R.I.P. Hannibal 2013-2015, or, How the Hell?

Classic NBC! #themoreyouknow

Classic NBC! #themoreyouknow

It wasn’t until The Office ended that I truly gained an appreciation for the television show Hannibal. Immediately after the finale to the sitcom’s ninth and final season the eighth episode of Hannibal, “Fromage,” aired. It revolved around a cellist found murdered and displayed on stage with a cello neck shoved down his throat so his vocal cords could be played with a bow like strings and it culminated in a Hannibal Lectre setting a death trap for unknowing FBI consultant Will Graham to test them for the secret position of Hannibal’s BFF.

It was awesome. And so, so weird.

I’m pretty bummed that Hannibal will most likely be ending this Saturday after the finale of its third season, but when I look back on all the little things I loved so much about the show I have to wonder how the hell the show managed to hang on as long as it did.

This was kinda most of Hannibal. And it was awesome.

This was kinda most of Hannibal. And it was awesome.

The show is an asexual, homoerotic love story told against the backdrop of a surrealist world where serial killers are artists displaying their work for law enforcement to ponder like ravenous critics. It’s a world wherein no one says exactly what they mean and speech is seemingly impossible without lavish metaphor and allusion. Oh, and half the things that occur on screen aren’t really actually “happening” so much as they are just sort of thematically complimenting whatever is actually going on. And then there’s the fact that the titular character is at once both a more dramatic Frasier and the devil incarnate.

In retrospect so much of Hannibal was close ups of fluids and lengthy metaphorical conversations on comfy armchairs that it makes exactly no sense that the show even got to the aforementioned episode eight. How many times over the last three years must some unsuspecting grandparent have flipped the television to NBC to be greeted by naked corpses held up with fishing line, backs split open like angle wings? Or an extreme close up of a square of paper soaked in a child’s tears being dropped into a martini glass? Or a slow motion sequence of a teacup shattering in reverse?

What the hell?

So far as I’m concerned Hannibal has been the best show on television for the entirety of its run. But it isn’t for everyone and it doesn’t take many ads for NBC’s other programming to figure out just how woefully out of place it was.

As bummed as I am that Hannibal is ending this Saturday, when I picture a tired but sleepless grandpa easing back in his arm chair and flipping on the tube to a psychological fivesome where one of the participants is a pitch black deer man I have to laugh. As a fan, it feels like Hannibal has been getting away with something for the last three years, making faces at the teacher behind their back for the amusement of us few goofballs that noticed. Eventually, inevitably the teacher was always going to turn around just quick enough to figure out what was transpiring. It was only a matter of time. So Hannibal is coming to an end, and it sucks, but man, remember that time that kid kept making faces at the teacher in class and it took them forever to notice?

Classic.

Hannibal: Naka-Choko, or, When Good Shows Do Bad Things

Spoilers ahead for Season 2 of Hannibal, particularly Episode 10, Naka-Choko.

We all love True Detective, but I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, and probably even a third time.

Hannibal is the best show on television.

Kiss guard.

Kiss guard.

How it got on network television is beyond me. The rip-roaring psychological romp is the closest thing NBC will ever get to art house. But lo and behold Hannibal just wrapped its second season with a finale that would give Job a lesson in punishment, and has officially been renewed for a third.

#sixseasonsandamovie

Where season three of Hannibal will go is beyond me, but I felt the same way going into season two and the show absolutely delivered.

With a small exception.

Hannibal is the best show on television. I have no reservations about stating as much. No other show keeps me as emotionally, intellectually and physically invested from week to week. There isn’t a fan Hannibal has that the show hasn’t absolutely earned. But this post isn’t a review of Hannibal’s second season, it’s a question.

What happens when the best show on television lays a bad egg?

Up until the tenth episode of its second season Hannibal had been nothing but home runs and even Naka-Choko, the aforementioned tenth episode, offered some terrific, creepy moments. But it also saw the show’s trademark subtlety and nuance give way to some ham-fisted storytelling and characterization. No pun intended.

Get it? Cause pigs!

Get it? Cause pigs!

Don’t get me wrong, I love a five-way sex scene as much as the next guy, but director Vincenzo Natali’s borderline softcore fascination with the flesh feels woefully out of place in what is usually a surrealist examination of the mind. That show runner Bryan Fuller explained to AV Club after the episode aired that Natali was the only director who didn’t express uncertainty with the sequence was disconcerting. That he explained in the same interview that the writing staff had unsuccessfully pushed to make a lesbian character straight for the sake of being able to have more sex on the show is downright disillusioning. Is this the same group of people that are able to bring me to the edge of my seat with mere conversation?

Couple this lengthy sequence with the bombastic introduction of major antagonist Mason Verger, whose grand designs are laid bare within a few minutes of his first appearing on screen, and Naka-Choko quickly feels like a brisk lapse in quality from an absolutely first-rate television show.

But what does a bad episode of the best show on television mean? Well, two things.

1. It isn’t really that bad.

Sure, Naka-Choko left me disappointed, but it still took a stab at visually expressing psychosexuality. On NBC. And it still delivered fascinating dialogue from fully-realized characters. Even when Hannibal shies away from subtlety it offers a lush spectrum of it when compared to the constantly on the nose writing holding up a majority of television dramas.

Sure, there’s a scene in a later episode of Hannibal between Mason Verger and a young boy that I maintain would have served as a more effective introduction to the character. But the Verger story arc still inarguably paid off.

Four more years!

Four more years!

2. It is unbelievably, disproportionately frustrating.

What makes Naka-Choko the worst episode of Hannibal? A few missteps. Those bumps in the road that plague most any show. But this isn’t just any show. It’s Hannibal. And Hannibal is the best show on television. Which makes even these small missteps infuriating.

The creative powers behind Hannibal (apparent lust for sex scenes aside) have proven an ability to tactfully service characters and story in fresh and creative ways. Before and after Naka-Choko it was all they did. As a fan, when they fell short of their own potential it was disappointing, and yet, I’m not writing a blog post about their near perpetual triumphs. I’m writing about that one time I was less than thrilled.

Because that’s what happens when the best show on television lays a bad egg.

The last time I watched The Walking Dead was an episode into midseason four. I hadn’t been a huge fan of the show for some time, but this episode in particular I couldn’t even get through. I turned it off a minute or two after the opening credits and I haven’t watched it since.

No harm no foul. I wasn’t that into it and I wasn’t expecting much, so the episode was less a disappointment then it was a final justification about my concerns with the show.

I certainly didn’t go writing a blog post about it.

Maybe it’s like a parent, yelling at their smart kid when they get a C+ as they simultaneously ignore their dumb kids D-. Maybe we raise more of a fuss when our favorite show makes a misstep because we’re afraid it could mean the end of something we love. Maybe five-way sex scenes are just a bit much.

I don’t know. File this one under food for thought.

Naka-Choko was disappointing in the context of Hannibal, but in the context of television it still sits atop a lofty throne occupied by maybe one percent of the light and sound flashed at our faces every day.

Of the baker’s dozen swings Hannibal Season 2 hit a dozen home runs. And when I watch it on Blu-ray I’m not going to skip Naka-Choko.

 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:

1. Should a show be judged against itself, or against the landscape of television as a whole? Is one more or less fair than the other? Is life fair?

2. If NBC hadn’t renewed Hannibal, what would be your design?

3. Which one of Mads Mikkelsen’s lips is your favorite?

 

For more on Hannibal you can check out a bunch of stuff:

Hannibal Season 2 Premiere

Hannibal – Ceuf

Hannibal Season 1

Hannibal and Censorship

Television in 2013

 

The Return of the King, or, Hannibal is Back!

Get it?

Get it?

Spoilers ahead for Hannibal Season 2

Hannibal Season 2 starts off with one of the most gorgeous fight scenes I’ve ever seen. Despite having any shock the sequence might have elicited rendered moot by its appearance in literally every piece of promotional material NBC could muster, when the scene ended my jaw was on the floor.

