This is a tale of two serial killer dramas, two of many it seems, with the concept being all the rage right now. Yes, Dexter exists on Showtime and Bates Motel is on A&E, but Hannibal and The Following are the two butting heads as both exist on big networks, NBC and Fox, respectively.
While Hannibal has only aired its pilot with a second episode coming tonight, The Following has now put out a dozen, I believe. It may not be fair to judge both shows equally, but Hannibal has made one hell of a first impression, while The Following failed to hold my attention past episode eight or nine.
It’s something that can be hard to put into words sometimes, how you distinguish a show that’s great and one that’s merely watchable. It’s like trying to find that X-factor that made Lost a huge success, but every show that attempted to emulate it afterward a failure.
I’ve watched the Hannibal pilot twice now, and it really does much to set itself apart from The Following. Some of the biggest differences come when comparing and contrasting the pair of the lead and the villain.
The Following has Kevin Bacon as an FBI agent attempting to coral James Purefoy’s Joe Carol, a serial killer back on the hunt with the aid of a newfound cult devoted to his “cause.” Bacon’s Ryan Hardy has a heart problem and combats alcoholism as well. He’s a tough guy, but these things are supposed to make him vulnerable enough so that the audience fears for his safety.
Hugh Dancy’s Will Graham is a different animal. He’s an FBI consultant with borderline autism, and has the ability to empathize with anyone to an extreme degree. This makes him socially uncomfortable in nearly all circumstances, but also allows him to get inside the mind of a killer the way most profilers and psychologists cannot.
Hardy is just not that interesting. Over the course of the season so far, we’ve learned there really isn’t all that much of a backstory to him. Yes, he was in love with Carol’s wife, but if that’s the most interesting thing in his past, it’s not much to go on. Graham on the other hand looks to be an incredibly complex character with non-traditional problems. Do we really need another alcoholic ex-cop as the star of the show?
And then there’s the villains, where the gulf grows ever wide. Joe Carol is simply not as cunning or suave a villain as the show makes him out to be. Yes, he’s charming and smiles when he’s saying very nasty things, but there’s nothing I’ve seen that explains how he’s managed to attract such a devoted following of complete strangers brainwashed to kill for him.
Hannibal Lecter on the other hand is a different sort of animal, so to speak. Perhaps it’s cheating because we have so much backstory (and uh, futurestory) to go off of with him across the books and movies, but Mads Mikkelsen is bringing a new dimension to the character we’ve never seen before. It may take you a few minutes to adjust to his accent, but once you do, you’ll find he’s a downright bonechilling character. The fact that he’s not yet the villain and is just partnered with Graham at the moment is a more interesting dynamic than the Hardy/Carol cat and mouse game.
It’s perhaps too early to comment on the specifics of the overarching plot of each show, as with one episode, there isn’t much to go on with Hannibal. I’m guessing it will be quasi-procedural with Hannibal’s sins slowly being revealed over time. But with The Following? The cult idea has been dramatically over used to the point where every single episode is a game of “guess who the traitor is.” Fool me once, fine, twice okay, but EVERY week? It gets tiresome quickly, as does Joe’s “Master Plan” which as of yet hasn’t produced plot turns that are all that interesting.
The style of the shows are very disparate however, seeing as how The Following simply doesn’t have a style. It looks like nearly every other police/investigation show out there, and the overuse of Poe imagery doesn’t make it any more profound or creepy.
But Hannibal? Will Graham’s in-head reenactments of crime are something to behold as he wipes away the murder piece by piece and runs through the events himself. The show is dark, somber and feels like it’s something we’d see on AMC or HBO, not NBC. But The Following absolutely feels like a network drama. Both shows are equally violent perhaps, but it’s not violence alone that properly conveys the mood of a show.
I’m really looking forward to seeing where Hannibal goes from here, and hopefully even though it’s not a reality show, NBC will keep it alive even if ratings aren’t phenomenal. But I know I’ll be watching this week when I wasn’t last week, and perhaps the same will be true of others.