Hannibal: TV Review

So you’re watching Hannibal? I suppose you’re going to prattle on as though you’re some sort of deep thinker, while documenting the fact that you’ve spent like 10 hours watching mindless garbage.

Well… I do what I can.

 And your excuse?

I don’t really have one. I’ve always liked this franchise. While the show is garbage, the unfolding of the story is barely enough to keep me on the hook. I keep hoping for an interesting monster of the week, but there’s really only been three of them. If it will make me look better, I’ll mention that I’m reading twitter and boxing forums and stuff while it’s on. And I really doubt I’ll watch the next season. It’s all just part of the noise to block out thinking about the future.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. So you’re better than what you watch, I get it.

Well, let’s say that this is easily the worst thing I watch. And I watch the UFC.

Alright, so what’s so bad about it? You know, these books sold millions and The Silence of The Lambs won best picture and that one with Brian Dennehy is good too.

True. And I read and enjoyed one of the books as a kid and liked those movies, but they were goofy comic books and the show is a dumb comic book version of those comic books.

What does that mean?

Well, the FBI profiler thing is pretty interesting. If they ever made a movie or show that was an even remotely accurate portrayal of that field, I would probably be enthralled. The older stuff in this franchise was a cartoon version of the real thing, which was pretty acceptable because it was introducing the idea in a popular work. In 1981 nobody knew what the fuck a profiler was. Even serial killers didn’t have that prominent a place in the mainstream consciousness, believe it or not. So of course, Thomas Harris more or less had to be like, “ this is a special detective man who can SEE INTO THE MIND OF A SERIAL KILLER!”

But now we live in the future and everybody knows what a profiler is and, rather than make the portrayal of the field more interesting or getting into the details of it, they make it even more cartoonish. So now Will Graham really is just a psychic. They say he’s empathetic, which they treat like a super power. But the portrayal is of a psychic. If you showed the pertinent footage with the sound off to 1,000 people who didn’t know the story, 1,000 of them would say, “that guy’s a psychic.” He learns everything through visions and dreams, except when he tries to catch Hannibal and his gift suddenly fails.

Like everything in Hannibal, it’s stupid and boring just short of the point where I would stop watching. What a crappy way to see a crime solved.

Fishburn: Oh, look a crime. Somebody call Will so he can solve it.

Will: What is it guys?

Some Lady: It’s a crime!

Will: Whoooooo. I’m having a vision! Whooooo-oooo-oooo! This pharmacist did it!

Fishburn: Great job Will. Try that trick on the Chesapeake Ripper (AKA Hannibal).

Will: OK. Whoooooo. Whooooo. Whooo-oooo-oooo. Nope, it doesn’t work on him.

Fishburn: Alright, see you tomorrow.

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What else?

Eh. A lot of it is just a crude mish mash of symbols and cliches which reminds me of one of those video games where it feels like everything is stolen from movies that broke even at the box office but that you never saw. As inherently silly as the character of Hannibal is, it’s both toned down and taken to a new level of ridiculousness. He’s more sedate and the performance is not as hammy. But he is more European and more reminiscent of a bad Nazi villain. For example, he drinks wine with some lady and she’s asks if he wants red or white and he says, “I think something pink, don’t you?”

I wonder if Europeans somewhere actually do that annoying question thing, or if we just made it up for Euro-villains. “I want this kind of wine, don’t you agree?” Hey! I asked you what kind of wine you wanted, motherfucker, just tell me what you want. It’s an open invitation for you to chose whatever makes you happy, so you don’t need to get all fucking pushy and start suggesting that I “agree” with what you want to drink at a particular moment. How can I agree with a momentary preference anyway, you dick? Look, I’m having a bourbon, so just tell me what your candy ass wants and I’ll pour it for ya.

Anyway, Hannibal is always doing shit like that. We see him at a classical concert, doing that thing where he’s really stiff but he makes little rapid jerks with his head. Because when you really connect with a piece of classical music, it’s like having someone with shaky hands stick a broom handle all the way up your ass. As is the case with many villains, classical music is the one thing that touches him. I think the idea here is that when he listens to great composers, he finally encounters minds that are on his level. And he uses fancy pens and has great handwriting and his leather is bound in leather and so forth.

Well, he’s a sophisticated guy. He was like that in the other vehicles too.

True, and to a ridiculous extreme that was still enjoyable. But the TV show takes the ridiculous extreme to the retardosphere. Hannibal is always talking about wines and cheeses and saying “one must have truly cultivated rectal palate to appreciate a fine piece of toilet tissue.” I think it’s just over signaling. “Hey, the audience thinks smart guys like classical music and fancy clothes, so we’ll turn Hannibal into Niles Crane and then they’ll think he’s really, really smart.” But you can’t be a connoisseur of everything and those who pretend to be just come off as pretentious half wits.

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So you’re going to get into symbols and signals and stuff again? Did you dust of your pomo textbooks?

