It was inevitable that Hannibal would be cancelled. There’s just too much about it that defies the conventions of network TV. It’s gory and creepy, yet utterly sophisticated. The sort of middle America viewers giving NCIS the colossal ratings it gets would find it pretentious and confusing. It’s quiet and reserved and smart and slowly paced and carried by an actor with an accent some people have found indecipherable. It’s an atypical show running on NBC, a channel that has garnered a Fox-like reputation when it comes to cancelling shows. So if anything it’s remarkable Hannibal made it three seasons.
However all this strangeness is what made Hannibal remarkable. It was there every week, an utterly unique show on network TV. The show brought psychological tension, atmosphere you could drown in, and quality filmmaking. Consistently. The closest Hannibal has come to a bad episode might actually be the unaired episode from season one, a clearly weak link in an otherwise excellent season. What makes this cancellation sad was the fascinating seven-season plan for Hannibal. The idea was to weave in seasons like the first two, which are extended upon but based on comments from the novels, with seasons that adapt the Hannibal books. There was trouble getting the legal rights to Silence of the Lambs, which I believe was to start either season four or five. (Season four was apparently going to be “radical” and based on a “pocket” from the novel.) This ambitious and fascinating plan had me wanting to see it through to completion. It would’ve been like serial killer Game of Thrones, in that I would have to rely on other people to tell me how it all relates to the books. Still though, shows are almost always improved by finite goals, and Hannibal had that going for it.
The idea of getting seven tight seasons building to an actual conclusion and adapting some incredibly iconic stories in the ever wonderful style of the show was exciting. It’s easy to imagine a show like that ranking among my favourites. Even if it didn’t end up like that, even if something went wrong along the way, seven seasons of atmosphere and Mads Mikkelsen would’ve had me onboard. Short of swapping out the entirety of the creative team it’s hard to imagine the show going too far astray. The wonderful collaborators on the show are all immensely talented and clearly invested.
Which is why we all need to hold out for Netflix to pick up Hannibal.
It’s a show absolutely tailor made for streaming services in every way, and Netflix might as well continue their reputation as lord and saviour of fan favourite shows. Does anything sound more suited to a streaming service than a show constantly rubbing up against censors, a show with mildly inaccessible content, a show with intellectual dialogue and ruminations on philosophy, a show anchored by Mads Mikkelsen, a show by a creator already known for briefly lived TV shows?
Of course in some cases Hannibal’s tenuous relationship with the studio system has made it all the better. It’s a show with legitimately disturbing imagery (some of the stuff near the tail-end of season two springs to mind), but one that’s twisted the studio constraints to its advantage. It turns out carefully showing as little as possible of a man cutting his own face off at Hannibal’s behest is creepier than actually seeing it. The mileage this show got out of elegant food photography was incredible. Watching someone roll meat along a cutting board is only contextually creepy, but Hannibal used that to its advantage. Even the first two seasons function interestingly as a byproduct of the studio system. The way those two seasons transition from a case-of-the-week format to a gripping and horrifying narrative made for an interesting viewing experience. All of that felt like byproduct of Hannibal’s home on network TV.
At other moments though this back-and-forth was distracting. Network TV’s fear of the human form led to some of the show’s most distracting imagery, like the censored photo of Botticelli’s Primavera. Even the first ever episode showed a nude woman impaled by deer antlers, with the tines of the antlers carefully hiding her nipples. It’s not like Hannibal has to turn into an HBO show or anything, but funnily enough the show seemed to have a harder time with this constraint than any other. Hiding some of the violence and gore led to many an elegant implication of violence that let the viewers fill in the details in their heads. Not being allowed to show nudity just led to a whole swathe of digital doll people in dream scenes, carefully placed objects, blurry soft focus, and fuzzed out paintings with PG levels of butt visible.
Leaving the rules of network TV behind would just give Hannibal more freedom. Suddenly having full-blown gore would at least be an option, one perhaps best taken as contrast to the show’s normal approach to gore and viscera. Suddenly awkward fuzzing need not occur. The show could fully delve into its dark narrative knowing that it could do it justice. Maybe being on Netflix would make Bryan Fuller’s quest for the rights to Silence of the Lambs easier. Surely Netflix is a trendy name with serious clout, and them backing the show would help that particular fight.
Mainly it all comes down to the fact that NBC has cancelled another show that’s too good to leave, and someone like Netflix needs to get in there fast before the cast and creative team start moving on to other things like the cast and crew of Community. Hannibal couldn’t suffer those kinds of losses and still function. It couldn’t sputter in streaming hell on Yahoo. It needs the power and money and smooth streaming of an actual contender, like Netflix. While the “put it on Netflix” bandwagon occasionally seems horribly inane, in this case it’s warranted. Hannibal suits streaming services, and deserves to be rescued from the knife.