Sometimes, all you can do is shake your head and wonder.
TV will do that to you -- for many different reasons. Take today's two-part column, for example -- the first half deals with a new drama that leaves the intrigued viewer thinking, "I didn't think they could pull it off, but they did," and the second focuses on a show that raises the question, "Can it really be that bad?"
At first glance, NBC's Hannibal seemed like a no-hope proposition. The dark, crime-focused drama proposes a life for legendary big-screen serial killer Hannibal Lecter before The Silence of the Lambs and Red Dragon.
Much like A&E's recent prequel-ish reboot of the Norman Bates story with Bates Motel, Hannibal seeks to build a series storyline around a fictional figure whose eventual dark fate is already well known. And like poor, Mommy-issues-crippled Norman, Lecter is hardly the sort of fellow one could hope to transform into a sympathetic central character.
Add to that the fact that NBC decided to hold Hannibal until this late date in the TV season -- a sure sign of a show that does not have the full confidence of its broadcaster -- and there's every reason to believe it would be a late-out-of-the-gate loser.
But it's not. Far from it, in fact. It's a densely layered and graphically disturbing crime thriller whose considerable cast makes an immediate impression that will leave many viewers -- though certainly not all -- eager to see more.
Hannibal, despite its title, actually focuses mostly on the efforts of Will Graham (Hugh Dancy), a gifted but deeply neurotic FBI criminal profiler who, as the series begins, is working on a case involving a serial killer who has abducted several young women in Minnesota.
Graham's boss is Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne), head of the bureau's Behavioral Science Unit, and he wants desperately for Graham to come up with a clue that will crack the case. Despite warnings not to let psychologically fragile Will get too deeply immersed in the case, he allows the profiler to put himself in harm's way.
Seeking to salvage the situation, he calls upon psychiatrist Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen) to counsel Graham and assess his mental state. What the FBI types don't know, of course, is that the guy they've hired to help their serial-killer profiler is, in fact, a murderer himself.
The first episode of Hannibal plays out like typical grisly-murder crime fiction, but after Lecter arrives and begins toying with Graham's mind, it quickly becomes unlike anything else on TV. Dancy is strong as hyper-attentive profiler Will, but it's Mikkelsen who steals the show with an eerily dead-calm performance in the show's title role.
Its placement late in mid-season makes Hannibal an unlikely candidate for an extended prime-time run, but there's enough fascinating material here to make it a worthy filler of a few still-too-chilly spring evenings.
Second in today's pairing of TV head-shakers is Rogue, a made-for-cable drama. A Canada-U.K. co-production created with support from Movie Central, The Movie Network and the U.S. direct-satellite provider DirecTV, Rogue is a show with lots of ambitions and no real idea how to achieve them.
Thandie Newton stars as Grace Travis, an undercover detective who is pulled off the job after her son is killed in an apparently random street-corner shooting. She's on forced leave, but she's obsessed with figuring out whether her son's death is somehow related to the criminal gangs she was investigating at the time of the shooting.
Against her bosses' wishes, Grace goes back undercover -- goes rogue, so to speak -- and gets deeply re-involved in the criminal underworld, but this time there's no chance of backup arriving to save the day.
Rogue, which is set in Oakland but was shot in Vancouver, has two fatal flaws among the many problems that plague it -- its scripts are so filled with B-movie stereotypes that it sometimes seems to lapse into self-parody instead of serious cop drama, and its lead actor, Newton, is utterly unconvincing as a tough-as-nails cop who'll happily take a bullet and then grit her teeth in order to keep herself on the case.
It's so uncomfortably inept that it'll leave you shaking your head in disbelief. And by the way, the answer to the question is yes -- it actually is that bad.
firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @BradOswald
Starring Hugh Dancy, Mads Mikkelsen and Laurence Fishburne
Thursday at 9 p.m.
NBC and Citytv
31Ñ2 stars out of 5
Starring Thandie Newton, Marton Csokas, Ian Tracey and Ian Hart
Tonight at 10
11Ñ2 stars out of 5