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'Hannibal' doesn't belong on network TV

Published: Thursday, May 2 2013 3:30 p.m. MDT

Mads Mikkelsen as Dr. Hannibal Lecter.

NBC

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“Hannibal,” the “Silence of the Lambs” TV prequel about the pre-incarceration career of cinema’s most famous man eater, has been pulled from KSL's prime-time lineup.

I find myself somewhat torn by this decision.

The fact of the matter is, I’ve watched “Hannibal” from the beginning and — true confessions — I’ve quite liked it. Whatever else the show may be, it’s extraordinarily well-written, with sharp characters that hold your interest from one episode to the next. The cast list looks as if it’s pulled from a movie marquee, with Academy Award nominee Laurence Fishburne as the long-suffering FBI chief, and former James Bond villain Mads Mikkelsen in the creepy title role.

Stealing the show is relative newcomer, Hugh Dancy playing FBI agent Will Graham who, despite the title, is the series’ principal protagonist. Graham is gifted with the ability to perfectly empathize with even the most disturbed minds, which allows him to track down killers, but at a terrible psychological cost. His confidante is Hannibal Lecter, a brilliant psychiatrist with a sociopathic secret that his colleagues have not yet begun to suspect. It’s fascinating stuff.

All that said, I can’t, in good conscience, recommend this show to anyone.

As KSL discovered, the show is violent. Very violent. Certainly the content would earn the show at least a PG-13 rating if it were being screened in a movie theater, but I haven’t seen many PG-13 movies where the show has graphic close-ups of corpses with mushrooms growing out of them or with scenes where teenage girls have their necks slashed and have blood spurting out of them. No, this is R-rated television, and the public airwaves are not the place for it.

In many ways, it’s unfortunate that that’s the route the producers chose to take.

The best parts of “Hannibal” are the character moments that are far more compelling than the gratuitous gore. Had the producers decided to leave the more graphic moments to the viewers’ imaginations, it wouldn’t require them to skimp on the plot. Television drama has long focused on the efforts of the good guys to catch the bad, and they’ve been able to do it without shots featuring a body impaled on deer antlers on camera for five minutes straight. Had “Hannibal” been willing to tone it down a few notches, it would have been a much better show — and attracted a much wider audience.

You know that old saying, “Less is more?” The “Hannibal” producers sure don’t.

An interesting side note to this, however, is that one episode of “Hannibal” proved to be even too much for the show’s creators. Reportedly, it focused on a schoolteacher who trained her students to commit murders. “Hannibal” producer Bryan Fuller felt that storyline would be inappropriate in light of current events, so he swapped it out for an episode where a guy kills people, flays their backs to give them “wings” and then props them up at his bedside in order to pretend that they’re angels sent to pray over him. Fictional school shootings, it seems, are beyond the pale, but angelized corpses are not. Not quite sure how that works.

What’s interesting, though, is that the decision to pull the episode acknowledges the reality that ultraviolent entertainment can do damage in the real world. So many in Hollywood insist that it’s all make-believe and none of it matters. In contrast, KSL and Bryan Fuller may disagree as to where to draw the line, but it’s somewhat encouraging that Fuller still recognizes that there is, in fact, a line. That’s something, I guess.

“Hannibal” is something, too, but certainly not something that belongs on network television.

Jim Bennett is a recovering actor, theater producer and politico, and he writes about pop culture and politics at his blog, stallioncornell.com.

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