This was no Jason Bourne brawl with quick cuts and lightning fast, near indiscernible movements. This was a dance, a beautifully shot and choreographed display of violence, an extended test of survival instinct and brute strength. The combatants grabbed for anything remotely lethal, they revealed their true strengths bit by bit, each adapting their strategy to the other second by second.

The first five minutes of the Hannibal Season 2 premiere are the physical manifestation of the gut-wrenching, thought-provoking and straight up chilling conversations that have been serving as the climaxes and plot points of the show since the beginning.

There’s certainly action in Hannibal. The very nature of the show revolves around murder and the tussle that starts off Season 2 isn’t the series’ first. But by and large the abundant murders the show so wonderfully stylizes take place off screen, leaving the viewer to contend with the grizzly results.

The forward momentum in Hannibal doesn’t stem from action, it stems from conversation. And it’s why Hannibal might be the best show on television.

Hanni-bo-bannibal, fee-fi-fo-fannimal. You're welcome.

Hanni-bo-bannibal, fee-fi-fo-fannimal. You’re welcome.

I wasn’t actively excited to watch the series premiere of Hannibal last year. There was a How to Destroy Angels song in one of the commercials, so that was cool, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was talked into watching it. Thankfully.

The Hannibal pilot was far better than it had any right to be given that, at face value, it’s just the repurposing of a semi-successful, loosely-defined film property into a network television drama. But the Hannibal pilot made it abundantly clear that the show wasn’t going to be content with being a franchise cash grab. It’s evident immediately that a great deal of thought went into not only the show’s writing, directing and acting, but its cinematography and sound design too.

The pilot left me intrigued.

But it wasn’t until the end of the second episode of Hannibal that I was hooked. The episode featured a particularly disturbing, fungal-themed killer who nearly had me turning off my television for the sake of my sleep and stomach. How one of the scenes in this episode in particular made it to network television is no doubt a modern marvel. But that isn’t what sticks with me when I think about that episode.

What I remember most is a conversation between Hannibal Lecter and Will Graham, adapted from a letter Hannibal sends Graham in Thomas Harris’ novel Red Dragon. The two discuss murder. Go figure. How it should feel to commit and how it actually feels to commit. The episode ends on a quiet note, with Hannibal considering the notions that man is created in God’s own image, that God commits murder every day and that maybe extinguishing life makes God feel powerful.

And then it just ends.

What the hell kind of ending is that?

No cliffhanger, no resolution, no massive set-piece, no subtle quip, no laugh track, no freeze frame. Just a conversation left hanging in the air, unfinished, like a college girl mounted on a rack of deer antlers.

The conversations in Hannibal offer vivid, nuanced glimpses into the characters, more so than any gun fight or explosion ever could.

Hannibal’s Season 2 premiere continues the trend. Despite trippy daydreams, a terrifying death tableau and the aforementioned amazing fight sequence the highlights of the episode were conversations. Hannibal and Jack. Jack and Will. Will and Hannibal. Hannibal and Scully. I’ve never watched a show before with such an earnest interest in what the characters have to say.

In short: Breaking Bad is over. Hannibal is the best show on television.

 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:

1. Why oh why did NBC  move Hannibal to Friday nights?

2. What the hell is Grimm?

3. SRSLY what is NBC’s deal?

 

For more on Hannibal:

Time and Taboo

Time and Taboo 2

Hannibal: Season One

Punishment, or, Television in 2013

Spoilers ahead for that thing that happened in Game of Thrones this year that everybody is always talking about. For real. Don’t read this if you aren’t finished with season three.

Watching television in 2013 was like getting your teeth kicked in while simultaneously throwing up your lungs after being gut punched with a steel gauntlet.

And it was great.

More like Breaking Sad.

More like Breaking Sad.

There were bright, comedic spots scattered throughout the year; Parks and Recreation is still fantastic, Comedy Central stumbled upon sketch comedy gold again and again and Brooklyn Nine Nine actually got me to watch FOX. But all of the most talked about moments this year came from serialized dramas, and they were all absolutely devastating.

