Archive | TV Matters

Why ‘Hannibal’ Is an Acquired Taste

The following is a review I originally published in Word and Film.

The season two finale of “Hannibal” airs May 23, and most of us have no clue how it will end even if we’ve read Thomas Harris’ Red Dragon, upon which the series is loosely based. That’s if we’ve been watching at all: The NBC show’s ratings have dipped perilously low though it’s been renewed it for another season.

Yet, aside from Sherlock Holmes, there may be no crime-novel figure who looms as large in our collective imagination as Hannibal Lecter does, and this show goes a long way toward explaining why. Like all of our most terrifying dreams, “Hannibal” seduces us before grabbing us by the throat. Ironically, that seduction relies mightily upon a moral and narrative ambiguity that also may be alienating audiences.

In the movies adapted from Harris’ books about the serial killer, Hannibal Lecter is larger-than-life – so much so that a little of him goes a long way. In 1986’s “Manhunter,” actor Brian Cox bases his portrayal less on the character’s literary antecedent than on the Scottish serial killer Peter Manuel. The effect is plenty chilling but more brutish than we might expect of an aesthete whose declared foe is bad taste. In “The Silence of the Lambs,” “Red Dragon,” and the unfortunate “Hannibal,” Anthony Hopkins’ iconic take is more refined but also so hammy that it’s only palatable in small doses (cannibalism metaphors apparently being irresistible in this context). It’s hard to, ahem, swallow that the doctor wouldn’t eat someone else alive for such showboating, quid pro quo. And let’s not discuss Gaspard Ulliel’s turn as the young Lecter in 2007’s unspeakably bad “Hannibal Rising”; Thomas Harris was reportedly bullied into writing this film and book by those who held the cinematic rights to the character.

Then there’s Mads Mikkelsen’s Hannibal in the eponymously titled NBC show, which swoops in and out of a fidelity to Harris’ books with a discombobulating, off-kilter elegance that is this series’ trademark. Continue Reading →

Casting Season 2 of ‘True Detective’

Ever since the season 1 finale of True Detective, HBO’s Louisiana occult mystery series, tongues have been wagging about what season 2 will entail—even though, to date, a second season has yet to be confirmed. (Show creator Nic Pizzolatto reports he is writing one now but that HBO has yet to pick it up.) And ever since it was announced that season 1 stars Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson would not be returning, even more tongues have been wagging about who should take their place.

So far, all Pizzolatto has revealed about a next season is that it would focus on “hard women, bad men, and the secret occult history of the United States transportation system.” Rumors abound that Brad Pitt will join the cast but the series creator has only said “who we cast and what their schedule is will likely determine at least some part of scheduling, and scheduling will determine at least some part of casting.” (Such labyrinthine answers makes us wonder if Pizzolatto used himself as the model for McConaughey’s philosopher-detective Rust Cohle.) If history is any predictor, chances are good that the new True Detectives will be men, but a quickly deleted tweet from the show runner suggests at least one lead might be a woman. One thing is for sure: Intriguing possibilities abound. For a breakdown of my dream team, go here.

Of Apatow, Dunham, Girls, and the Godfather

In my latest Word and Film essay, I anticipate this weekend’s Girls season finale, and explore how Lena Dunham fits into Judd Apatown. An excerpt:

“The severity of the editing and swift tone changes in “Girls”–a sunny “Hard Days Night” cemetery caper followed by a darkly shot throwdown–do not cater to audiences so much as lead them, building upon a devil-may-carefulness that Apatow himself introduced in his first TV ventures. But Dunham takes it further. There’s a steeliness in her show that is inconceivable in the “family values”-laden, endearingly compensatory, slightly slobbering world of Apatow’s directorial efforts. (His confessed love for self-help books shows in good and bad ways.) She presents the denouement of Hannah’s book editor’s death but not of her grandmother’s; the abrupt evacuation of Adam’s sister; and a shakedown in which the Girls rip each other to shreds with terrifying accuracy. What’s more, none of these events are referenced again by characters otherwise well-acquainted with navel-gazing. There’s an incontinuity at hand that feels both deliberate and brutal. When coupled with all those nitpicking confessionals delivered in uptalk, it speaks of a generational callousness that is stunningly observed.”

For more, including a bevy of Godfather references, go here, Sirenaders!

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy