Hannibal Season 1 Review “Aperitif”

Hannibal (NBC) Episode 1 Aperitif (3)

Into the breach once again my friends! Yep, it’s back to the well yet again for another show inspired by tried and true material, this time around the superlative books of author Thomas Harris. (Okay, superlative for the most part, if you want to be a stickler.) In “Hannibal,” we get to know everyone’s favorite cannibal at a different juncture in his life than explored before, this time before his initial capture, when he was still a working psychiatrist…and active killer.

Just to give a little background on myself and where I stand with the material at hand, I am a longtime fan of Harris- he was one of the first “adult” authors I ever read (by which I mean one of the first non-Y/A or children’s-oriented authors I ever read) and I’ve read pretty much everything he’s ever done, at least in terms of the characters “Hannibal” is based on. (I still haven’t got around to the non-Hannibal related “Black Sunday,” for the record.)

I’ve also seen all of the movies based on his work in the Hannibal canon, and enjoyed most of them, in some cases more than the books themselves. In particular, I liked what Ridley Scott and David Mamet did with the book “Hannibal,” which I felt improved the material by jettisoning the ridiculous thing with Clarice and Hannibal having a romantic element to their relationship. Not sure what Harris was thinking there, but he redeemed himself with “Hannibal Rising,” the prequel to the series.

“Hannibal” the show takes place roughly between that latter book and before the first book released in the series, “Red Dragon.” Many of the characters featured in the books crop up here, including, of course, Dr. Hannibal Lecter himself, here played by Mads Mikkelsen, who James Bond fans will recognize as the blood-crying villain of “Casino Royale.” Also featured are Will Graham (Hugh Dancy), Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne), Beverly Katz (Hettienne Park), Brian Zeller (Aaron Abrams), and Jimmy Price (Scott Thompson).

I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention the presence of Caroline Dhavernas, who I am a longtime fan of from the cult series “Wonderfalls.” I haven’t see much of her since, save a supporting role in “Hollywoodland,” so it was nice seeing her again, all grown up, as it were, playing Dr. Alana Bloom, who is sort of Graham’s guardian angel.

I also see from the previews that none other than Dr. Scully herself, Gillian Anderson (as a blonde, looking never hotter, if you ask me), will be joining the fold, as Dr. Lecter’s overseeing psychiatrist/consult. I don’t recall that character being part of the original novels, but it’s a great add, I think. Or at least, a great actress added- we’ll see how the character pans out.

Dancy’s portrayal of Graham is probably closest to the somewhat underrated film “Manhunter,” the first of Harris’ Hannibal-related adaptations to make it to the big screen. As essayed by a pre-“CSI” William Petersen, the film was sort of the gateway drug for me into forensics-heavy television dramas of the “CSI” variety, and probably what got Petersen the role on that show in the first place.

Here, instead of talking to himself aloud and puzzling out the crimes, as with “Manhunter,” we actually “see” into Graham’s mind, where he puts himself into the killer’s shoes and mentally reenacts the crimes as if he were the killer. In other words, we see what Graham sees, often in gruesome slow-motion that is not for the faint of heart. Graham is also self-described as being akin to someone with Asperger’s or autism, with Lecter chiming in as saying Graham has “pure empathy” for everyone he analyzes.

Dr. Lecter is miles removed from Anthony Hopkins’ take on him, as indelible as that may be, and I think it was the right way to go. After all, this is a younger Lecter, before he was caught, when he was free to move and function within society. We can see the groundwork laid in “Hannibal Rising” coming to the fore, along with the foreshadowing of what he will become in the other books.

I like Mikkelsen’s take here- it’s tightly-wound, like a coiled snake, which makes his metaphor for Graham within the show all-too-apt: “The mongoose I want under the house when the snake slithers by.” Be careful what you ask for, as we know it will be Graham that ultimately captures Lecter. It will be interesting to see if the show segues into the material found in “Red Dragon” or if it will stop just short of it. Of course, a lot of that depends on whether the show is successful or not.

For now, it’s certainly off to a good start. The script, much like Lecter’s fine dining, is very well done, with some nicely quotable lines. I liked the spin on the famous “Hulk” line, in which Graham said: “Please don’t psychoanalyze me. You won’t like me when I’m psychoanalyzed. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go and give a lecture on psychoanalyzing.” His line to Lecter: “I don’t find you that interesting” was amusing too.

Lecter got in a few good ones as well, my favorite being: “Perception’s a tool that’s pointed on both ends.” Hats off to screenwriter and executive producer Bryan Fuller, of- would you look at that? – “Wonderfalls” fame, along with the equally-beloved cult series “Pushing Daisies” and “Dead Like Me.” Bonus points for the use of the line “field kabuki” in a sentence.

Director Michael Slade, best known for his music video work with acts like System of a Down and Aphex Twin, as well as the excellent “Hard Candy” and “30 Days of Night,” (okay, and “Twilight: Eclipse,” but we won’t hold that against him- a paycheck’s a paycheck, and I’ll bet that one was HUGE) does a fine job establishing the creepy atmosphere, particularly in the visions Graham has-like that eerie scene with the dead body floating off into the darkness- and the staging of the crime scenes, especially the one with the girl impaled on the antlers.

Obviously, it’s way too soon to make a judgment call on where all this is headed, but I like what they’re doing so far, and it will be interesting to see how they sustain the week-to-week cases with the dynamic between Lecter and Graham as it develops…and eventually sours. The cast is excellent, with the two leads doing solid work and Fishburne getting back some of that fire that was largely absent from his own stint on “CSI.” Also interesting to see former “Kids of the Hall”-member Thompson in a rare non-comedic role, though he looks to be bringing the snark, at least.

What did you think of “Hannibal”? If you’re a fan of the movies of books, did they do it justice? Or if you’re coming into this a bit blind, I’d love to hear what you thought as well! Let me know in the comments!