Let’s talk Game of Thrones. Also, spoilers. God.

For a show that’s staple is brutalizing its audience with quick and brutal deaths the penultimate episode of season three sure managed to really brutalized its audience with quick and brutal deaths. Even those of us who’d already lived through the events of the Red Wedding in the novels couldn’t help but die a little when Game of Thrones slaughtered the brightest, most handsome star in Westeros.

But that wasn’t quite enough, because television in 2013 is far more dismal than any late 90s novel. Not only did the King in the North meet a swift an unjust end and suffer nauseating postmortem desecration, per author George R. R. Martin’s book A Storm of Swords. His wife and unborn baby were also murdered in cold blood with a dozen or so shanks to the fetus.

Good times.

Bummer.

Bummer.

But “The Rains of Castamere” was only June of 2013. There was still all kind of punishment to be dulled out.

Let’s talk Breaking Bad.

Your heart probably already hurts. “To’hajiilee,” “Ozymandias,” and “Granite Slate” were the three episodes preceding the show’s series finale and each of them were nearly impossible to watch, not because of gratuitous sex or violence or because they were boring, but because they were straight up emotionally abusive.

But it wasn’t just established television shows that managed to throw our hearts into vice grips. The best new show of 2013, NBCs Hannibal, was also one of the year’s most taxing television experiences. The first handful of episodes of Hannibal were viscerally abusive displays of artful violence, but as the season pressed on, episode after episode proved to be a 44-minute stomach ache as Hannibal Lectre played the rest of the cast, and the viewers, like a harp.

Also, I hear watching Homeland this year was pretty punishing. Bu-dum-cha!

But I guess utter bleakness is to be expected when the most popular show on television, The Walking Dead, is essentially a prolonged study in the perpetually bleak. Week after week millions or viewers tune in to watch a ragtag group of sad sacks fight and die for their right to continue fighting and dying in a world that rests on a thick foundation of stone cold bummers.

I’ve watched The Office since I was in high school. There was a point in my youth where Jim and Pam’s relationship was the most important romance in my life. And yet the end of The Office this year with the season 9 finale is little more than an asterisk when I look back on television in 2013. Probably because after getting beaten with the sock full of nickels that is the rest of the television landscape it hurts to laugh.

But why is it that such punishment has become so undeniably popular?

Is it because it reminds us, sitting comfortably on a couch, that our own lives could always be worse? After a particularly taxing day week at work does watching Rick Grimes shoot people and cry validate a week of pencil pushing? Does the misery of fiction twist day-to-day monotony into a privilege by comparison?

AWWW YEEAAAAA

AWWW YEEAAAAA

Or is it that the despair on our TV screens enables the more fortunate of us, in some small facsimile of a way, to access a part of the emotional spectrum we pray we’ll never truly experience? You’re probably never going to be murdered at a wedding. But are you dying to know how it would feel?

Is it a pursuit of justice that drives us to watch shows that kick us while were down? Is it not just the experience of a wretched crime but the following week to week pursuit of fictional justice that makes shows like Breaking Bad so appealing? How often do we see justice carried out to its fullest? How often do we see the scales balanced? Maybe I kept watching Breaking Bad through every beating because I hoped against hope that when all was said and done my horse in the race would beat back.

Or maybe we just like seeing bad things happen to good people. Tragedy and timing right?

Whatever it was the drove the demand for such a heaping supply of emotional obliteration this year, it seems like maybe, just maybe, 2014 will at least let us stand up on our feet before it kicks us in the genitals again.

Breaking Bad is over. Just typing that loosens the muscles in my neck. Can its impending spinoff, Better Call Saul, really be as bleak a portrait? No way, right? Right? No way.

And so far as Game of Thrones is concerned, each year brings the tank of characters who don’t deserve to be brutally murdered closer to empty. I mean sure, the battles of Westeros are always going to be a terrible, murderous affair, but it’ll only be so much longer until everyone we love it dead. And after that, who cares?

