It seems like our favorite cannibal has eaten his final meal.
Much to the despair of the fans of the universally praised television show “Hannibal,” American television network NBC, the show’s home for the past three years, has announced that it is canceling the small-screen adaptation of Thomas Harris’ best-selling novel about cannibalistic psychiatrist Dr. Hannibal Lecter.
The show has always been a risky experiment. Hannibal is one of the most famous villains in pop culture history, sharing the top tier of the baddie hierarchy with Voldemort, Darth Vader and Lucifer. And Anthony Hopkins’ big-screen portrayal of the highly intelligent serial killer? It’s the very definition of iconic.
But to the surprise of naysayers and critics, “Hannibal,” the TV show, held its own among the other, more popular adaptations of Harris’ novels.
Bryan Fuller, “Hannibal’s” show runner, picked up the source material and turned it inside out, upside down and back again—all while staying faithful to its essence. The series expanded Harris’ story by exploring the relationship between Hannibal—portrayed by the understated, coolly sophisticated Mads Mikkelsen—and the FBI profiler who was responsible for his capture, Will Graham, played by the equally mesmerizing Hugh Dancy.
The show started out as a run-of-the-mill police drama, with the early episodes focusing on the serial killer of the week. But as the show progressed, viewers and critics alike saw that there was more to “Hannibal” than a cat-and-mouse game between the good guy and the bad guy.
Its production elements alone tell us that “Hannibal” is unlike anything on network TV today, with some critics intimating that it can pass off as a high-concept, cable series because of its arresting and surreal visuals, moody cinematography and haunting musical score.
“Hannibal” is a veritable museum of grotesqueries. Is there any other show where all types of murder tableaux—flayed bodies assembled as angels, a human totem pole, men and women sewn together to form a mural—can be described as art, or at least, artistic?
It can even be considered the most elegant cooking show on TV (and yes, with a cannibal as the “chef”). Mikkelsen’s scenes in the kitchen are like culinary ballet, where cracking an egg, peeling a potato, or thinly slicing a human thigh is all part of a graceful dance.
But saying “Hannibal” is only beautiful is doing a great disservice to the show’s excellent cast. Mikkelsen and Dancy are excellent and the stellar duo of the series, but the supporting cast is also an acting goldmine. There’s the commanding Laurence Fishburne, an icy yet vulnerable Gillian Anderson and a dignified Gina Torres, to name a few.
For a show that is grim and gruesome, “Hannibal” dwells more on life and the living. Characters talk about the purpose of humanity’s existence, art and beauty, God and faith, intimacy, loneliness and love. It is also darkly comedic, where seemingly innocuous and polite invitations to dinner are thinly veiled death threats.
So why was this beautiful, nightmarish show canceled? Unfortunately, even with a strong social media backing, a very loyal fan base and universal critical acclaim, “Hannibal” just couldn’t win in the ratings game. And this is the bottom line when it comes to TV. If the show can’t get the numbers, it gets the ax.
There is a possibility, however, that our charismatic cannibal will be saved from the TV chopping block, especially now that audience behavior and the entertainment media landscape are constantly evolving.
In the past, when a TV show was canceled, it stayed canceled. In the immortal words of a well-known show runner: “Dead is dead.” But in this age of the Internet and binge-watching, canceled cult-favorite shows are given a second chance on online streaming services like Hulu and Netflix.
Look at “Arrested Development,” which, after getting canceled in 2006, was revived by Netflix in 2013. There’s also the oddball, ensemble comedy “Community” that just finished its sixth season on Yahoo! Screen. And who can forget the gem that is “The Mindy Project,” which was eventually picked up by Hulu for a fourth season?
With shows like “Hannibal,” you get stunning performances, a complex yet compelling narrative, gorgeous production values, a kind of experimental storytelling that has never been seen before, not to mention a loyal fan base and an overflow of critics’ praise. That’s practically a win-win. It would be unwise to pass that up.
At the end of the day, “Hannibal” is more than TV—it’s art.