Given the influence Michael Mann's Manhunter and Jonathan Demme's Oscar winning classic The Silence of the Lambs have had over police procedural television throughout the years, it was surely only a matter of time before Thomas Harris's Doctor Lecter made his way to the small screen. With one Dexter Morgan proving that you don't have to be a law-abiding citizen to headline a TV show, and The Walking Dead popularising gore and ultraviolence, the stage was set for the arrival of Hannibal the cannibal. As ever, he does so in inimitable Hannibal style.
Inspired by less than a paragraph of Red Dragon, the television series offers an intriguing prospect – a not-yet uncovered Hannibal Lecter teams up with the FBI to help them catch serial killers, using his insight as a top psychiatrist and secret serial killer to bring the bad guys to justice. As it happens, Lecter is employed less to catch criminals than keep an eye on sensitive colleague Will Graham, a criminal profiler who suffers from a little too much empathy.
As anyone who has suffered a guilt trip will know, you can empathise a little too much with others. In this case, Will's “pure empathy” allows him to see through the eyes of serial killers, giving him a unique knowledge of how their minds work and the ways in which they commit their crimes. Called upon by FBI boss Jack Crawford (excellently played by Laurence Fishburne) to solve a series of remarkably neat murders, Lecter and Graham must combine forces for long enough to bring the killer to justice. That's if they can stop psychoanalysing one another for long enough. Kudos for getting a Hulk quote in there.
With three main characters and a complex working relationship to establish in this first episode, there's little room for much more than the most rudimentary of crime plots. The killer (the one who isn't Hannibal, anyway) barely figures into the episode until its closing moments. With Crawford recruiting Graham and Lecter within twenty minutes of one another, Aperitif would have benefited from a longer running time or even leaving Hannibal to the second episode. As it is, this is a fine introduction to our characters, albeit one which feels a little hasty. As Graham, Hugh Dancy does fine, although he is a little annoying. It's too soon to tell about Doctor Lecter though. Mads Mikkelsen gives such a drastically different performance to Sir Anthony Hopkins and Brian Cox that it's difficult to say where his performance lies. He's better than Gaspard Ulliel though, and Hannibal is already better than Hannibal Rising and Red Dragon.
It looks great too, playing like a cross between Criminal Minds and the Takashi Miike TV series MPD Psycho. It's elegant, stylish and dark. There are shades of Stanley Kubrick there too, particularly in one bathroom scene in which Crawford and Graham go head to head. And it's not just the sets which look good – he may be a cannibal, but Doctor Lecter certainly knows how to make a meal look appetising. I'm ashamed (and a little scared) to admit that watching Hannibal made me feel rather hungry.
It is indeed, too soon to tell whether Hannibal will be a success. This is, after all, just the aperitif. It's a damn good one though. I eagerly await a second helping.