New TV Reviews: Defiance, Da Vinci’s Demons, Hannibal

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 23rd April 2013.

A fresh batch of episodic TV series has hit our screens, fast tracked from the USA within a few days or weeks of their original airdate. This strategy was tried by the Australian free-to-air networks a few years ago in a bid to curb illegal downloading, with mixed results. Ratings didn’t rise proportionately compared to the known downloading figures, and it left the local networks vulnerable when a series was abruptly cancelled. This is less of a problem for the pay TV broadcasters because they are less at the mercy of ratings and advertisers, and have a tendency to run a show in a particular day and timeslot for its entire season run.  Regardless, it is pretty hard to compete with illegal downloading, which allows fans to view a program within minutes of its US broadcast, ad-free, without the need for a recording device.

Defiance is the latest big budget series from the US Syfy Channel. Starring Australia’s own Grant Bowler (he’s actually a Kiwi) and Julie Benz of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel fame, the show is set in the near future following the arrival of the Votanis Collective, an alliance of five alien races. In the movie length pilot, Joshua Nolan (Bowler) and his adopted alien daughter Irisa (Stephanie Leonidas) arrive in the outpost town of Defiance and soon become embroiled in a murder investigation which will jeopardise the entire population.

This show has been developed in conjunction with a multiplayer online game of the same name. Allegedly, both the game and series will influence each other, whatever that means. A large cast featuring multiple alien characters may turn off some but I think this show will reward dedicated viewers. Think of it as Babylon 5 meets Firefly via Eureka.

Da Vinci’s Demons is the latest series from David S. Goyer, the writer of Batman Begins and the new Superman movie, The Man of Steel. A fictional take on Leonardo Da Vinci’s early life, the show stars Tom Riley as the genius inventor, artist and intellectual. The first episode features flying machines, conspiracies, cults, opium smoking, a gay Pope and plenty of nudity. Fun for the whole family!

I’m sure this show is wildly inaccurate historically but for fans of Rome, The Tudors and The Borgias, you could do much worse. I’m going to give it a couple more episodes but I have a feeling I’ll eventually lose interest in this one.

Hannibal is my pick for best new show, although it is definitely not for the faint hearted. The series is based on Thomas Harris’ book Red Dragon, which has been produced as a feature film twice: Manhunter (1986) and Red Dragon (2002), the latter a prequel to The Silence of the Lambs (1991). Troubled FBI investigator Will Graham, (Hugh Dancy) is sent by his boss Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne) for counselling with forensic psychiatrist Dr Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen). The two strike up a working relationship, although viewers are well aware that sooner or later, Lecter will become Graham’s greatest adversary.

For a mainstream network show, this is pretty gruesome stuff. Death is depicted explicitly and you might find yourself watching through your fingers. Despite the gore, the most compelling component of Hannibal is the characters. Graham and Lecter make a great team, and it will be interesting to see just how long the producers can draw the story arc out before the inevitable climax. Suggestions of Lecter’s culinary preferences are made in this first episode, although methinks this may be a red herring. Dancy and Mikkelsen are both excellent, with the latter wisely avoiding any attempt to impersonate Anthony Hopkins’ chilling portrayal of Hannibal the cannibal.

Defiance airs on SCI FI Thursdays at 9:30pm.

Da Vinci’s Demons airs on FX Tuesdays at 7:30pm.

Hannibal airs on Prime Wednesdays at 9:45pm.

Published in: on April 27, 2013 at 17:41  Leave a Comment  
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