June 5, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Premiere Review: “Hannibal”


HANNIBAL:  Thursday 10PM on NBC

The languidly brutal art-horror thing HANNIBAL has returned, much to the joy of its acolytes.  The series is, without question, unlike anything to be found on even the most adventurous cable or online platform, which makes its continued existence on the wasteland of present-day NBC truly remarkable.  Nevertheless, its refusal to engage in any meaningful way with such plebeian pursuits as storytelling and characterization has always grated, and bears at least some responsibility for its meager ratings

The first episode of Season 3, written by series creator Bryan Fuller and Executive Producer Steve Lightfoot, and directed by series veteran Vincenzo Natali, was different but also the same.  The setting had changed to Paris and Florence, following Hannibal Lecter’s (Mads Mikkelsen) escape after his rampage at the end of Season 2.  This made the show feel more than ever like Luchino Visconti was directing an Eli Roth script.  (The series has always titled its episodes after the international names for courses at a banquet; this year the cuisine is Italian, and the season premiere was aptly named “Antipasto”.)  The underlying text for the hour was from the novel “Hannibal,” featuring the sequences in which Hannibal removed a museum official from his post in order to take it over himself (under a pseudonym).

Hannibal’s own former analyst Dr. Bedelia Du Maurier (Gillian Anderson), now a series regular after being a recurring figure in the first 2 seasons, had become its latest stand-in for Clarice Starling, the one major character from Thomas Harris’ gallery that rights issues prevent Hannibal from using.  Bedelia provided the requisite ghastly fascination with Lecter’s appetites, and followed Harris’ “Hannibal” version of Clarice in her lack of moral compass.  However, the other series regulars, FBI personnel Will Graham (Hugh Dancy), Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne) and Alana Bloom (Caroline Dhavenas), all their survivals in question after the Season 2 finale, were unseen for the week except in brief flashbacks.  In the absence of all the feds, there was no serial-killer-of-the-week procedural plotline.

The structure of Hannibal remains built around extended, usually elliptical conversations interspersed with lyrical sequences of cooking and slaughter.  As soon as the not-as-smart-as-he-thinks Anthony (Tom Wisdom) was introduced, it was only a question of when and how he’d be killed, and he didn’t make it to the last commercial break.  That kept the body count relatively low for a Hannibal episode, so there were also black-and-white flashbacks to last season’s Abel Gideon (Eddie Izzard), whom Hannibal had compelled to dine on himself, although not before Hannibal had increased the tastiness of the meat by feeding Abel snails and wine.  (One of the night’s best lines was Hannibal’s retort to Abel’s accusation of cannibalism by noting that this would only be the case if the two of them were equals.)

It was a relief that for once, a Hannibal episode didn’t turn on the heroes being absolute idiots, insisting on trusting Hannibal despite the fact that he all but hands out embossed business cards reading “I am a sociopathic murderer.”  Once the remaining leads arrive for the season, though, those stories will likely return.

Everything about Hannibal is an acquired taste, from Mikkelsen’s often barely comprehensible murmurings to the stylized acting style the show requires of its actors, so genteel as to seem nearly embalmed.  One can’t deny the show’s absolute commitment to its chosen path, and the superb craft with which it’s put together.  (It may well be the most violent series on television, but its gore seems to be excused by those who complain about such things due to its sheer pretentiousness.)  Whether all of this results in a dish that’s actually enjoyable to experience, however, is a matter for the individual palate.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."