The corpses are flayed, filleted and fancifully splayed in NBC's artful but excessively dour "Hannibal," which is what's for dinner Thursday night. You'd be forgiven for not really having the appetite for it. American culture has plenty of recent, real-life mass slayings to work with, mull over and reconcile — as well as a gun issue to resolve — but scripted television won't go anywhere near that.
Instead, the makers and fans of today's TV crime dramas believe deeply in the sort of serial killers who barely exist in actual crime statistics (if at all), and whose handiworks more resemble installation art than homicide. This treatment of murder is dissociative in the extreme; victims are figuratively (and in "Hannibal's" case, literally) reduced and equated to meat products, which are then hunted by a modern, laughably fictional brand of monsters who live among us.
The Hannibal of "Hannibal" is, of course, an updated take on the infamous Dr. Lecter, drawn from the pages of Thomas Harris's novels and brought to life by Anthony Hopkins's knifey performances in "The Silence of the Lambs" and other movies. Franchise has replaced Shakespearean tradition; rather than invent ways to stage "Macbeth" or "King Lear," we offer up new renditions of everyone from Norman Bates to Jack the Ripper. Some days it seems like there isn't an original thought out there.
"Hannibal" can at least lay claim to primogeniture: If it weren't for Lecter and the notion that killers adhere to a set of psychological profiles and reveal their motives in their methods, we wouldn't have this glut of TV shows, novels and movies about specially abled sleuths pursuing playfully demented murderers.