Extreme violence comes our way on the small screen this week with the premieres of two disturbing but equally engrossing shows. HBO expands its strong documentary roster with Vice, a half-hour news magazine (11 p.m. Friday) produced by the founders of the controversial print magazine of the same name.
On the fictional front, NBC adds to the swelling ranks of prime-time serial killers with Hannibal, a nightmarish psychological thriller about the life, loves - and gourmet meals - of psychiatrist, killer, and cannibal Hannibal Lecter.
An urbane, witty, gentleman psychiatrist, Lecter is one of pop culture's most famous mass murderers, thanks to Thomas Harris' novels, which have spawned five film adaptations, including the 1991 Oscar-winner The Silence of the Lambs, starring the all-time favorite Lecter, Anthony Hopkins.
Sadly, Hopkins isn't in the NBC series. He's replaced by Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen, 47, best known as the James Bond villain Le Chiffre from 2006's Casino Royale. It takes time to get used to Mikkelsen's Lecter - he's sufficiently nuanced as the overconfident killer, but Hopkins made the role so indelibly his own.
Once you do, prepare to get sucked in to a surreal ride. This Lecter is all the more terrifying because he's not behind bars, as he is in the five films.
Based on the characters from Harris' 1981 novel, Red Dragon, Hannibal covers a murderously active time in Lecter's life when he was still on the loose, killing, cooking, and feasting upon young girls.
No one suspects Lecter. Like Dexter in Showtime's serial-killer drama, he's a trusted member of law enforcement.
The show features Hugh Dancy as one of Harris' best characters, Special Agent Will Graham, a talented profiler with a psyche as fragile as glass.
Each week Graham, his boss, Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne), and Lecter, an FBI consultant, team up to find a new serial killer.
The irony is delicious: Lecter helps them get evildoers during working hours, only to retire to his lair at night for a fresh kill.
Lecter treats Graham as a son. You can feel him try to twist and deform Graham's soul from within.
"He's pure empathy," Lecter tells Crawford of the younger man. "He can assume your point of view."
That's the secret of Will's genius. In scenes shot through with visual poetry, he looks through a killer's eyes and imagines the victims' deaths. It's also the reason Will is so fragile.
Show creator Bryan Fuller (Wonderfalls and Pushing Daisies), director David Slade (Hard Candy, 30 Days of Night), and their writers have created in Hannibal a satisfying, addictive, and truly disturbing work.
Hannibal is a no-holds-barred procedural that delivers its shocks not with gore (though it certainly has its share of blood) but with its keenly honed, insightful portraits of serial killers and the men and women who hunt them.
The former are irreparably broken souls, while their pursuers are fragile people teetering on the edge.
Ever feel network news doesn't show the real world, the world as it is, the whole world?
Journalist Shane Smith, host and creator of HBO's Vice, certainly does. Produced by Bill Maher, the 30-minute news magazine features daredevil "immersive" reporters, as Smith calls them, who try to capture a side of international events the mainstream media don't.
It's graphic - disturbingly and, some would say, unnecessarily, so. A segment on suicide bombers in Afghanistan shows unedited footage of the victims' torn bodies.
But it's also intelligent and enlightening: The segment takes us inside the world of teenage boys trained in fundamentalist religious schools to become suicide bombers. How much Quran are the boys taught? the reporter asks a 14-year-old. No Quran, the boy answers. We're taught how to blow up infidels.
In another segment, the show goes to North Korea and China along a route taken by starving North Korean refugees trying to flee north to freedom, only to be caught by human traffickers and sold to brothels.
Vice is likely to leave you angry about the many atrocities and injustices it uncovers - and furious at those 24-hour news channels that manage to say more of the same nothing every day.