Anyway, I’m bummed.

Time to go watch Breaking Bad on Netflix.

Time and Taboo Two, or, Hey Everybody! I Watched That Unaired Episode of Hannibal

Some thematic spoilers ahead, I guess, for the first season of Hannibal. It should also be noted that if you haven’t seen “Ceuf,” the unaired episode of Hannibal, and you aren’t aware of the major story elements that resulted in it being pulled from NBC’s schedule, you may want to hold off on the below post until you’ve had the opportunity to watch the episode, as I suspect the episode is more enjoyable the less you know going into it. Or whatever.

In the spirit of Halloween I thought it appropriate to follow up on a post I wrote several months ago regarding an episode of NBC’s Hannibal being pulled from air due to its decidedly dark content.

It's Hannibal.

It’s Hannibal.

The episode in question, entitled Ceuf, was initially set to air the week after the Boston Marathon bombing but was pulled at the behest of show-runner Bryan Fuller, citing the “social climate.” As the media and Fuller were both quick to explain, the story of Ceuf involved a creepy lady, played by SNL-alumni Molly Shannon, who kidnaps young boys and brainwashes them into returning home and murdering their biological families.

You know, sitcom stuff.

In lieu of airing the Ceuf NBC skipped ahead to the next episode and edited together the sections of the unaired show that were deemed important to the overarching narrative of the season, posting them in a compilation to their website as a webisode. I did not watch it.

The full episode later appeared on iTunes and the like. I did not watch it.

I’m not an animal.

Last month, however, the complete first season of Hannibal was released on Blu-ray, and at long last I was able to sit back with months of hindsight and watch Ceuf.

Ceuf is a solid effort, though it falls short on the scale of hook-in-gut tension the later episodes of season one blew clear through. It should be noted, however, that there are important enough details and character moments in Ceuf that viewers that didn’t watch the episode, or the abridged webisode, missed out on.

Not only does the episode shed light on both Will Graham and Hannibal’s respective childhoods as well as their budding will they/won’t they sex/murder tension, in its own quiet way it sets up a fairly significant aspect of the season finale that had previously seemed to me to have come out of left field.

There are also some noteworthy interactions between Abigail Hobbes and Hannibal that directly correlate to the major events that transpire between them in the episode prior. Ceuf is an important stepping stone between Hannibal sleeping at Abigail’s hospital bedside in the end of the series premiere and the creepy Will/Hannibal/Abigail parents-triangle that comes to define the season.

STORY ELEMENT ATTACK!

STORY ELEMENT ATTACK!

These nuances and a single piece of major setup aside, the actual “Killer of the Week” content in Ceuf is significantly tamer than some of the other murderers and crime scenes displayed in most episodes of season one. Given the caliber of violence in the episodes that did air, one would suspect the episode that did not to wield some substantial amount of blood and guts and terror. But considering the episode prior to Ceuf featured a teenage girl impaled on deer antlers and the episode after Ceuf, which aired in its stead, centered on a killer who split his victims’ backs open and folded them out into angel wings suspended with fishing line, Ceuf was actually something of a respite from the visceral imagery that has become the show’s calling card.

There are some dead bodies and bullet wounds, but any true controversy revolving around Ceuf isn’t so much visual as it is conceptual. It’s the idea of the perversion and corruption of youth, the premise of children being emotionally manipulated into violence, that Fuller and NBC decided was a no go in April 2013.

Considering the facts that came to light regarding the Boston Bombing and it culprits, it may have turned out to be a wise call not airing Ceuf so close to those events, but I can’t shake the feeling that had Ceuf aired as scheduled, I probably wouldn’t have connected the two.

I’d be hard pressed to agree that pulling Ceuf from air was a necessary action but I’d be equally unlikely to condemn NBC and Fuller for their decision. They aired on the side of caution and it’s hard to fault them for that.

