Last night saw NBC debut the second season of Hannibal, starring Mads Mikkelsen and Hugh Dancy. For the uninitiated or unaware, NBC is a "network channel" - it's the equivalent of our RTE or BBC. It's for everyone, it doesn't specialise in making drama like say HBO, Showtime or Starz. Hannibal is NBC's attempt at joining the ranks of Breaking Bad, True Detective and other Sunday night drama series that are known for their adult-orientated storylines and dark plots. Loosely based on the novels of Thomas Harris, Hannibal is set years before the events of Silence of the Lambs and Red Dragon and sees Dr. Lecter as an urbane, cultured foodie who's enlisted to help with the mental health of an FBI profiler.
The first episode of the first season was directed by David Slade, who previously directed genuinely disturbing thriller Hard Candy and vampire-horror 30 Days of Night. In short, the man's got serious credentials for embarking on this kind of journey. The writer / producer / showrunner, however, is a different kettle of fish. Bryan Fuller is perhaps better known as the brains behind the beautiful-but-doomed Pushing Daisies and likewise oddball comedy Dead Like Me. So to go from cute-but-quirky dramedys to truly grotesque horror is something of a stretch for his talents.
Yet, remarkably, it absolutely works. Fuller's brain is totally suited to Hannibal. The series is laced with references to the original novels, the films and even horror films themselves. The first episode takes a few visual cues from The Shining, not to mention being one of the strongest opening episodes we've ever seen. As well as the writing and directing, Hannibal gets it strength from the man himself - Hannibal Lecter.
To convincingly play an intelligent psychopath, you need someone who can convince you he is. Mads Mikkelsen is widely known for his physical portrayal of Le Chiffre in Casino Royale alongside Daniel Craig. However, he's been a stalwart actor in Danish cinema for the past twenty years, working with Nicolas Winding Refn of Drive fame a number of times. Most notable of these is Valhalla Rising, an atmospheric psychological horror about a near-mute Viking warrior called One-Eye, played by Mikkelsen. His flattened accent, together with the fact that he looks totally bitchin' in a three-piece suit means you've got someone who looks, talks and acts like someone who eats people for fun.
Hugh Dancy has turned up in a number of period dramas as a foppish gentleman with a terribly British accent. He was nominated for an Emmy for his role in the BBC miniseries Elizabeth I, alongside Helen Mirren. He also acted alongside Julieanne Moore in the controversial biopic drama Savage Grace. Dancy's character, Will Graham, is the FBI profiler that Lecter is assigned to. His unique ability to see through the eyes of a murderer, to assume their viewpoint and motivations, means his mind is under constant stress from snapping. In fact, the entire first series is about Will Graham slowly losing his mind. The twist is that Hannibal Lecter is helping it alongside instead of helping him as he's supposed to.
This calibre of acting, together with top-flight directors and writers, means that Hannibal has everything going for it. And it does. The storylines throughout the first series are as dark and engrossing as anything you've seen so far. What's more, the unique visual style is unlike anything we've seen so far. It revels in its ability to disgust and be grotesque; some people are even put off by the seemingly endless gore. But it's all for a greater purpose and in service of the story, something that other horror-based TV shows and even horror films fail to grasp. It all has to mean something. And it does.
Hannibal Season 1 is currently available on DVD and the second season will be screened on Sky Living in the next few weeks.