A while ago, I showcased one of my favorite shows, American Horror Story. One of my key talking points was that AHS‘s success was going to blaze the trail for other, similarly dark and horrific shows.
Ladies and gentlemen, I believe the first of those has arrived.
Hannibal, loosely based off of the cannibalistic and ever-charismatic Dr. H. Lecter of Silence of the Lambs fame.
First and foremost among Hannibal‘s qualities is that it’s shocking- and yes, that is a good thing. I’ve talked before on the subject of violence and how we could stand to see more of it.
Or more accurately, how we could stand see more of the right portrayal of violence. Too often, death and destruction is tamed or whitewashed. We rarely, if ever, get a taste of just how truly bad these things are. When was the last time you reacted with (justified) horror at a crime scene on Law & Order, CSI, or any mainstream show? I assure you, you will not watch a death in Hannibal without thinking, “Dang, that’s messed up.”
In fact, I’m more than a little surprised with how much the show can get away with. Early on in the series there was one scene (I won’t spoil which, but if you watch the show, you know the one) so gruesome I’m surprised they aired it on national television, let alone with a PG13 rating.
This hopefully means the FCC has just thrown in the towel, but that’s a subject for another time- let’s talk about another key quality Hannibal possesses.
Atmosphere is what holds everything together. It’s the foundation for a rising arc of action and tension. An inconsistent atmosphere makes the entire show fall flat. You’d imagine that this would be a no brainer, but you’d be amazed at just how many shows- especially ones trying to bill themselves as horror/thriller- neglect this. A perfect example would be The Following (staring Kevin Bacon). The Following is supposed to be about a cult centered on the works of Edgar Allan Poe, committing grisly, Gothic murders. Which makes it hard to understand why the show is pretty tame with the gore and filmed almost exclusively in sunny, open scenes.
Again- a simple thing, but constantly forgotten about until it’s too late and the ratings have plunged several miles into the earth.
But let’s get back to what makes Hannibal great.
It’s accurate. Really and truly accurate. This may be a personal grievance of mine, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen TV psychologists repeatedly breaching basic protocol. The most recent episode of Hannibal had Lecter explain to a patient that he cannot initiate contact with him if he sees him outside of a session. This is a real thing. Any social worker/mental health professional of any kind cannot approach or acknowledge a client outside of work unless the client does so first. Otherwise, it’s essentially “outing” the patient as a patient without consent. Again, this is one of the most basic rules of the profession, but one that’s constantly being ignored- even in otherwise great shows like The Sopranos.
Here’s the thing. They didn’t have to add that detail. Most people don’t know about it, and the writers could’ve easily ignored it. Instead, just for the sake of accuracy, they took the time to add it in. You have to appreciate that.
And on that note, I probably should commend the show for further keeping up with the really technical dialogue. It’s not some elitist thing where you only understand it if you have a graduate degree in psychology, it just adds the to overall realism. People talk like they’d actually talk, there’s no dumbing it down or interrupting the flow to explain the plot to the audience (which was every line of dialogue in Inception).
Even if you don’t appreciate every word (I don’t and I do have a degree in psychology), you’re always able to follow along. That’s just dang good writing.
And of course, we’d be remiss if we didn’t point out that like it’s spiritual predecessor, American Horror Story, Hannibal has a star-studded cast, including Laurence Fishburne (i.e., Morpheus), Mads Mikkelsen in the titular role (i.e. Le Chiffre from Casino Royale), David Bowie (as in David *****ing Bowie), Ginna Torres (the worse Matrix movies, Firefly), and Gillian Anderson, who played Scully in X-Files.
Oh, and one last thing, did I mention that Hannibal is aired on NBC?
Not exactly the first (or second, third, fourth, fifth) network you’d think would be airing a dark thriller. This is probably indicative of just how far the genre’s come, and how much more we have to look forward to as it spreads.
So here’s to Hannibal, and things still yet to come.