In the middle of May, New Jersey Representative Andy Kim tweeted a photo of a local high schooler’s painting, which won the Congressional Arts Competition and will go on to hang in the U.S. Capitol. It immediately went viral. Why?
What was supposed to be a heartwarming moment of one politician showing pride in his constituency inadvertently became an advertisement for one of the most beloved network television series of the past decade — one you should watch before it leaves Netflix on June 4.
That painting, entitled Dolce, was actually Cubist fan art for the NBC series Hannibal, starring Mads Mikkelsen (Doctor Strange, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) and Hugh Dancy (Martha Marcy May Marlene).
The series, created by Pushing Daisies and American Gods showrunner Bryan Fuller, gave new life to Dr. Hannibal Lecter, the cannibal psychiatrist originally made famous by The Silence of the Lambs. But the show is much more than its serial killer star.
Hannibal follows behavioral psychologist Will Graham (Dancy), who’s brought in by the FBI to assist with tracking down serial killers. To keep his fragile psyche in check, he’s assigned to regular sessions with Dr. Lecter (Mikkelsen), a forensic psychologist. Any self-respecting movie buff knows Lecter better as Hannibal the Cannibal, but Will is none the wiser as he endeavors to track down another killer, called the Chesapeake Ripper.
Hannibal begins as a psychological crime procedural, with each episode establishing a crime and ending with the culprit revealed. But over time, as Hannibal and Will form an intimate bond, the series evolves into a thrilling game of cat-and-mouse, with Will’s powerful insights compromised by Hannibal’s surgical tactics of manipulation.
Simply put, the series soars on the performances of Mikkelsen and Dancy. Both actors elevate what could have been a passable network crime drama into a captivating TV experience that could easily sit alongside “prestige television” series like Mad Men or Breaking Bad.
Mikkelsen was not a particularly well-known actor outside of his native Denmark when Hannibal was first casting its lead roles, and NBC pressed creator Bryan Fuller to go with someone more palatable to American audiences. But Fuller trusted his instincts in casting Mikkelsen, and later told Collider it was a blessing in disguise:
“I think in the grand universal scheme it was the best thing for the show. A.) Because we got to have Mads and Hugh in scenes together and they were electric and... B. We got to do things that were questionable with the content. We were no longer expected to achieve a certain goal.”
Then, there’s the cannibalism of it all. Much as Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal reminisced about eating human flesh with fava beans and a nice chianti in The Silence of the Lambs, Mikkelsen’s Hannibal has a clearly established taste for the finer things in life. He crafts meticulous haute cuisine meals with only the tenderest of meats — and then invites his friends over for dinner. Watching the characters dine along the serial killer as potential evidence of his crimes could be right under their noses is reason enough to dive into this series. (And yes, it has a cookbook, written by the show’s food stylist.)
While three seasons could seem like a lot to binge-watch in the week before the series leaves Netflix, you’d be surprised how quickly 39 episodes go by when they involve an ensemble this incredibly talented solving some of the most terrifyingly brutal crimes ever to appear on television. “The Wrath of the Lamb” is probably one of the most satisfying season finales ever, wrapping up ample storylines while leaving the true fates of its characters up to interpretation.
Hannibal has remained prominent in popular culture in the years since its short run on the airwaves, surviving through a combination of fan fiction, rising demand for a Season 4, and art set to hang in the same building as John Trumbull’s Declaration of Independence. That’s the kind of legacy every show hopes for, and Hannibal deserves it.
Hannibal is streaming on Netflix until June 4.