There are very few TV shows with truly distinctive looks. Sure, shows may use blue filters or shaky cameras to create a “realistic” world, but those dour series are hardly unique anymore. Practically every drama is grim and washed out. It’s the rare show that offers a visual palette as recognizable as the pastel smears of Pushing Daisies or the singular perspective of This American Life.
Of all the shows on American TV right now, the most distinctive-looking series, the one in which the visuals are most inextricably part of its impact, is NBC’s Hannibal.
I’d assumed that a TV adaptation of the popular novel and film series would be derivative, at best. But Hannibal delivered a tense, controlled, 13-episode run that featured some of the most indelible images and shockingly graphic violence depicted on broadcast TV. Even more than the show’s plot, its imagery has lived on with me.
A man whose throat has been opened, exposing his vocal cords so they can be played like a string instrument. A pillar constructed of human bodies. A deformed woman living beneath a bed as her skin falls off in patches. A girl impaled on a rack of antlers in a field, looking like a gnarled tree. Attentively prepared, sumptuous meals in which human meat seems to be the main course. Each episode offered at least one image that seemed plucked from someone’s nightmares.
While Hannibal‘s story was propulsive, without its surprisingly beautiful imagery, it wouldn’t have been as effective. Not that violence or torture are beautiful, but the way the scenes are mounted, the colors are handled—the directorial choices—there’s nothing else like it on TV. Which makes Hannibal‘s return on Feb. 28 so exciting. I can’t wait to see what comes next.
I’ll be recapping Hannibal Season 2 for Amazing Stories, but not in the traditional way. Forget weekly essays. Since this show’s visuals are so effective, these will be visual recaps. Each week, my recaps will feature the most striking, most distributing images from the latest episode. A glossary of darkness, an encyclopedia of nightmares.