Anyone preparing to watch Ceuf expecting wildly inappropriate, heinous cultural offenses is going to be disappointed. In fact, anyone who read a press release about why exactly the episode was pulled is likely to end up flat out bored. That it is in fact children being fooled into murdering their own families (which you never actually see happen) is a realization left to the later part of the episode, one that was abundantly given away months ago when the show was first pulled.

Bryan Fuller and NBC feared upsetting viewers in the midst of an extremely upsetting time. Right or wrong, six months later I think it’s safe to say they can leave that fear behind. Between the passage of time, the mystique of vague controversy, the violent heights later episodes would soar to and Ceuf essentially being laid bare in the stale environment of entertainment news posts the episode is, I would argue, anything but controversial, upsetting or dangerous.

I still don’t know what Ceuf means.

And I’m still not going to look it up.

It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mads Mikkelsen World, or, Hannibal Season One

Some light spoilers for Hannibal season one ahead.

NBC doesn’t have a lot going for it these days. Sure Parks and Recreation is still going strong, but The Office and 30 Rock are over and they’ve all but gutted their lovable postmodern goofball Community. Not to mention nixing Law & freaking Order. And that’s without mentioning the myriad collections of trash-ready television they’ve shoveled out recently; Do No Harm, Animal Hospital, 1600 Penn, Whitney etc.

So why the hell would I think that a show on NBC based on a pseudo-franchise that peaked in 1990 about a cannibal named Hannibal would be any good? I wouldn’t. And I didn’t. And I thank the Lord of Light for proving me wrong.

It's cool because it's fancy.

It’s cool because it’s fancy.

While quality control at NBC is dark and full of terrors somehow the brilliantly written, acted, edited, filmed and scored drama Hannibal has managed to burst through the cracks in NBCs programming to become easily the best television show to debut this year.

For an hour long television drama that isn’t Breaking Bad the crew of Hannibal go far out of their way to deliver a feature film quality product. Their noticeable focus on cinematography, for instance, goes a long way when the show presents the visceral imagery that’s already become something of a trademark. Montages of the titular character cooking for his pals or the titular character’s best Pal, Will “Whacky Willy” Graham going into one of his classic “Whacky Willy-outs” are absolutely enthralling. Does it help that what Hannibal is cooking for his pals is his other pals and that Will “Whacky Willy” Graham’s “Whacky Willy-outs” are actually terrifying? Sure, but the manner in which they’re presented is gorgeous none the less.

Will-outs and Pal pallets aside, however, the camerawork on Hannibal is never quite as jarring as it is with the presentations of the ever-creative, brutal murders that executive producer/developer Brian Fuller has dubbed “death tableaus.”

Before Law ampersand Order got canceled it was on the air for a whopping 75 years, and in that time dead bodies became as pedestrian to American viewers as sitcom dads and child stars. But Hannibal isn’t content with pedestrian in any facet of its production, down to the dead bodies. Would it have done the trick to see Will and the gang hunt down a killer who just stabbed or shot folks? Yeah, sure, I guess, maybe. But going after a killer that slits people’s mouths clean through to the back of their head until they look like a broken Pez dispenser is so much worse… and so much better.

It’s not just that the show seems to be a device for perpetually concocting vivid murders though, it’s the portrayal of the vivid victims. Fuller and company don’t give you a classic Lenny Brisco one-liner in a body bag, they give you art, positioned and framed and presented as something to be dissected and analyzed.

Much as the mouth-slashed, angel winged, fungus-feeding victims are displayed as art, Hugh Dancy’s aforementioned Will Graham is something of a critic. Graham is a hyper-empath with an unchecked imagination who examines the mutilated human PowerPoint presentations left by the show’s many creative killers and translates them to other, less lead-role-worthy investigators. But Will’s knack for finding motive in a human totem pole brings with it other symptoms. Like that one quote about looking into the darkness and then not being able to see anything because there isn’t a light on or whatever.

Just a couple of bros broing about before a game of frolf.

Just a couple of bros broing about before a game of frolf.

