tv news: is hannibal too gay for NBC?
Anybody keeping up on pop culture news has most likely heard that NBC has cancelled Bryan Fuller’s operatic adaptation of Thomas Harris’ Hannibal series. The series’ third season returned to the aforementioned network on June fourth, to 2.57 million viewers, and saw just 1.6 million the next week’s episode, which aired during an NBA final. With both seasons one and two seeing just under 2 million viewers at its lows and only just over 4 million at it’s highs, the ratings for season three can hardly be surprising or even disappointing to NBC, who apparently kept the show going because the licensing rights were inexpensive. Nonetheless, the network that ‘kept [Hannibal] on the air for three seasons despite Cancellation Bear Chow ratings and images that would have shredded the eyeballs of lesser Standards & Practices enforcers’ according to Fuller, has decided that it’s finally time to axe the show.
The series’ executive producer, Martha De Laurentiis, tweeted after the announcement “#Hannibal was always in danger of cancellation due to subject matter,” referring to the ongoing series of murders committed by the show’s titular cannibal. However the subject matter in question seems comparatively tame in season three as opposed to the previous seasons. Fans and critics alike expressed the desensitising effect the show was having on them in their reviews of the eighth episode of season two, Su-zakana. As critic Mark Rozeman wrote, this is “an episode where bodies are sewn inside a dead horse and my initial reaction is, “Okay, they’re slowing it down a bit this week.” This episode, where a Turducken-like creation was made out of a bird sewn into a woman, sewn into a horse, and later someone is sewn inside a horse, rips open the stitches from the inside and crawls out of the horse, aired on the network a whole three weeks before the series was renewed for a third season.
So I found myself wondering, why would NBC choose now to pull the plug on the series, when the ratings show no significant drop and the content is no more violent than usual? What’s changed in season three? The answer: Hannibal’s relationship with his former patient, Will.
Hannibal and Will always had an intense relationship. When Will is brought in to work for the FBI in season one, Hannibal is hired as Will’s psychiatrist, to ensure Will isn’t getting in too deep with his profiling of the heinous serial killer, The Chesapeke Ripper. As the series moved forward, Hannibal took great pleasure in melding Will’s mind like silly putty, and as Will became aware of this, he flipped the tables. All the while the two became surrogate fathers to the orphan of another cannibal killer, and created the kind of messed up family that only Bryan Fuller could imagine. However, it is only in this season that the relationship has gone from implicit sexual tension and double entendres to full blown, explicit declarations of love in the only way a psychopath knows how: moulding a human corpse “Valentine,” or leaving a literal “broken heart” for his would-be partner to find.
In episode three of the current season, the last episode to air before cancellation, Will states ‘I’ve never known myself as well as I know myself with [Hannibal].’ And Hannibal expresses more that once his love for Will.
NBC, headed by straight, white, Catholic, 56-year-old Steve Burke currently has in its line up one series with a queer main character, but Hannibal is the only show they air where two men are canonically romantically involved. Of course, NBC is the network responsible for the game changing, Will and Grace, but is Hannibal just too gay? Whilst Will and Grace had a gay main character, the show’s central relationship was always that of the non-romantic titular couple. Now that Hannibal’s central relationship is canonically homosexual, is it one step too far for NBC?
Whilst the show’s creator and producers seem confident in Hannibal’s continuation with another broadcaster, the underlying prejudice that seems to be the fuel of NBC’s decision is one that is more worrying than the fate of the little watched but greatly beloved show.