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NBC's Hannibal not a happy meal -- or a particularly fulfilling one


You are what you eat. The ensemble cast of Hannibal. NBC photos

Premiering: Thursday, April 4th at 9 p.m. (central) on NBC
Starring: Hugh Dancy, Mads Mikkelsen, Laurence Fishburne, Caroline Dhavernas, Hettienne Park, Lara Jean Chorostecki, Scott Thompson, Aaron Abrams, Gina Torres
Produced by: Bryan Fuller, Martha De Laurentiis, Jesse Alexander, Chris Brancato, Sara Colleton, Katie O’Connell, Elisa Roth, Sidonie Dumas, Christophe Riandee

There’s a lot to digest in NBC’s Hannibal, much of it distasteful and, worse yet from a storytelling standpoint, increasingly impossible to swallow.

This becomes more evident as this NBC series deteriorates from a graphic but promising first episode to a third hour that basically falls apart from any rational credibility standpoint.

Hannibal also gorges itself on the murders and mutilations of mostly young women. It’s become an apparently incurable epidemic on the increasingly desperate Big 4 broadcast networks. And Hannibal, in its fifth hour, presents the stomach-churning sight of a nurse crawling on all fours after having her eyes gouged out. She ends up as a crime scene exhibit, impaled by far too many sharp instruments to count. Guess she got lucky. In Thursday’s premiere, a coed is found on nude display in the great outdoors, perforated by a dozen or more deer antlers on a sacrificial altar of sorts. She’s the 10th of 11 female victims in the first hour alone.

One wasn’t expecting a Good Ship Lollipop. Dr. Hannibal Lecter (played by Mads Mikkelsen this time around) is the now renowned serial-killing cannibal popularized in the Thomas Harris novels and several feature films. So a certain amount of gore is expected if not demanded, even if Lecter isn’t directly responsible for most of the dead bodies piling up in the first five episodes sent to TV critics.

Lecter instead is the Arnold Schwarzenegger-accented psychiatrist brought in to help criminal profiler Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) get a grip on himself. He has the unfortunate -- for him at least -- ability to see into the psyches of serial killers and put himself in their shoes as they wreak mayhem.

A vivid demonstration of this is right up top in Episode 1, complete with pounding/screeching music and three vertical light bars whenever Will in a sense, “hulks out.” This allows him to personally reenact, in gruesome detail, the murders of an innocent homebound couple. And there’s no scrimping on the fake blood budget.

Insular, anti-social Will also schools cadets at the FBI Academy in Quantico, VA, where he demonstrates the hows and whys of killers. But he’s reluctantly on call to taciturn FBI Behavioral Science Unit head Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne in a segue from CSI: Crime Scene Investigation). For starters, Crawford wants to catch whoever’s abducted eight female Minnesota students, seven of them already presumed dead.

“They’re all very Mall of America,” Will says drily. Guess that’s supposed to be funny.

Hannibal in fact is pretty engaging in the first two episodes. Dancy nicely inhabits his tortured soul role and Mikkelsen is interestingly cryptic as well as an accomplished gourmet cook whose guests really have no idea what they’re eating. “Next time bring your wife,” he tells Fishburne’s Crawfrod near the end of Episode 2. “I’d love to have you both for dinner.”

But it all starts tumbling down in Episode 3, with amoral blogger “Freddie” Lounds (Lara Jean Chorostecki) of tattlecrime.com repeatedly gaining laughably easily access to crime scenes and key players.

You think the cops on Fox’s The Following are bad at protecting people? Not compared to these law enforcement types. Even the unhinged brother of one of the deceased is able to easily stroll in and threaten the surviving daughter of a deranged killer father. It then gets even more ludicrous when Lecter manages to intercede and blackmail her. This whole storyline is then abruptly dropped by Episode 4, even though the daughter in question is still presumably suspected of possibly being an accomplice in her father’s foul deeds.


Dinner’s served: Mads Mikkelsen as Hannibal Lecter.

Episode 4 begins with Will walking down a highway in his underwear, with an imagined moose trailing him. In other words he’s increasingly troubled and haunted by gruesome crime scenes and the killings he’d reenacted. Another gross-out double murder is just around the corner, though. Hmm, wonder how the perpetrator eventually managed, all by himself, to . . . well, never mind. You’ll probably ask the same question when and if you see him in his final state.

Hour 5 includes a guest appearance by Eddie Izzard as the aforementioned nurse-slayer. Housed at the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, where he committed the murder, he’d now also like to take credit for being the vile, still at large Chesapeake Ripper. The episode also includes flashback scenes tied to Crawford’s ill-fated grooming and mentoring of a budding young female FBI profiler.

When not succumbing to over-the-top, ooh-scary mood music, Hannibal takes multiple stabs at being thought-provoking on the subjects of life, death and even the Creator. Lecter and Will have what’s meant to a pithy exchange at the close of Episode 2.

“Killing must feel good to God, too,” Lecter says after Will struggles with feeling oddly exhilarated about blowing away his first bad guy. “He does it all the time. And are we not created in His image?”

“That depends on who you ask,” Will replies.

Lecter: “God is terrific. He dropped a church roof on 34 of his worshippers last Wednesday night in Texas while they sang a hymn.”

Will: “Did God feel good about that?”

Lecter: “He felt powerful.”

If you think about it, that’s a lot of mumbo jumbo disguised as deep-think. Hannibal starts out in stronger shape than that before becoming gratuitous with its carnage and too often ludicrous in getting from A to B. Still, the performances are solid for the most part, with Dancy looking every bit as drained and haunted as Kevin Bacon does on a weekly basis in The Following.

That Fox series has gotten bogged down of late. Even so, it’s still in better shape at present than Hannibal will be by the end of Episode 3. It makes one appreciate Showtime’s Dexter all the more. After seven seasons it’s still got a pulse. And at least Dexter Morgan’s serial killing victims are mostly murderous men who richly deserve being sliced, diced and thrown overboard.


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