Just stop me if I ever start talking about semiotics. I guess I’m talking about them already, but just don’t let me use the word. Anyway, I think the FBI swat team is pretty funny. It’s just so superficial and automatic, sort of like when The Simpsons started leaning on Disco Stu too much because it was the only funny thing they’d thought of in a couple of years. I almost see the FBI swat team on this show as cardboard cutouts that are taped to popsicle sticks and made to move by someone below the camera. Pretty much every episode, after Will’s psychic powers determine the villain, they cut to a scene where all of the main characters move around amidst the FBI swat team cutouts.

Well, I guess just keep talking about how stupid the show is.

There is, of course, the Spielberg/Sorkin/etc. device where the characters just stand there and spit out each other’s resumes constantly because that’s easier than having them do anything really impressive. They’ll say “he’s the best of the best of the best and he double MITed at Harvard Quantico top 1% of 1% fancy ketchup.” But then when we see these geniuses in action it’s just, “wooooo. Wooo-oooo! Emmmmm-pathyyyy. I’ve solved the case! That pharmacist did it!” And when they do try to deal in the in the characters’ fields realistically it is crudely cut and pasted from Wikipedia in the manner of an 8th grade report struggling to make a word count. Here’s a direct quote from the show.

Cop to journalist: There are many interesting facts about psychopathy. For example, one of these facts is that journalism is the sixth most common profession for psychopaths. Journalism is the profession that you do and therefore, chances are that maybe you could be a psychopath.

Journalist to cop: Those are correct facts. But there is another interesting fact about psychopathy. That interesting fact is that the seventh most common profession for psychopathy is the field of law enforcement, which includes the police. In conclusion, because of the fact that you are on the police, it is also possible that you are a psychopath, according to this fact.

But at least it’s just entertainment. It’s not offensive, other than the fact that it takes the broadest, easiest option every time to keep the audience as wide as possible.

Welllll… I find the violence and gore to be pretty unsettling.

You? Are you kidding? You love violence.

Yes, in the right context I do. If you kill Seagal’s wife, I want to see him make you his gore puppet. Though, the older you get the more that context tends to narrow. So, it’s not really the violence in itself, it’s the social context of it.

What are you, Matt Cale now?

Matt was right about everything. Cultural expressions emerge from cultures. They tell us about those cultures.


So you’re going to make that tired liberal point about how Americans accept extreme violence but not naughty words, sex or the human anatomy? I mean, every time you say that out loud, you realize again how crazy it is, but pointing it out is still a cliche.

Right, but Hannibal takes it to a new level. I’m pretty sure that the level of violence on this show would get an “R” rating in theaters. For example, there’s a scene where Hannibal gouges out a woman’s eyes, mostly on screen. First you see prolonged shots of the eyeless and otherwise mutilated corpse. Then there’s a flashback where you see him digging his thumbs into her eye sockets as she screams and blood pours forth. They don’t actually show the eyes coming out, but it’s pretty crazy that this is on network, primetime TV.

What about the children?!

I mean… I’m more wondering, “what about the people who say ‘what about the children?’” Their selective outrage is getting as cartoonish as the show itself. Like, you can’t say a naughty word that all kids hear at school. But you can show someone’s eyes being gouged out by the hero of the show? That’s the sort of thing kids might actually be shielded from because people probably don’t gauge each other’s eyes out every day at recess. Not that I think TV should all be kid friendly, but clearly the people who DO think that have pretty warped standards for what is kid friendly.

And if a network ever ran a special meant to instruct teens on safe sex as a public service, these same people would riot and burn down the studio.

Right. If you compare the level of gore and violence to the past, it’s just going through the roof. Like, I realize I am old, but I think a lot of us can remember when they would show firefights on TV where nobody would get shot, like when Hannibal was a guy on The A-Team and it was a fairly big deal for someone to be killed. And if somebody was killed, it would be really clean. Bang bang and the guy falls over.

And you want everything to be how it was back in your day?

Well, not necessarily. My point is, violence and gore have gotten vastly more extreme. In one generation we’ve gone from 100s of rounds of ammunition hitting nobody to splattered brains, mutilated corpses and on-screen torture. This show is about as graphic in its violence as Casino or Goodfellas and most of the Friday The 13ths. So we’re about 85% to carte blanche for violence on network, prime time TV. But there’s not commensurate loosening of the standards when it comes to sex, drugs or anything else. If it were, you could show… I don’t know, There’s Something About Mary in primetime. Or maybe Showgirls.

Is this just the continuation of the normal patterns of America’s prudishness and violence?

I don’t think so, because of the extremity. To me, it’s a sign of the fascism of our country seeping into our culture.

Well, that’s pretty crazy, but feel free to elaborate.

OK. When the A-Team was on, of course our country was training people to torture at The School of The Americas and sponsoring torture in Latin America and other places, but it was more or less hush hush. If you asked the average American if we, as a country, advocated and practiced torture, they would get angry at you and say “no,” and most of the people who acknowledged that we were involved with torture opposed it.

