HANNIBAL Pilot Review “Apéritif”

Hannibal Lecter is back in NBC's new series from Bryan Fuller. How'd the pilot shake out?

The first episode of Bryan Fuller's Hannibal, which aired on NBC last night, is called "Apéritif," and the next episode will be titled "Amuse-bouche." So I'm already pretty much loving the hell out of this show, even if I'm not sure how long the naming convention can last.

I think Bryan Fuller is a terrific but ill-fortuned showrunner. Dead Like Me, Wonderfalls and Pushing Daisies were all canceled after one or two seasons; his Mockingbird Lane didn't make it past the pilot. But I have hopes for Hannibal's staying power, if only because Thomas Harris' liver-loving serial killer plays very well with a crowd.

And Mads Mikkelsen's new portrayal of Hannibal the Cannibal is as debonair as Anthony Hopkins', as unsettling as Brian Cox's. He's a great actor who has scored a dream role, and we don't get the sense that he's going to let this opportunity go to waste. Not that we get a chance to have much sense of anything, as Lecter only appears in the latter half of the episode, eyebrow askance in the most baller suit imaginable.

No, this is Special Agent Will Graham's show, and Hugh Dancy is killing it. Graham suffers from "complete empathy," the ability to place himself utterly in the minds of both the victims and killers of the cases he investigates. He suffers while the FBI benefits, because his personality disorder and active imagination make him one of the most astute investigators the Bureau has ever seen.

Sure, we've seen all of that before, in Manhunter and Red Dragon but also in a million other versions of this story. Since Sherlock (or earlier? Speak up if I'm missing one), our most brilliant fictional detectives have suffered from emotional maladies that aid in their single-minded focus on getting their man.

So that's where Bryan Fuller comes in. Hannibal is original in that it's extraordinarily stylish, with the most deliberately detailed blocking and beautifully composed scenes. There's a lot of Kubrick here, as you can see from the image above, but what's surprising is how much Fuller there is, too. Of course, the first episode was actually directed by David Slade (Twilight Saga: Eclipse) and written by Fuller, but Fuller's candy-lush whimsy is apparent, and it suits the gore quite well. This show has some stupidly beautiful blood spatter. With an unusual score and singularly creepy tone, nothing feels haphazard here.

We're taken into the mind of Will Graham as he envisions himself committing the murders he investigates in stunning slow motion, always a pained look on his humble brow. This one episode delivers some very nice character beats - with a few quick shots the depths of Graham and Lecter are tidily established. So it's unfortunate that the pilot's dragged down with a bit of heavy-handed dialogue that feels like spelling out to the audience, but maybe that's inevitable in a network pilot. Hopefully they'll ease up. We all know this story - we don't need to have it spoon-fed to us. Just show us some more gorgeously macabre tableaux of death and violence and skip the psychobabble.

And even if you didn't know the story before this episode, you do now, as we watch Lecter sautée a pretty pair of lungs then feed Graham a "protein scramble" before they head out to work a case together. These two actors stand a little taller next to each other than they do alone. I look forward to seeing them face off for the rest of the season. 

The supporting cast is hardly slumming it, either, with Laurence Fishburne as Jack Crawford and Wonderfalls star Caroline Dhavernas as Graham's only friend in the FBI. Several more terrific actors are supposed to appear over the season, big names like Gillian Anderson, Gina Torres and Lance Henriksen, so let's keep our fingers crossed that Fuller's curse has finally passed.

Because I sure am looking forward to that digestif.

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