Dancy brings sympathy and terror to mental illness. But where normally one might be afraid of someone in Will’s condition, you’re instead more inclined to be afraid with Will as he struggles with the side effects of his “Whacky Will-outs.” It’s worth noting that his wife, Claire Danes, brings a similarly vibrant portrayal to mental illness in Homeland, but while Danes’ character is crazy in a neat 9-11 jazz kind of way, Dancy’s is crazy in a more heart-stopping, primal terror kind of way.

Dancy makes up a third of a trio of actors at the forefront of Hannibal who could each carry a show in their own right.

Laurence Fishburne plays Will’s handler, Jack Crawford. The FBI agent could have easily been little more than a stringent authority figure to keep Will in check and inevitably demand his badge and gun whilst shotgunning cholesterol medication, but FIshburne has turned Crawford into flesh and blood. The subtleties he brings to his character bring Crawford to life and are a testament to Fishburne’s status as one of the greatest contemporary screen actors.

Of course Fishburne and Dancy are both chumps because neither of their character’s names are the title of the show. That burdensome honor falls to Mads Mikkelsen, who assumes the role of Dr. Hannibal Lectre, first made famous by Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs.

In reading about the preproduction and development of the Hannibal television series I came across an interesting factoid: Mikkelsen apparently barely beat out David Tennant for the title role. Talk about dodging a bullet.

I’m sure Tennant is lovely when he’s hopping in and out of phone booths, but Mads Mikkelsen is Hannibal Lectre. The way he moves, the way he talks, everything about Mikkelsen’s performance is enthralling, so much so that the climax of an early episode was little more than an uneventful conversation between Lectre and Graham and I was still left absolutely floored.

Emmy.

Emmy.

A man who detests humanity? A man who toys with humanity? A man who longs for humanity? Mikkelsen’s Hannibal Lectre is all of them and none of them and a guy who eats people. He is definitely that. He earns his spot as the titular character with every line and leaves eager to hear what he’ll say next. If Mads Mikkelsen were the only thing right about Hannibal it would still be one of the best shows on television.

In classic NBC fashion the network almost cancelled Hannibal before finally removing its head from its ass just quick enough to take a breath, renew the best show in its lineup, and resubmerge. By the final four episodes of Hannibal’s first season I wasn’t just excited for each new episode, I was anxious. My stomach would tense up as characters confronted one another. I would sit on the edge of my seat while Hannibal talked to his psychiatrist. I would scream bloody murder at creative bowties.

Hannibal is a show of a caliber that does not exist on network television. It’s a fluke. An anomaly comprised of brilliant cast and crew that are producing something leaps and bounds ahead of anything else on NBC or any other network for that matter.

There’s a scene in the middle of season one where Will is called upon to investigate a man dead in a concert hall whose throat was cut open by a cello neck that was shoved down his throat and strung with his vocal cords. It’s an unreal image. As Will walks himself through the killer’s process he approaches the mangled mess of man and instrument and stands before hundreds of empty seats looking out at the hall before him. When he finally strikes a note on the man’s throat it emits a sound somewhere between a thick, warm cello and a violent scream of anguish.

Every facet of Hannibal works; the performances, the writing, the camerawork, the sound design, everything. Not only do you as a viewer deserve to watch something as good as Hannibal, Hannibal deserves to be watched.

Time and Taboo, or, Hannibal: the Story of a Baker’s Dozen turned Dozen

Serendipity.

Serendipity.

I wasn’t sure I wanted to watch NBC’s new serial killer drama Hannibal until I watched NBC’s new serial killer drama Hannibal and realized I wanted to watch it. Talk about Comedy Night Done Right. The series, something of a prequel to the Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter films (Red Dragon, The Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal) follows whacky dog-lover Will Graham and his cooking friend Hannibal Lecter on a series of hapless, slapstick misadventures helping the FBI solve murders that are really gross. It’s a simple enough premise but the execution is phenomenal. A dizzying attention to detail is paid to the cinematography, the score and the performances of the three main characters; Hugh Dancy’s Graham, Mads “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mads Mikkelson World” Mikkelson’s Hannibal and Laurence “Morpheus” Fishburne’s Jack Crawford.

