Why Hannibal should be your next box set
James R | On 18, Feb 2021
It’s not always easy to build up an appetite for a TV show that’s already been cancelled – especially when it’s been ended prematurely – but NBC’s Hannibal is an exception that’s worth sinking your teeth into.
Created by Bryan Fuller and running for three seasons before it was sadly given the chop, the show takes Thomas Harris’ iconic villain and follows his early days on the cannibal beat, as he crosses paths with FBI profiler Will Graham (Hugh Fancy) and is recruited by the BFI’s Behavioural Sciences wing to help crack a serial killer case.
Never sampled Hannibal? We round up why it should be on your binge-watching menu:
It’s Hannibal, but not as you know him
Fuller’s approach to the series avoids Hannibal Rising-style origins stories and instead weaves Harris’ books through the show’s three seasons, including elements of Red Dragon and Hannibal to build a profile of Hannibal Lecter without simply retelling The Silence of the Lambs (which the show couldn’t get the rights for). That means at once a faithful accuracy to the character but also a fresh opportunity to take recognisable beats and themes in a new direction. And so we meet familiar faces such as Dr Chilton (Raúl Esparza) and Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne), the FBI’s head of Behavioral Sciences, as well as Francis Dolarhyde (Richard Armitage), aka. The Tooth Fairy, and the vengeful Mason Verger (Michael Pitt), but also “Fredericka Lounds” (Lara Jean Chorostecki) a true crime journo and a new figure – Bedelia Du Maurier, Lecter’s psychotherapist – played by Gillian Anderson.
The cast are great
The cast are uniformly fantastic, each bringing twisted depths, tragic nuances and complicated dependencies to the tale. After Anthony Hopkins made the role of Dr Lecter his own over three films, it’s near impossible for someone else to bring their own take on the sociopath to the table, but Mads Mikkelsen dishes up a Hannibal who is, well, rather dishy. He’s subtler, creepier than Hopkins’ big bad, leaning into the little details of how this fiend could hide in plain sight. He’s charming and persuasive even as he’s unnerving and manipulative – somehow simultaneously the most magnetic human you’ve seen and a man wearing a human-like mask that’s ready to slip at any second. He’s insidiously good and enjoys playing with his food perhaps even more than he does eating it. Hugh Dancy is just as good, capturing the damaged, melancholic and awkward aspects of Will’s nervy disposition without descending into stereotypical tics – he’s more than any one part of his personality, boasting a troubling level of empathy that gives him a unique perspective of the world, not least because his world is full of FBI agents hunting murderers. Simply watching the power shift about in their twisting, evolving dynamic is reason enough to tune in, as a mentor-mentee relationship builds that only gets more complicated when Abigail Hobbs (Kacey Rohl), the daughter of a serial killer, forms her own father-daughter-like bond with both of them.
As you’d expect, the menu is to die for, thanks to consultation work from chef José Andrés. Ingredients range from mushrooms and roots to orchids and you-know-what and are served up with some of the most jaw-dropping presentation this side of Netflix’s Chef’s Table.
The visuals are as much a part of the series as its cast and clever writing. Costume Designer Chris Hargadon ensures that everyone remains flawlessly clothed, while directors including David Spade and Vincenzo Natali have a flair for the freaky and the beautiful, whether it’s fining elegance in blood splatters or haunting craftsmanship in atmospherically lit murder scenes that involve motifs ranging from angel wings and to flowers and even trees.
The episode titles
All of this is presented with a wicked wit, right down to the episode titles that are based on Italian, Japanese and French cuisine – and, in Season 3, go on to borrow titles from William Blake’s paintings, to tie in with the Tooth Fairy’s obsession with The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed in Sun.
Hannibal’s wordy dialogue and love of a dramatic pause in between discussions of weighty, moral and philosophical matters should make for a tediously introspective watch, but Fuller’s writing team (including Steve Lightfoot, Jennifer Schuur, Chris Brancato and Don Mancini) brilliantly weaves a fine line between Harris’ source material and case-of-the-week atrocities. The result is at once a riveting police procedural and a serialised examination of connection, horror and human depravity. Blending mouth-watering forensic analysis with precision-tailored suits, it’s a slick, dark thriller that chills as much as it keeps you coming back for more.
Photo ©2014 NBCUniversal Media, LLC