The Thursday Playlist: Delectably Weird Hannibal, A New Girl First Date
Jake Johnson, Zooey Deschanel | Photo Credits: Adam Taylor/FOX
You can't help but get a deliciously squirmy tingle when the infamous (to the viewer, anyway) Hannibal Lecter quips, "It's nice to have an old friend for dinner" while serving tongue to his guests, including an unctuous and chatty shrink whom Lecter sizes up by coolly noting, "Your tongue is very feisty."
This scenario takes place several episodes into the midseason run of NBC's feverishly twisted, fascinatingly macabre and visually remarkable procedural-with-a-twist Hannibal (Thursday, 10:01/9:01c), by which time I was completely creeped out and thoroughly hooked. In much the same way A&E's Bates Motel introduces a younger version of Norman Bates before he had his crazy mama mummified in the cellar, Bryan Fuller's Hannibal presents the mad Dr. Lecter before his secret identity as a cannibalistic serial killer is known to anyone but his victims. He is caginess personified, taking on the role of advisor and therapist to tormented FBI profiler/consultant Will Graham (from Thomas Harris' Red Dragon). Will has an ability to project "pure empathy" and see grisly crimes from the killer's POV, which Lecter describes quite accurately as "an uncomfortable gift."
We share Will's discomfort — "This is bad for me," he laments to his boss, Jack Crawford (a grave Laurence Fishburne, so more effective here than he was during his CSI tenure) — and our unease isn't merely a result of the graphically freaky death tableaux he regularly confronts. As Will, Hugh Dancy draws us in with an emotionally raw performance as a socially awkward prodigy who relives and even mentally reenacts the horrible crimes. The show may be titled Hannibal, which for commercial branding purposes makes complete sense, but this is Will's story. And an absorbing, psychologically rich one it is, too — immeasurably smarter than The Following, more haunting than Bates Motel.
"You have a knack for the monsters," observes Hannibal, the deadly serpent in their midst, and Mads Mikkelsen brings a suave, inscrutable (if at times unintelligible) and playfully sinister edge to this iconically ghoulish gourmand. The episode titles have fun with the show's unsavory food fixation ("Aperitif," "Amuse Bouche," "Potage," "Entrée"), and I'd advise against making Hannibal your dinnertime companion. A show this extreme won't be to all tastes, quite obviously, but those with a predilection for elegantly Grand Guignol are likely to eat Hannibal up.
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COMEDY TONIGHT: It's midseason, a time when networks like to mix things up and give shows temporary (sometimes even momentary) tryouts on different nights, regardless of how confusing it can be to the fan. A more robust (though not like it used to be) American Idol lead-in is the other best explanation for why Fox is airing a very promotable, if not quite pivotal, new episode of New Girl on Thursday night (9/8c) that further explores the awkward dynamics of the game-changing Jess-Nick post-kiss situation. "Our relationship's so confusing," whines Jess (Zooey Deschanel), and it only becomes more so when Nick (Jake Johnson) haltingly asks her out to dinner. Even with Nick suited up for the occasion — a good joke right there — neither can admit or decide if this is actually a date. It's like Jess tries to explain to her bemused former beau Russell (Dermot Mulroney), who stumbles across them, "If a happening happens and you don't know that it happened, did it happen?" It so happens that Jess and Nick are adorable together, and their dithering chemistry is comic gold.