBI special investigator tasked with solving gruesome murders, who uses his empathetic understanding of a killer’s psyche to visualise how the crimes took place. Due to the psychological toll the investigations take on Will’s own sanity, he is sent to Dr Hannibal Lecter, the famed forensic psychiatrist and, unbeknownst to Will, a cannibalistic serial killer himself. Lecter takes a special interest in Will’s complex mind, triggering a game of psychological cat and mouse between the two.
Here played by Mads Mikkelsen, perhaps best known as Bond Villain Le Chiffre in 2006’s Casino Royale, Hannibal carries an air of imperious European aristocracy – cold and calculating but also a seemingly well-intentioned figure of support for Will. Mikkelsen is perfectly cast, shrugging off the burden of Hopkins’ celebrated portrayal of the character with consummate ease and crafting Hannibal into a charmingly dapper individual, without losing any of his latent psychopathy and evil intent.
Despite a modest TV budget, the show is as creatively and artfully shot as any in the long history of American primetime television. It delights in the visceral, often beautiful, nature of its ritualistic murders and uses them as something of a meditation on human suffering and expression.
Like ‘The Silence of the Lambs’, ‘Hannibal’ is deeply unsettling and gripping in equal measure and, much like Will’s own journey in darkness, takes a delightful psychological toll on viewers, causing them to question the nature of its reality. The writing is appropriately brooding and punctuated with the type of dark humour and dramatic irony inherent to the character of Hannibal Lecter.
‘Hannibal’ received widespread critical acclaim, especially for its second and third seasons, and won back-to-back Saturn Awards for Best Network Television Series and a slew of acting awards. NBC cancelled the show in 2015 after its third season due to low ratings, although Fuller and the cast remain hopeful that the show will be renewed sometime in the future once its exclusive streaming deal with Amazon expires.
‘Hannibal’ is available on Stan and iTunes.