Monday, May 4, 2015

Catching up with NBC/Gaumont's HANNIBAL: Dancy, Mikkelsen, and much ado about little

HANNIBAL -- or Hannibble, as we fondly call the famous Dr. Lecter, given his particu-lar predilection -- is a network TV series that has received a few glowing notices. So, after waiting quite some time for it to become available via streaming, we at last caught up with the show (at no cost) on Amazon Prime's Instant Video. It was, under any sort of consideration, hardly worth the wait.

The best thing about the show, in fact, is the sublimely subtle and funny poster art (above). If only the series offered anything quite as clever. The product of, first, the book by Thomas Harris, and then the series of several movies based upon said work, the current TV series -- "created" and often written by Bryan Fuller (shown at left) -- mistakes, among other things, pomposity and pretension for art. I am not sure I have ever had to sit through so much mindless repetition, zombie-like performances (from otherwise very good actors) and ludicrous plotting -- simply for the "payoff" of a few visually interesting moments (usually devoted to bizarre murders). This, as I am occasionally goosed into saying, constitutes fart masquerading as art.

If I complain too loudly, it might be because I was primed to watch something really special, as both my spouse and a good friend upstate raved non-stop about this show. However, both of them watched Hannibal episode by episode, with a week (or sometimes more) in between. I mini-binge-watched the entire first 13-episode season in three and one-half days. Big mistake. The incredibly obnoxious repetition inherent in these roughly 43-minute-long chapters becomes way too obvious, way too fast, when seen back to back to back. Waiting a week between them could only have helped matters.

At one point along the way -- I think it might have been episode 6 or 8, I said aloud to no one in particular, "If we have to see Will (the character played by Hugh Dancy, above) imagine that he's killing that girl (Casey Rohl, below) just one more time...." And then we do. Oh, yes: There is also the little matter of Will's constant nightmares, which we see over and over again. We get the point, OK? No matter, because they're determined to show it to us again. And then again. Just for good measure. (Maybe, in that week that passed between television episodes, most Americans forgot that our Will was "troubled" and so needed another gentle reminder.)

The show is also ludicrous, in that its fevered imagination regarding serial killers and their increasingly bizarre ways of stockpiling their victims -- creating a "garden" or building a "totem pole" -- brings to mind the observation recently offered by one wag: "There are more serial killers loose in a single season of American television than there have been in the entire history of the country."

What is the point here, then? Simply to add more style, blood and bizarre mental states to the already bulging serial killer lexicon -- with all this done at the expense of any remote believability. Really: Would Will's many dogs let a perfect stranger hide under his bed without first making a fuss or warning the guy about his visitor? Of course not. And why is there never any police protection when this is most obviously needed? Oh, well.

The series thinks it is tackling stuff like "identity" and "personality dissolution," but the dialog regarding all this proves lame and expository, while the performances, especially of its stars Dancy and Mads Mikkelsen, are mostly one-note. Mikkelsen (above), perhaps for the first time in his storied career, is charmless and consistently flat, whether he is cooking up a gourmet meal (shown a few photos above) or taking care of a recalcitrant patient (Dan Fogler, below). Dancy, on the other hand, is forever threatening to go over-the-top and always in the same tiresome manner. (See the latter's fine film Adam in which he also plays -- but to much better result -- a character suffering from Asperger's Syndrome.)

Granted, half the cast is playing some form of therapist or psychologist, but this is hardly an excuse for zombie-like performances that seem to lower the bar for "low-key" all the way to the floor. Even Gillian Anderson, playing Hannibal's own shrink, gets stuck in this arty and pretentious attitude, and the less said about poor Laurence Fishburne (below, who plays the FBI boss), the better. His character makes no sense whatsoever. When he finally, very late in the game, tells Dancy, "You've got to take better care of yourself!" you'll want to kick this poorly conceived character down the stairs.

But that's OK. Around this same time, the series hits another of its high marks: torture porn. The situations here may be fantastical and amazing, but on a moment-to-moment level, they often defy simple credibility: If Dr. Gideon (Eddie Izzard) can so easily escape from an armored prison truck, how can he then be captured by the sick, weak and (by this time) mentally ill Will? Don't ask, as the series -- so in-your-face regarding its nasty, ugly acts of killing -- proves awfully circumspect regarding exactly how so many of these and other actions get done.

The final episode is surely the stupidest, with dialog and situations so over-baked and over-repeated (from earlier episodes) that you'll cringe. Of all the performances here, the best one comes from a  young actress named Lara Jean Chorostecki (below), who plays the tabloid reporter Freddie Lounds and who, amongst the rest of these near-zombies, brings so much fiery energy and intelligence to her role that she often single-handedly gooses the series into a bit of life. (The best line in the entire first season belongs to Ms Chorostecki and has to do with the kind of people who might make good serial killers.)

Hannibal, produced in part by, of all companies, the historic French firm Gaumont, having just completed its third season -- you can view the first two via Amazon Instant Video: (Amazon Prime members can watch for free) -- is now set for a fourth. Count me out, but maybe you'll have better luck. Especially if you don't binge-watch.

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