Even before a pilot was filmed the show was allotted a 13-episode first season, a call NBC should be happy it made. Unfortunately, only 12 of those season one episodes will actually air. The series’ fourth episode, “Œuf” (pronounced “huh”) was pulled by NBC at the suggestion of creator Bryan Fuller due to what Fuller described in a statement to Variety as “the social climate.”

The unaired episode revolved around kidnapped children being brainwashed, then returned to their homes and killing their own families. You know, fluff. A sentence-long synopsis sounds pretty messed so theoretically the 44-minute episode probably wasn’t a walk in the park on a sunny day. In the wake of national tragedies like the Newton shootings and the Boston Marathon bombing the decision to pull the episode, which would have been a bit much under regular circumstances, is understandable for a major network, but it’s also illustrative of the timely nature of taboo in entertainment.

Early last summer amongst heaps of trailers preceding The Avengers and Prometheus I clearly recall being quite impressed with the trailer for the mash up of Scott Snyder and noir aesthetics that is Gangster Squad. It had Sean Penn, and I loved Mystic River. It had Ryan Gosling, and I loved Drive. It had suits and hats and I love Men’s Warehouse and Lids. It also had all kinds of badass tough guy shenanigans, including a clip in which the titular Gangster Squad fires a handful of tommy guns into a movie theater presumably filled with squads of gangsters.

After the events in Aurora, Colorado during the midnight premiere of The Dark Knight Rises the trailer was pulled and the film went into reshooting in the wake of the real life movie theater shooting. The scene had clearly been thought up and shot months before the events in Colorado and in no way served as a commentary to it. That being said, changing the scene was probably the right call given what Fuller aptly refers to as “the social climate.”

Let’s go back to 2009 and Quentin Tarantino’s Nazi-bashing epic Inglorious Basterds. Spoiler alert – the movie reaches its epic climax with a movie theater full of Nazi’s being lit on fire while two Jewish-America soldier’s turn Hitler and his best bros into Swiss cheese with machine guns. And it is awesome. But the level of vengeful justice is also turned up to 11 and the film came out in August of 2009, not September 2012 (Gangster Squad’s pre-reshoot release date).

gangstersquad

Not so fast G-Squad!

But timing is funny like that. One year something is mild and entertaining and the next it’s wildly inappropriate. One year something is flat and droll and the next it’s cathartic and invigorating.

Just look at Zero Dark Thirty. Had Osama bin Laden not been killed in a discrete compound in Pakistan by Seal Team Six just under two years before that movie came out it sure would have been stupid. Don’t get me wrong, Kathryn Bigelow directed a tense tale of the globetrotting bureaucracy that is the war on terror, but the whole movie kind of sort of hinges on Osama bin Laden being taken out by American Special Forces in a spooky house. Luckily for Kathryn Bigelow and her movie that is exactly how that shit went down and Zero Dark Thirty is all the better for it.

Can you image if Zero Dark Thirty had come out and Osama Bin Laden wasn’t dead? He’d be all “I’m not dead, so yeah, two thumbs down.” But Bigelow got the timing just right and as a result her movie definitely received all of the accolades it deserved and wasn’t snubbed at all in anyway by anyone.

When you think of an artist or entertainer you admire it’s easy to imagine them tirelessly nitpicking ever scene, every track or every sentence of their work until it’s just perfect but in reality no matter how much attention to detail is paid to a piece of entertainment so much of how it is perceived by the world at large is entirely out of the hands of the creator, or even the consumer.

What it all comes down to is, I feel like I was gipped out of an episode of NBC’s Hannibal and I really want to see another episode of NBC’s Hannibal. So if we as a society, climate and all, could just pull together as one and find a way for me to watch that episode of NBC’s Hannibal I think we will all have learned something about ourselves and the fickle, powerful, timeless nature of time. And I will have learned about what happened in that episode of NBC’s Hannibal.

The end.