Catching serial killers hasn’t been sufficient in TV dramas for a while now. You’ve got to be one, or at least be so in tune with multiple murderers that the audience believes you could turn into one at any moment. Take that on board and NBC’s stylish new series Hannibal (Tuesdays Sky Living), which at first glance seemed an odd commission, makes sense. Dr Hannibal Lecter is the ultimate serial-killer-sympathiser-who-also-is-one, so get him right on TV and you’ll make Dexter and Criminal Minds look like Inspector Lynley.
Hannibal is a 2-for-1 deal because, as usual, Lecter is not the central character. He’s a foil, a convex mirror cruelly widening the flaws in a cop who has to face horrors every day. In Bryan Fuller’s distant prequel – the showrunner says he plans three seasons of his own stories before he gets to events in Thomas Harris’s first novel – Lecter is initially merely a psychiatrist brought in to counsel Will Graham (Hugh Dancy), whose visions of how killers operate can crack any case, but might soon crack him.
In that crowded marketplace of cops who know how serial murderers feel – the ones critiquing the grand artistic statements the killer’s making, or solving the puzzle they’re setting – Dancy already has his stall out. His pained stare, foggy specs and cry-for-help hair paint the picture of a fragile man under a great weight, putting him well ahead of Matthew Gray Gubler in Criminal Minds, who dispassionately predicts what maniacs will do next by studying them like germs in a Petri dish; and Michael C Hall in Dexter, who’s too busy with excitingly complex schemes to keep his own killing secret for the gore to hit home. (Dexter is a red herring anyway, since the whole show is an extended metaphor for the modern male’s fear of women uncovering his rancid emotional inadequacy. It’s Mad Men with stabbings. But I digress.)
Hannibal’s premiere saw Will Graham entering the mind of a loon who was offing young women in an imaginative, cinematic way. Dancy’s pathetic intensity, and the brilliantly directed sequences showing Will Graham’s visions of what went on, stopped those killings sliding into cheap murder-porn: the images were hyper-real, hysterical, searing.
They were in Will Graham’s mind, which was where much of the meat of the drama was. Just as he should be, Hannibal Lecter – Mads Mikkelsen, reptilian, European and Bryan Ferry-esque in a V-neck and straight side parting – was scariest when he was just talking. “I imagine what you see and learn touches everything else in your mind,” Lecter told Graham during their electric first meeting. “[You’re] shocked at your associations, appalled by your dreams. No forts in the bone arena of your skull for things you love.”
The show mixed the cerebral and the visceral. Lecter and Graham’s next probing session took place when Hannibal rocked up unannounced at Will’s house, telling Will he was “a mongoose I want under the house when the snakes slither by” and bearing breakfast: a “protein scramble” including suspiciously delicious sausages that may have been made with special stuff. A strangely disturbing scene saw Will fighting a night terror, sweating into two towels instead of bedsheets.
At the end of the episode, victims with slashed throats bled out, and all that psychological priming meant the sudden switch to raw, red death was unbearably real. Many murder dramas are disgusting, but Hannibal is something rarer. It’s unsettling.
Back for a second series this week, Paul O’Grady: For the Love of Dogs (Thursdays ITV, ITV Player) was, in 2012, the latest lifestyle show to be a surprise hit that wasn’t surprising at all when you stop and think. O’Grady goes to Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, ignoring the evil cats and meeting the dogs, telling their sad stories of illness and neglect, befriending them and perhaps rounding off by revealing that they’ve been adopted by good souls.
It’s a lightning-strike marriage of presenter and subject. O’Grady is absolutely unhateable, as soppy as wet bread but with an edge of canny humour underneath that undercuts the sentiment even when he’s blubbing wildly. Unlike humans who are being filmed, the dogs can’t say or wear anything to alienate viewers, so we’re free to fret about their predicament, cry over their helplessness and rejoice when they’re rescued. I basically think we should sort suffering people out before we tackle animals’ problems, but even I was moved when Frankie, a bulldog terminally ill on account of the cyst pressing on his spine, found a home with a woman whose garden decking was built for him and her nine other bulldogs.
The humans who pop up in For the Love of Dogs display a kindness that’s even more touching for the non-animal-lover, because it seems pointless, silly and therefore pure. King, a huge mastiff with inoperable sores on his leg joints and whiffy bacterial dermatitis, was taken in by a young family. “The whole house has become quite a lot smellier,” said the mum. “You come in and you know that you’re home.”