Here is a follow-up to my older post on Hannibal and The Good Wife: That comparison now seems particularly inapt through the first half of Hannibal‘s latest (and, likely and sadly, final) season — but, then, the “procedural” label at times seemed equally inapt in the most recent season of The Good Wife.
First, the latter: The Good Wife awkwardly grafted political elements onto itself last season, and the case-of-the-week structure became increasingly ancillary. The show started to show some strain trying to service its many well-developed cast members (and continued to misuse and betray the once-so-intriguing Kalinda, right up until her strange anticlimax of an exit). The reasons were twofold: 1) the show underestimated, perhaps, the value of Josh Charles/Will Gardner as a central force among otherwise somewhat disparate characters; and 2) I think it underestimated, too, the value of the law procedural format in giving primary characters a clear sense of purpose. Making Alicia’s ennui such a part of the plot could have been clever (episodes like “Mind’s Eye” made good use of it), but instead it made me increasingly miss the courtroom scenes, the law-talk banter, and the clean narrative arcs of seasons past.
Hannibal much more successfully began to discard the case-a-week format in its second season; by the start of the third, the show was pretty much an nonstop expressionist nightmare, the procedural elements far forgotten. This led to some beautiful, brilliant moments both of visual splendor/horror and to some really gutting emotional beats, but it also led to some moments of meandering or strain, rare up to that point. While the climax of that first-half season storyline was as thrilling and powerful as I’d expect from the show, it’s this currently-running sequence that shows the power of the procedural as a fundament. The show’s doing its spin on Red Dragon, and while it’s most successful for how it can pivot and deviate from the police story elements of the book and prior adaptations, that grounding and, again, clear sense of purpose add tremendous weight and meaning to each scene. (Horror works best when we follow characters who want something even when we, the audience, can see that the “something” is really a nightmare in a thin disguise…)
Both shows can still flex their muscle and display their strengths, but Hannibal‘s more successful in part because it understands itself better and uses its origins and foundations to novel effect. The Good Wife stumbles most when it coasts on the talent of its actors and forgets to give them something to focus on — like, say, a case of the week.