J A Garrett

Curiously nerdy posts.

Hannibal: The best show you’re not watching.

I don’t mean to sound like a hipster, but I want to talk about one of my favorite shows that is unfortunately a bit obscured in the TV landscape.

That show is Hannibal, on NBC.

Despite it being an utterly brilliant show with plenty of drama and horror, it’s never mentioned as one of the better shows on TV, despite the fact that by most metrics, it definitely belongs in the conversation. It’s certainly one of mine. Despite this, it gets routinely low ratings, which astounds me. It’s amazing, and delivers on everything it sets out to do.

Why is this show so awesome? Let me count the ways.

The acting. For a drama to be good, you’d better have good actors. This seems obvious, I suppose, but just putting that out there. And this show has a stacked cast.

I used to think of Mads Mikkelsen as the bad guy from Casino Royale, and that dude who refused to smile in Clash of the Titans. Now? In my mind, he’s Hannibal. Yes, that’s right. He successfully unseated Anthony Hopkins as the definitive actor for that role. At least in my mind. This is not to say that his performance is flat out better, because it isn’t. But I would readily argue that his performance is harder to pull off. Hopkins had the benefit of only needing to play the unabashedly psychopathic facet of the character, while Mikkelsen has had to play the aspect of the character that must comply with living in society. He seems a polite, distinguished doctor… most of the time. All of the time, he gives the vibe of being the smartest person in the room, regardless of present company. He’s walked the line of being dignified and unmistakably dangerous at the same time. Because that’s what the heart of the character is: dignity, and danger.

But mostly dangerous.

The rest of the cast is great as well. Hugh Dancy plays a wonderfully tortured Will Graham, who sometimes plays the predator, but always ends up being the victim, whether it be to Hannibal’s machinations or his own unstable mind. The always excellent Lawrence Fishburne plays the savvy but sometimes oblivious Jack Crawford. And of course, I can’t forget about the brilliant (and inexplicably STILL gorgeous) Gillian Anderson.* Point being, this is heavy, almost literary show, and it has sufficient talent to carry the story, and then some.

*You could readily argue that she actually looks hotter today than she did when she was in The X-Files. And she’s always been a great actress, of course.

Definitely one of the best.

The story.

The creators of this show have created a dark, dreary world that is somehow more terrifying than a fictional universe with actual monsters that eat your face.* If you’re looking for a show that is light, this certainly isn’t it. There’s no comic relief, no happy endings, nothing but the cold reality that there are indeed people out there who murder others to fulfill some darker aspect of their mental state. Everything contributes to this: the set design, the lighting, and ESPECIALLY the score. Everything about it is haunting, and reminds you that this is a world full of darkness that sucks victims in, and never lets them out without a price. You won’t find many other shows where a man feeds his face to dogs, or a serial killer builds a totem pole out of corpses. I love the honest and unapologetic way the show approaches its subject matter, as opposed to many other murder mysteries that use death as a plot catalyst for a story that ultimately marginalizes a terrible and heinous act into a corner.

The story itself is, as I touched on, very literary. The dialogue is nothing like how real people talk; it’s more of an elevated language, designed to introduce ideas, and reflect on the plot and other characters. You will never hear a character just idly chat with another – every word means something in relation to another part of the story. It can be somewhat exhausting to watch, because if you look away for a moment, you’ll have this feeling that you’ve missed something important. But it’s worth it. Trust me.

And symbolism? This show is LOADED with it. I would actually argue that it uses too much of it, as it sometimes just hammers it over your head repeatedly. You can be a casual watcher, like my wife, and still figure out the wendigo Will hallucinates is a symbol for Hannibal, or the tea cup is a symbol for sanity. But it’s understandable. Because…

Everything is gorgeous.

Everything looks like a work of art. The settings, the clothes the characters wear… even the murders themselves are like a twisted artform. It’s like staring at a classical painting: it’s showing something terrible, but it brings out something oddly magnetic to look at in the tragedy.

Yes, that is a brain on the scales.


And the shots the camera crew gets? Legendary stuff.

The food porn.

If you like food as much as I do, it’s hard not to watch this show and get hungry… well, on the parts that obviously aren’t human, anyway. The care Hannibal puts into every meal he makes is, of course, also symbolic. He treats the meat of his victims the same way he’d treat an animal, and there’s something terrifying about it.


All that being said, I am aware that the show is not without its flaws. Not everyone, for example, could watch a show like this and not be disturbed. But that’s true of the horror genre in general. You’re going to see some disturbing imagery. It kind of comes with the territory, and is the definition of the genre.

And… it’s also true that sometimes, Mads Mikkelsen is really hard to understand when he speaks. This is weird, because I know from other movies and shows that his English is just fine. A style choice, perhaps? Either way, that’s the only really obvious advantage Hopkins’ Hannibal has over his.

But other than that, this show rocks.

Season 3 starts tonight. If this show looks interesting to you, please support it. I know I will.



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This entry was posted on June 4, 2015 by in TV shows and tagged , , , , , , , , .
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