Crime procedural have long been a staple of prime time television. In a crowded TV landscape like the Peak TV we’re in now, crime shows remain a familiar draw for viewers. There is an easy-to-tweak formula that networks can replicate over and over again. This formula is how we end up with so many TV police tropes, including ripped-from-the-headlines police, psychic police, detectives in a certain location, crime scene unit officers, law enforcement teaming up with mathematicians, federal agencies enlisting cutting edge technology, and goofball police all crowding the TV Guide with their antics.
But as the political climate shifts more and more divisively, show runners need to start being more aware of the moral predicaments their heroes are thrown into — and what that means as a reflection (or not) of modern policing.
I have never been a huge “Hannibal” fan. To summarize reasons I may still get to at a later time, it fell in a camp similar to “True Detective” for me: I appreciated the artistry, imagination, and visual feast of the show, but could not get on board with the pseudo-philosophical debates and interactions that were sprinkled so heavily throughout the hour.
But in my own way I am sad to see it go. Bryan Fuller has written plenty of shows that deserve all the acclaim and viewers they never had; his dreamy style different but always imaginative. In “Hannibal,” Fuller’s phantasmagorical style was on full display—from the art house production to the fact that Hannibal gets up to an awful lot of shit without anyone being the wiser. But perhaps the best was Fuller’s refusal to put sexual violence in the show.
“It’s one of the things on the show that we really wanted to avoid. They’re ubiquitous on television, and there’s an entire series [NBC’s Law & Order: SVU] that’s about rape,” Fuller told Entertainment Weekly. “We didn’t wanna glorify it—well, not “glorify,” because I don’t think any of the crime procedural shows are actually “glorifying” rape. But it is certainly explored so frequently that it rarely feels genuine…And I’m saying this as somebody who can derive immense entertainment from cannibalism – there’s an irony to cannibalism that I find horrific and amusing. I can totally get behind cannibalism and have fun with it. But rape? Not so much.”
Of course Fuller’s response was contrasted with “Game of Thrones” who, as I’ve written before, have struggled to find the words to defend their use of sexual violence. The parallels are pretty easy: Both are drawing from source material that heavily features sexual violence, particularly towards its women. To George R.R. Martin and the showrunners it would be unrealistic to feature this fantasy world without any sort of general expectation of violence against women.
But Fuller’s approach demonstrates a subtle shift in how television (at least) is being packaged, with a greater enlightenment towards social justice—beyond just the greater push for diversity (yay!). He’s showing that a world can be ethereal yet grounded, and violent without being off-putting.
It’s not that rape doesn’t exist in the world of “Hannibal.” But by deemphasizing it the audience doesn’t have to weigh their feelings about the show against its treatment of women, and arguably Fuller is able to handle the discussion around the repercussions of sexual violence in the universe in a much more levelheaded fashion.
But it’s not just “Hannibal.” Take Andy Samberg’s character on “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” Jake Peralta. He’s a goof, brash, and a good cop. As they say in the show “Jake is stupid, but he’s smart.” And when you watch the show, he has a subtle (or not so much) feminist streak. He respects Amy’s decision to not date him, he calls out catcallers, he makes a point to respect women (even when he’s trashtalking Rosa).
On its own it could just be a one-off, just great writing in a character that could easily be unlikeable. But what “B99” and Fuller have done is show that a showrunner’s scope of the world doesn’t have to drag others through the mud and, what’s more, that those choices aren’t inherent to any world or another. “Mad Max: Fury Road” definitely showed that even stories that focus on violence done to women can give women agency and center stage in that same world.
Because if a cannibal, a cop, and a apocalyptic wasteland can be feminist and forward thinking, why can’t we all?