And now we waterboard people?

Yes. It’s our official policy to torture people and pretty much everybody knows about it and a great number of us zealously support it. Not only waterboarding. I’m pretty sure that anyone who pays even slight attention knows that we have people scooped up and flown to black ops sights in other countries where stuff that everybody agrees is torture goes on. Then, of course, there was the torture in the prisons in Iraq, which was hardly a secret. Many Americans were just fine with that as well.

I don’t want to get too far into all of this, but, according to Foreign Policy, just between 2007 and 2012 the number of Americans who advocated the use of torture in the “war on terror” went from 27% to 41%. There were no big terrorist attacks during that time. We’re just becoming comfortable with torturing people. Of course, both political parties are now fervent supporters of extra-judicial assassinations on the order of the executive branch and using drones to slaughter civilians in countries that we are not at war with. Not to mention using mercenaries on a massive scale. Again, not under the table. Just as standard operating procedure.

And this relates to cartoon super villain vs. cartoon super cop how?

Maybe it’s not a coincidence that we’ve become OK with torture in real life, carried out by “heroes” and torture as a bit of entertainment by the hero of a show that pops up after sitcoms?

You know that the people behind the show are going to say that Hannibal is not the hero of the series, right?

Sure. The hero is not the tall, suave genius who spends the entire series in a position of dominance and power who is admired even by his foes. It’s not the guy who knows all the things we know. The hero is the wimpiest FBI character ever filmed who possesses no qualities that the typical viewer wishes they had, except for a nice head of hair general intelligence that is still less than Hannibal’s. The hero is a guy who spends half his screen time wetting the bed as the non-hero toys with him and bests him again and again. This, by the way–making Hannibal not only the main attraction, but the hero–is another difference from the older vehicles in the franchise.

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Just because he is the smartest character, doesn’t mean Hannibal is the hero.

You know how “Columbo” is named after the main character, Columbo. And “Bones” is named after the main character, Bones. And “House” is named after the main character, House. And in all of those shows, there’s a mystery to be solved and the main character, who the show is named after, winds up prevailing in every episode? But Columbo, Bones and House are totally not the heroes of their shows.

Or, to look at it another way could you make a show with similar characters where Hannibal was a child molester? No. And why not? Because you couldn’t put a child molester on a pedestal. But you can put a sadistic torturer and murderer on one.

Does he kill other, “really bad” killers?


Do we see him kill someone we are meant to perceive as weak and annoying, in a way that is meant to be satisfying to the audience?

Yup. The one patient, who tries to get in good with him, but who is so far beneath him/us.

Does he know kung fu?

What are you, kidding? Of course he knows kung fu.

OK, so Hannibal is the hero. What does that mean?

I’m not a historian, but fascism always seems to go hand in hand with the normalization and even the celebration of psychopathy and brutality. You can’t have a society where psychopathic behavior is rewarded and many of the people who reach positions of prestige are psychopaths, without embracing psychopathy to some extent. Even apart from what they did in the concentration camps, cruelty permeated Nazi culture and you’ll see the same kinds of things in Latin American dictatorships, Franco’s Spain, whatever. Torture, rape, sadism and general brutality and admiration of unmitigated selfishness. We probably top the other cultures in the latter.

I’m not going to argue here for an overall characterization of the US as a fascist country because that’s just semantics. But let’s say that in the past few decades we’ve seen some relatively soft fascistic tendencies take hold. For example, the most basic element of fascism, which is the merger of big business and government into a joint mechanism of power. Maybe you can even argue that this isn’t an inherently bad thing. But now the other aspects of fascism seem to be following. It’s all stuff I’m sure you know about without me going through it, but, let’s just lay out one strand. We throw 1% of the population in prison and tolerate and, in many quarters, savor the existence of prison rape and other mistreatment. And now, with privatization, prisons and a high incarceration rate are a source of corporate profits and then some of those profits are used to enrich and empower an entrenched political class who then make sure even more people are thrown in prison. What sort of political tendency does that express? There’s only one answer, and that’s how an increasing amount of stuff works in the U.S.

We’ve recently become a nation that openly embraces torture and assassination. Not on the sly and under the pretense of a cold war that could theoretically wipe out the country and perhaps all of humanity, but as standard procedure, ostensibly to avoid a one in ten million chance of being killed by a terrorist, which is a pretty flimsy excuse. 25% of us even think it would be OK to use nuclear bombs to preempt a terrorist attack.

So you think that’s why Hannibal is popular, or that it’s part of a secret program to nazify the population?

No. But cultural expressions don’t pop up out of nowhere. I’m sure tribes of real cannibals sing songs about being cannibals. And we have shows that fetishize violence and mutilation to an extent that nobody would have believed possible 20 years ago, just as they would never believe we would be a pro-torture nation. And now we have a popular show where the hero tortures people on screen. A stupid show.

Why do these reviews always end so abruptly?

I don’t know honey child, they just do.



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