Your weekly streaming recommendation: Hannibal
Amazon recently added a number of HBO TV shows to its Instant Streaming service, giving subscribers who haven’t seen The Sopranos or The Wire a chance to see what they’ve been missing out on. But what about the TV shows that were already exclusive to Amazon Prime? All month, we’ll be counting down some of Amazon Prime’s non-HBO exclusives. This week: NBC’s Hannibal.
There were plenty of reasons to be skeptical of NBC’s Hannibal — a police procedural chronicling the relationship between FBI agent Will Graham and Dr. Hannibal Lecter. The series premiered more than 20 years after Hannibal’s heyday, when The Silence of the Lambs swept the Oscars in 1992. Each subsequent entry in the Hannibal franchise had been significantly weaker than the last, culminating in 2007’s laughably toothless prequel Hannibal Rising. And the gruesome murders on which the series is built seemed like they would probably need to be neutered for cable — let alone a Big Four network like NBC.
Due to the superlative work of a creative team led by Bryan Fuller, all those concerns turned out to be entirely unfounded. Hannibal isn’t just a competent translation of the Hannibal Lecter story for the small screen; it’s the darkest, sharpest, and most gripping Hannibal Lecter story ever told on page or screen.
The brilliance of Hannibal begins with the time period it chronicles: the years before anyone has figured out that Dr. Lecter is a cannibalistic serial killer, when he serves as a key consultant for the FBI’s homicide team. As the series begins, the FBI is attempting to solve a string of murders committed by a man known only as the Minnesota Shrike — and Dr. Lecter delights in pretending to be a friend and ally while doing everything in his power to throw them off the trail.
Despite Hannibal's title, the show rests just as heavily on the shoulders of Hugh Dancy, who plays Will Graham. In 2002's Red Dragon, Edward Norton turned in an utterly forgettable performance as Will Graham (though the bland script didn’t do him any favors). But Dancy’s take on Will Graham is a fundamentally different animal: a man whose almost supernatural ability to solve murders lies in his ability to empathize with the motivations of psychopaths, which continually threatens to push him over the edge of insanity.
Hannibal is a textbook example of how to adapt a beloved piece of material while cutting or changing all the things you don’t need anymore. Mads Mikkelsen’s chilling, occasionally feral performance as Hannibal easily distinguishes itself from Anthony Hopkins’ more genteel take. Major Red Dragon characters like Jack Crawford, Dr. Alan Bloom, and Freddy Lounds are reinterpreted into deeper, darker, contemporary versions of their literary counterparts. And the series’ warped, inventive crime scenes — corpses turned into a mushroom garden, or molded into a kind of tower — allows for a lush, unsettlingly gorgeous visual style that’s sure to keep viewers on edge.
Best of all, Hannibal's story is tweaked just as much as it needs to be — enough that the core of author Thomas Harris’ original narrative remains intact, but full of surprises for those who have read the books and think they know where the story is going.
Hannibal's second season concluded last week, and despite middling ratings, NBC picked it up for a third. Fortunately, the entire first season is currently available for Amazon Prime members to stream, so you'll have plenty of time to catch up before season three premieres next year.