NBC's 'Hannibal' presents its first course tonight in series premiere episode "Apéritif," a bold new experiment in television as one of film's most beloved characters makes his small-screen debut in a new series from 'Pushing Daisies' creator Bryan Fuller. We've been salivating over the series for months, and even had a chance to discuss the new series starring Mads Mikkelsen and Hugh Dancy with the star himself, but how does "Apéritif" hold up? Is 'Hannibal' appetizing enough for seconds?

The first thing you need to understand about the series birthed on NBC tonight is that ‘Hannibal’ represents, above all, a special series. Special in its importance to NBC’s reputation, special in its unique adaptation of an iconic character, and as precious to viewers as its presented killers’ delicate treatment of their victims. Perception of ‘Hannibal’ will depend entirely on your approach to the series, something to be mindful of going in.

I devoured the first episode of ‘Hannibal’ within minutes of its arrival to my apartment, with a hunger borne of curiosity to see the iconic character adapted, rather than appreciate, and savor the detail of it all. It wasn’t until I and a collection of other reporters had a chance to sit down with Hannibal himself, Mads Mikkelsen, and hear in his own words what the character of Hannibal Lecter represented that I began to understand the proper approach to the series.

Understanding the character of Hannibal Lecter, as brought to light by Mikkelsen and Bryan Fuller will greatly alter your perception of tonight’s premiere, particularly for those looking to contrast the character with the more familiar Anthony Hopkins portrayal. It wasn’t until I heard it in Mads’ own words, that Hannibal himself represented the most famous of fallen angels, that I stopped seeing an adaptation, and saw transformation.

“Apertif” has with it the distinction of immediately drawing viewers into its world, or Will Graham’s world, given that Hannibal himself doesn’t appear until the half-hour mark. We’re immediately transported into the mesmerizing, and visceral viewpoint of Dancy’s Will Graham as he overlooks and reconstructs a crime scene, pieced together in an engrossing manner that immediately sets Fuller’s rendition apart from other serial killer series. In many ways, we’re given to place more interest in Will, than Hannibal’s ultimate appearance, as Dancy’s portrayal of an Asperger’s-adjacent, albeit charismatic character at times approaches transfixion rivaling Anthony Hopkins himself.

Continuing on with the visually distinct approach to network TV, “Apertif” follows an early case presented by author Thomas Harris, that of the “Minnesota Shrike,” whose elusive nature in abducting eight women sends Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne, imposing as ever) into the world of Will Graham. Despite his FBI training, Will keeps to the academic side of criminal psychology as a means to avoid both human interaction and the human darkness that haunts near his every waking moment. It’s an effective, if lightly strained method of bringing the core characters together, adding another layer to the course when Jack tasks Dr. Hannibal Lecter with keeping Will focused, and away from the dark places Will’s colleague Dr. Alana Bloom (Caroline Dhavernas) fears for him.

“Apertif” moves briskly enough in its investigation that characterizations have to be sprinkled in along the way, courting the “Devil in the details” approach that Hannibal himself points out to Will. The moments are small, from Jack Crawford’s bombastic bellow at an employee attempting to use the restroom, to Will’s tangential rescue of a stray dog, or Hannibal’s ominous eying of a patient’s unsanitary tissue disposal, but the devilish details paint a much more colorful picture of this weird and wondrous world overall.

NBC Hannibal Series Premiere Review Aperitif

Of course, not everything forms so fluidly over the course of the hour, as however mesmerizing Mads Mikkelsen tends to be, his thick accent can occasionally detract from the appreciation of a scene. Similarly speaking, it veers a bit toward the cliché to see Will’s uncanny ability to deconstruct a crime scene, here represented by an aesthetic humming wipe that removes distractions from the ambient area. Too often are network procedurals dependent on the nigh-superhuman abilities possessed by the intelligent loner, as if to devalue Will’s “layman” colleagues, regardless of their education.

Procedural though certain elements may be, we can assure you that ‘Hannibal’ keeps itself from the pitfall of “killer of the week” stories, smartly keeping its eye on the two characters at the center of the series. The relationship presented between the two in the pilot alone approaches pure transcendence, as the Hannibal-Lucifer parallels add an otherworldly feel to the characters; as if to portray the title character as a dark angel looking down upon creation, utterly fascinated by the pitiful creatures scampering about within. Two moments in particular capture the imagery of tonight’s pilot, as Will struggles valiantly to save the life of the Shrike’s young daughter, while Hannibal calmly steps forth, admires the helpless humanity of it all, and calmly outstretches an angelic hand to slow the bleeding, saving the girl’s life. Even more moving is Will’s empathy to visit the girl in the hospital, only to find his new fallen angel friend asleep by her bedside, his life-saving hand entwined with hers.

Simply put, ‘Hannibal’ is unlike anything I’ve ever seen, and as exquisite a meal as I can imagine, if only one learns to savor the detail of it all. I’m reminded of a sentiment I learned in the theater, that we are all of us making angels in our work. In Bryan Fuller and ‘Hannibal’s case, that proves quite literally so.

And Another Thing…

  • Review copies at least were absent a title sequence in the pilot episode, but the font and presentation of credits very quickly captured an antique, ‘Silence of the Lambs’ feel to the series.
  • Mikkelsen confirmed as much that ‘Hannibal’ would make occasional reference or homage to the films, as Jack’s flattery of Hannibal reminded me very much of a line from ‘Red Dragon’ about Hannibal’s fondness for compliments.
  • In another world perhaps, I’d love to have seen Hugh Dancy’s take on Hannibal, the way his vocal intonations occasionally match Anthony Hopkins.
  • As mentioned across the board, an impressive use of gore, and fairly clever disguises of nudity for a network series.
  • On that end, certain details or impressions may end up lost on viewers. The first mention of the Shrike's consumption of human livers is immediately coupled with imagery of Hannibal eating. Adding to the confusion is the appearance of a copycat killer, implied to be Hannibal, the information of which is crucial to reading the subtext of Will and Hannibal's breakfast scene.
  • I thought it out of character for Hannibal to warn such a “banal” serial killer of the FBI’s approach, but I’m happy to be corrected with a precedent from the books.

What did you think of tonight’s debut? Give us your thoughts on ‘Hannibal’s series premiere in the comments!

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