TV review - Hannibal (Sky Living) needs more bite


Will Dean
Wednesday 08 May 2013 09:51
Hannibal, Sky Living
Hannibal, Sky Living

Psychological profile: Hannibal. Residence: Sky Living. Age: 32 (Bits of plot can be traced back to parts of Thomas Harris's Red Dragon). Motivations/desires: Using one of literature and film's most captivating psychopaths to put a bloody new spin on the hoariest of TV genres, the crime procedural. Conclusion: Needs more fava beans.

In 1999, upon the release of Thomas Harris's Hannibal novel, this parish's John Walsh wrote in a profile of the writer: "God forbid anyone should monkey around with something as pure, as complex, as vivid as Hannibal Lecter." A lesson there, for Dino De Laurentiis, which owns the film rights to Thomas Harris's refined man-eater. Still, this take on Hannibal is still edible, though not quite cordon bleu.

In Hannibal, he's played with a hint of camp by Mads Mikkelsen (for what is a crime thriller in 2013 without a Dane?). His Lecter still has the European accent of his pre-war birth – whether that's Mikkelsen doing Lithuanian aristocracy or Danish-English is hard to tell – and wears giant Windsor knots in his ties and Seventies-style three-piece suits. That all fits the chronology of the character, born in 1933, in Harris's novels. But this show refers to camera phones and is clearly contemporary, so God knows what's happening there, frankly. Best to look at it with the reboot glasses that allow Spider-Man and the Hulk to re-emerge in new guises every few years. Except Spider-Man doesn't know how to prepare human offal.

Hugh Dancy plays Will Graham – the FBI profiler played by Ed Norton in Red Dragon – who's reluctantly been paired with Lecter to profile a suspect. The empathy derived from his Asperger's handily allows him to see crime scenes from the point of view of the perpetrator, which makes him the agency's number-one man for solving cases like the one served up in the first episode, "Apéritif". Here, some bad egg is abducting and eating similar-looking young women in Minnesota. Dancy is on the case and – like his wife, Claire Danes (in Homeland) – uses the full forces of goggle-eyed panic to begin looking for a suspect.

What's odd about this, apart from many of the scenes being set where Bob Dylan has lived (Hibbing, Duluth), is that there are – Graham deduces with speed – two killers at work. One is this episode's baddie, who's been eating girls as an attempt to keep his daughter near him ("Cheers, Dad!") and the other is a copycat and "impossible to read sadist". Who could be anyone, really. But – hint – is likely the mad-looking Dane we see eating pâté immediately after we find out one victim's liver has been removed and replaced. But before Graham inevitably finds out that his new acquaintance is a man-eater (watch out, here he comes), the pair must get to know each other, which they eventually do after Lecter offers Graham some, mmm, home-made sausage and egg for breakfast. You suspect they're going to make a bloody great team.

The problem with Hannibal isn't the concept, as fans of the film series would eat up any Lecter-based yarn. Nor is it the cast (Mikkelsen and Dancy are a fine pair and Laurence Fishburne lends decent support, too, as FBI boss Jack Crawford). It's not even the annoying, over-stylised direction during Graham's re-enactments of the murders. It's that despite having an initial six episodes to exposit the heck out of its leads, we're dumped immediately in the procedural format, with one non-Lecter baddie for episode one paired with the slow-drip discovery of Hannibal's unconventional diet. This might be a reflection of commercial demands placed on this prime-time non-HBO show. But if the success of The Killing, Broadchurch et al has taught us anything, it's that viewers are quite happy not to have a mystery solved every 42 minutes. The Lecter character would have been a perfect way to adapt that pacing into the non-cable US TV, but the producers have bottled it. Like a nice chianti.

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