Is ‘Hannibal’ The Best Show You Aren’t Watching Yet? Why You Should Start Now [Photos]

Mads Mikkelsen as Hannibal Lecter

Hannibal returns for its third season on June 4, and if you’re one of those TV viewers with a long list of shows you’ve been wanting to check out, this is one you may want to put at the top of your list. If you haven’t watched the first two seasons of Hannibal yet, here are three reasons to binge watch it now, while you still have time before Season 3.

Hannibal is based on a series of books by Thomas Harris that inspired some great films on the big screen, most notably Silence of the Lambs, and its predecessor, Manhunter. Manhunter was the first film to feature the Will Graham character, played by William Peterson of CSI fame. (Edward Norton took on the role later in Red Dragon.) Manhunter is a lesser-known film, with the Oscar-winning Silence of the Lambs being the movie that potentially casts the greatest shadow over the TV series.

All of the cast stepping into roles previously played by other actors face the challenge of filling some pretty big shoes, but none more than Mads Mikkelsen, who has the most daunting task of taking on a role that earned Sir Anthony Hopkins one of Silence of the Lambs’ Oscars. Fortunately for those Hannibal fans lucky enough to discover this television gem, Mikkelsen is one of those reasons you should binge watch Hannibal now. Right now.

A Colder, Harsher Hannibal

Hannibal has a cast with no weak links, but let’s face it — any series based on these characters sinks or swims on the performance of the actor playing Dr. Hannibal Lecter, and Mikkelsen delivers in spades. That’s not saying his performance is better or worse than Hopkins, but that Mikkelsen brings a frightening clinical coldness to the cannibalistic psychiatrist, making Hopkins look cheery and warm in comparison.

Mikkelsen has mastered the art of playing the masked connoisseur of culture (and gourmet dinner host) with the dead eyes of a sociopath. Many say we are experiencing a new Golden Age of television, particularly in the horror genre, which is flooding the small screen with vampires, werewolves, Grimm beasts, and headless horsemen. But if you love that dark edge, know this: Mads Mikkelsen’s Hannibal is the most terrifying monster on TV.

The Monsters of Will Graham’s Subconscious

And speaking of scary, Hannibal is a visual feast of beautiful cinematography, but also employs sequences to help visualize the mind of Will Graham (Hugh Dancy). The visuals excel in two different ways. First, they cleverly show Graham’s subconscious trying to tell him what viewers already know about Hannibal. This is done with great finesse and never in a heavy-handed, obvious way, with transitions blending seamlessly from reality into the horrors of the subconscious.

Second, the visual imagery is downright disturbing, bringing a monster to life in the subconscious of Hannibal’s friend and foe, Graham. Add in some of the most horrific and unsettling murder scenes seen on television or on the big screen, and the psychological thriller is as scary as any monster movie. Perhaps more so, because it deals with the kind of horror that can really happen.

Excellent writing keeps it all believable, and keeps you guessing as to what will happen next and who has the upper hand in this intricate game of cat and mouse.

Foodie Heaven, Hannibal-Style

Regardless of whether you’re watching one of the films, the Hannibal TV series or reading one of the books, what makes the Hannibal Lecter character so chilling is how he can blend with normal society. One of Hannibal’s favorite ways to do this is by throwing elaborate dinner parties or just hosting people for intimate dinners, and this serial killer has culinary skills that would slaughter any Iron Chef (pardon the pun).

Foodies will be in heaven watching the portrayal of exotic food preparation and the elaborate gourmet dishes concocted by Hannibal. It’s so beautifully filmed and styled you can almost forget that he’s serving his victims to unsuspecting guests on several occasions.

And when he isn’t serving humans, he’s preparing rare meals created by Hannibal‘s food consultant, including a real banned delicacy where whole songbirds are engorged, drowned in brandy, and eaten whole. The indulgence is considered such a sin that Hannibal tells Graham about the ritual used by most when eating it.

“Traditionally during this meal we are to place shrouds over our heads, hiding our faces from God. I don’t hide from God.”

For Hannibal Lecter, that’s only the tip of the iceberg of his transgressions.

Throw in a supporting cast that includes Laurence Fishburne and Gillian Anderson (who has been promoted from guest star to fully-credited cast member for Season 3) and Hannibal more than rises to the slogan of “must-see-TV.” Season 3 of Hannibal premieres June 4 at 10 p.m. ET on NBC.

[Hannibal key art by NBC/Universal and cast gallery photos by Elisabeth Caren/NBC]