Thursday, April 25, 2013

Catching up with TV: The Walking Dead and Hannibal

Life often gets in the way of the best intentions. And living in this "golden age" of television, means sacrifices have to get made. So, yes while I want to watch Justified, Breaking Bad, Mad Men and any number of other critically acclaimed shows, I find that there just isn't enough time in my life. 

Luckily for me, we also live in an age when pop culture is readily available in a number of different ways. The idea of "primetime" television is rapidly dissolving, with onDemand, web and DVD options filling the marketplace and allowing the viewer to customize his/her primetime. 

Which is exactly what I did with season 3 of The Walking Dead. 

I had no specific reason. I was/am usually home on Sunday nights when it airs. And I don't have a good explanation why I didn't stay up-to-date with the show when it aired "live," other than I missed the first two for whatever reason, and knew I could catch up all at once. 

Unfortunately, I'm not sure that was a good idea. 

While overall I enjoyed season 3 of The Walking Dead, I felt it was radically uneven; peaking and valleying sometimes from episode to episode. Some episodes were great (Clear may be the best episode of the entire series, other than the premiere, and sadly made the season peak too early for me) while some seemed simply like transitional episodes to get from point A to B. Season 3 especially felt as though it slowly crawled along to the showdown between the prison people and the town of Woodbury. We all knew it was going to happen, and as a result, episodes lost their tension. Obviously, the show has shown few, if any characters are safe, but for Rick or the Governor to have died before the finale wouldn't have made sense. 

That said, the show did what it could and I'm happy we had more to deal with than zombies. I'm not sure how they're going to continue to develop and create meaningful story arcs for the show, but then again, that's my problem. I think it definitely took a step up after a plodding season 2, but they lost their showrunner again, and I'm not sure what that will mean for the future of the series. This article seems to suggest Robert Kirkman, the creator of the series, will at least get more control, which...I'm not so sure that's a great idea. Having read the comic (at least the initial run of 30 or so books) I felt Kirkman ran out of ideas and routinely tried to top himself with cheap gimmicks and absurd premises. It also got extremely bleak - way bleaker than the show has been - and that's saying something. So, while news that Scott Gimple, the writer of Clear, is going to be the new showrunner has some promise, I don't think giving the Kirkman more control is the best direction. Time will tell of course. It seems the public eats up zombies, regardless of the quality of this show. 

Another show I have caught up on is Hannibal airing on NBC. Starting at the beginning of the long sordid tale of Hannibal Lechter, this series aims to tell the greatest untold story of the Hannibal universe: how the man was caught. Now, entrusting such a juicy narrative to NBC to shepherd doesn't sound like a great idea, it seems, so far, that we're in capable hands. Hannibal's showrunner, Bryan Fuller seems not only like he knows what he's doing, but how to do it. 

Basing a show around serial killers is tricky. I've watched my share of Criminal Minds, and agree with Mandy Patinkin's take about the boundaries (or lack there of) that show. To show and develop new and different types of evil week after week, with no sense of morality or closure (I'm speaking more to the idea that every episode is going to trot out new evil, not that the people solving the crimes are evil or immoral) to me, got very boring very quickly. I've never seen Dexter but have a hunch that it works because Dexter, while being a serial killer has a code of morals (from what I have heard at least) and at least the majority of his killing is other bad people. This at least gives the viewer a moral compass to clutch onto while watching and justify the murders of people. 

Hannibal too has a fine line to walk, as it deals with not just one serial killer, but other cases the FBI's Behavioral Unit investigates. In fact, the show revolves around these cases, and has, to date, put the Lechter character off to the side, as a supporting story. But so far the show isn't simply about catching a serial's about what it takes to catch a serial killer and the trauma and pressures and emotions of the people behind the catching. Will Graham, the central figure of the show, is an emotionally damaged, possibly mentally ill person who happens to be good at "getting into the mind" of depraved individuals. This talent takes its toll on Will. With other shows, that might simply be in the three sentence blurb describing the show before he goes off willy nilly, guns-a-blazing to catch his latest target. But on Hannibal, it's a significant chunk of the show. In the three episodes so far, Will is a fragile individual, and not your typical hero whatsoever (It doesn't hurt that the actor, Hugh Dancy, is playing the shit out of him).

And notice I haven't mentioned Hannibal Lechter yet. That's because, while the show is named after him, it isn't about him. At least not yet. Fuller has done a great job utilizing Hannibal to flesh out Will Graham and to build suspense. I think Fuller knows that we, as the audience, already know Hannibal, and therefore don't want to see yet another story about how he is what he is, or how he became what he is. Because there's enough other material that already came along that did all that. So Hannibal can be more effectively used as a tool here to establish the other characters. 

Do I have concerns? You betcha!

While Hannibal has been judiciously used so far, it's only a matter of time before he gets some more playing time. And with the way Mads Mikkelsen plays him, while creepy and understated right now, I can definitely see some scenery being chewed on in the near future. Which is fine if it isn't a well they continually go to often. It's one thing to chew scenery in a 2 hour movie. It's quite another to do it in an ongoing television series. 

(This next part delves into some spoilers, so if you haven't watched yet, do it now and come back!) I'm also not sure what to think about Lechter involving himself in the one murder investigation. And by "involving" I mean carrying out a copycat murder and then helping a teenaged girl cover up a murder of her own - it seems a little excessive so early on. Now, can I talk myself into thinking he did it because he was testing Graham to see just how good of an investigator he really is? Yes, yes I can. But I feel like they may be moving just a little quickly, and would rather see some of these reveals develop a little more slowly and organically. Of course, they never came out and actually showed Lechter to be the copycat murderer, so I guess there's wiggle room, but...

They style Fuller uses on Hannibal is also something different than what us broadcast television viewers are used to, but that shouldn't be that much of a surprise coming from the creator of Pushing Daisies:

And yes, the show is violent and gory, but no much more so than some of the cable series from the recent past, nor is it any worse than FOX's The Following, a show that shows exactly how not to do a story about a serial killer. And again, the violence holds an additional weight with the characters on Hannibal, so none of it feels cheap or sensationalized.

So, if nothing else, I hope you at least check out Hannibal. I do feat that my enjoyment of this series will send it quickly to cancellation, just as my love for Life and Rubicon did.

No comments: