Hannibal television film stills
Hannibal  is the best show on television that you’re probably not watching.

It quietly made its way into NBC’s Friday-night lineup last April, and is now a few episodes into its second season.

I was very skeptical about the show a few weeks ago when, desperate to find a series to help patch the hole left in my life by the absence of new True Detective episodes, I queued up the pilot of Hannibal on Amazon Prime. I assumed that it would follow in the footsteps of other series that are based on characters from movies that had come out years ago, and would be, well, virtually unwatchable and a shallow money-grab with terrible storytelling and production.

I’m happy to admit I was completely wrong. I was captivated by the show, finishing the first 12-episode season over a cold and snowy weekend, and then I eagerly awaited the premiere of season two, which came on the last day of February.

Unlike many shows that showcase characters you know from films, Hannibal’s plot and characters don’t rely on many plot points from the slew of movies wherein Hannibal Lecter, Will Graham and Jack Crawford star or make appearances. Instead, the show operates on a plot separated from all those films. Occasionally, you get a little bit excited when there’s a subtle mention of an event or character from, say, Silence of the Lambs. You’re like “I TOTALLY KNOW WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN TO THAT PERSON AT SOME POINT IN THE FUTURE!”

Another interesting characteristic of Hannibal is that it operates in its own dimension of time, which is independent of all the other Hannibal Lecter-related storylines. The series takes place in present day, with Hannibal working as a psychiatrist in Baltimore. He’s enlisted by Crawford to analyze Graham, an ace profiler who has just returned to fieldwork after some time off (spent teaching profilers-in-training). Graham has an empathy disorder that allows him to do amazing things when it comes to tracking down perverse serial killers, but his ability to empathize with them also takes a very serious mental and psychological toll.

At the beginning of Hannibal, nobody realizes he moonlights as the Chesapeake Bay Ripper, a gruesome serial killer who has long evaded Crawford. This ongoing storyline fits seamlessly into the other complex layers of story the writers have cooked up for the show — all of which are psychologically disorienting to the viewer, and often gruesome to the point of cringe-worthiness. The murder scenes are graphic (albeit very well-done; the show in its entirety is gorgeously filmed and produced, especially for something you’re watching on NBC), and there is a running gag throughout where Lecter feeds human body parts to his dinner guests.

I should also mention that the acting is superb. Lecter is played by Mads Mikkelsen, and Graham is played by Hugh Dancy. Both deliver dominant and skillful performances. (Lawrence Fishburne plays Crawford, but as always he is, you know, Lawrence Fishburne.)

If you’re an avid fan of True Detective like I am, you’re counting down the days until the next season begins. It’s going to be, like, a year. It’s important to find something else to give you your fix of fictional drama about the severe darkness that seems to be encroaching ever further into the lives of seemingly normal people and surroundings. And a show that does it in a realistic and thought-provoking way.

What I’m saying is, give it a rest on the Criminal Minds reruns and give Hannibal a shot.

It’s an especially nice show to marathon some evening when you have an old friend for dinner.

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