If I recommend a grim drama about the cat-and-mouse hunt for a serial killer featuring a pair of remarkable male leads, you’d probably think I’m talking about “True Detective,” which means you’re probably not watching “Hannibal” and I think you should be. This means you, TV academy.
“Hannibal” hasn’t gotten nearly as much attention, partly because it’s a network drama in an age of cable supremacy, and partly because it doesn’t boast a current Oscar-winner in the midst of his McConaissance. However, it has more or less equal acclaim (“Hannibal” scored 88 on MetaCritic compared to 87 for “True Detective”), so why are we all talking about how many Emmys “Detective” will win while “Hannibal” struggles just to get on the map?
Its first season was shut out across the board last year at the Emmys, Golden Globes, Critics’ Choice Awards, and TCA Awards. It could do better with critics this year given its significant bump in acclaim; it debuted last April with only a 69 score on MetaCritic and is up almost 20 points in season two. But what about the Emmys?
It’s created by Bryan Fuller, the man behind “Pushing Daisies,” which might seem like a contradiction in terms, but they’re really two sides of the same coin. Fuller makes series whose moods are enhanced by their heightened visual styles; he made dreams with “Daisies” and now turns to nightmares with “Hannibal.”
If nothing else the show’s detailed interiors, surreal tableaus, and tense pacing should make it a sure bet for art direction, cinematography, and editing nominations; “Pushing Daisies” won a couple of those races during its run (Picture Editing in 2008, Art Direction in 2009). For orchestrating those elements to such emotional effect week-to-week, the directors of the series also deserve notice.
But the actors shouldn’t be overlooked, especially the lead performances by Hugh Dancy, all tightly wound energy and obsession as FBI profiler Will Graham; and Mads Mikkelsen, whose icily sophisticated Hannibal Lecter is so distinct he makes us forget Anthony Hopkins. Last year Mikkelsen was entered in the supporting category at the Emmys, but it’s hard not to consider him a co-lead. He plays the title role, and it’s their psychological duel that drives the show.
While the supporting performances by Laurence Fishburne and Caroline Dhavernas (previously known for Fuller’s short-lived “Wonderfalls”) are also worthy of note, I’d like to shine a special light on this season’s guest cast.
Friday night’s episode, “Yakimono,” featured the return of “Veep” Emmy-nominee Anna Chlumsky as presumed dead FBI trainee Miriam Lass, and the bitter end for Tony-nominee Raul Esparza as Dr. Chilton (a role played in “The Silence of the Lambs” by Anthony Heald), who was shot and killed after being framed for Hannibal’s crimes. Both performances are worthy of Emmy consideration.
Earlier episodes featured strong performances by Emmy-winner Gillian Anderson as Hannibal’s psychiatrist, who carefully extricated herself from his life to avoid becoming his next victim, and Gina Torres as Fishburne’s wife, who suffers from terminal cancer and tried to kill herself.
Horror is a tough sell at the Emmys – just look at “The Walking Dead” – but far from impossible. “The X-Files” featured horror elements alongside its extraterrestrial mysteries and was a multiple-nominee for Best Drama. So was Showtime’s serial killer drama “Dexter.” And for the last two years, FX’s “American Horror Story” anthology has been a top miniseries contender, with 34 total nominations and four wins.
Is “Hannibal” too violent, though, for Emmy voters? Yes, it’s graphic and disturbing, but how can they use that as an excuse when they’ve honored “Dexter” and “Horror Story,” not to mention brutal crime dramas like “The Sopranos” and “Boardwalk Empire,” and the geysers of blood from the always dwindling cast of “Game of Thrones“?
For that matter, this year’s likely Emmy-nominee “True Detective” starts with the discovery of a woman who has been raped, murdered, and posed with antlers. Hannibal Lecter would approve.
It’s one of the most acclaimed dramas on television, network or otherwise.
Creator Bryan Fuller is a two-time Emmy nominee, and several regular and guest actors have similarly impressive awards pedigrees.
Network dramas are persona non grata at the Emmys these days.
The TV academy is ambivalent at best about horror.
It airs on Friday nights, where its low ratings leave it at risk of cancellation.
Despite its acclaim, comparisons to “Silence of the Lambs” could hurt as much as help.
Do you think “Hannibal” deserves Emmys this year? Make your Best Drama Series predictions below: