Tonight, the critically acclaimed but ratings-light NBC drama Hannibal returns for a third season of cannibalism and crime solving, and I'd very much like to see the show stick around for a fourth year. Hannibal managed to beat the odds last year and become the first Bryan Fuller-created series ever to make it to Season 3, but it wasn't exactly sporting robust ratings when it did.
In some ways, I've grown to accept that, because it fits the pattern we've come to expect from Fuller's work. Not everyone gets his shows. They're very specific, very crafted things that clearly flow from a singular point of view. Fuller's almost the Wes Anderson of television ... you know, if Wes Anderson made movies about guys who eat human lungs and make totem poles out of corpses. Hannibal feels different to me, though. In many ways, it's his most accessible show yet, and not just because it revolves around a very famous character.
We don't cover Hannibal a lot around here because, for all its style, it's technically a realistic crime/horror show and, when it comes to horror, we do our best to stick to the supernatural. Today, though, I'm bending the rules, because I'd like one of my favorite shows to stick around for as long as Fuller and company have a story to tell. So, if you're a fantasy and supernatural horror fan and you aren't watching this show, here are five reasons to give it a shot.
Hannibal goes deeper and darker than any other broadcast show.
We're enjoying a boom of horror on television right now, most of it supernatural, and most of it on cable, where creators are generally free to get not only more gruesome, but more abstract and cerebral, than they are on the broadcast networks. I don't know if I'd say Fuller pushes Hannibal as far as shows like Penny Dreadful, but he does push it as far as he possibly can on NBC. This is a show that doesn't feel a need to explain everything to its audience, or hold their hand for the scary parts, or turn away when something becomes too horrific. It delights as much in the carefully orchestrated crime scenes as it does in the darkly comic moments when Hannibal prepares his meals, and it carefully balances wit with sensitivity to create an unnerving view of death, sex and madness. You might think it's just a show about serial killers, but by the end of the first episode, the sheer complexity of it all has the ability to astound.
Hannibal Lecter is basically a supervillain.
Despite all of Fuller's precision and passion as a showrunner, Hannibal wouldn't work without Mads Mikkelsen in the title role. Anthony Hopkins' Dr. Lecter was a charmer with a devilish grin who liked to scare you or throw you off your guard for the fun of it, and that was delightful to watch, but Mikkelsen takes a different path. He's just as charming, but in a much more restrained way that explodes into violence when you least expect it. Mikkelsen has said in the past that he sees Hannibal as the Devil himself, and if that's not enough to tell you why you should watch this character in action, I don't know what is.
The supernatural lives in the minds of the characters
Hannibal, as I said, is not a supernatural horror series, but that doesn't stop it from conjuring supernatural sights. The show is very concerned with how the minds of its characters work, particularly the mind of FBI profiler Will Graham (Hugh Dancy), and as Graham retreats into his mind through periods of sanity and insanity, the things we get to see through that prism transform the show into a dark fantasy where humanoid stags lurk in the dark and crimes you didn't even witness play out before your very eyes. The power of the mind and the power you wield when you can manipulate it are major themes in Hannibal, and they play out in magical ways.
It feels like it takes place on another world.
Bryan Fuller has a very specific way of looking at the world of this show, and that translates into something that almost feels alien. We recognize human characters, human death, human surroundings, but they're all surrounded by a tonal specificify -- visually, thematically and otherwise -- that propels this show into its own little alternate reality. Conversations sound like the ramblings of the gods. Crime scenes feel like operas. Sex scenes play out like abstract paintings. Hannibal delights in its own particular unreality, and that somehow makes us feel its story more.
It can make you believe monsters are real.
I've already spoken about the unique devil that is Hannibal Lecter, but he's far from the only dark specter on this show. The cases the FBI team tackles on Hannibal are among the most creative on television, from a serial killer who stitches his victims together in an elaborate spiral pattern to another who wants to transform into a prehistoric animal. They're all very specific and inventive, and they're all very frightening. The eccentricities of the criminals on the show, combined with the otherworldly tone and the show's willingness to always push the envelope, create a sense that these aren't just people who did bad things. They're almost monsters -- the kind of nuanced, often relatable but always terrifying monsters you find in the best supernatural horror films.
Hannibal returns tonight at 10/9C on NBC. Past seasons are streaming on Amazon Prime.