THE SHOW "Hannibal"

WHEN | WHERE Fridays at 10p.m. on NBC/4

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen) and his archrival FBI special agent and criminal profiler Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) had arrived at an unusual truce by the end of last week -- Graham had killed someone whom Lecter had sent to kill him. FBI special agent in charge of behavioral sciences Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne) still has no clue Lecter is the Chesapeake Bay Ripper. But a flash-forward at the beginning of the season -- in which both are in a fight to the death -- indicates he is about to find out. The second season of this Bryan Fuller adaptation wraps May 23.

MY SAY TV networks and audiences have been trying to figure out writer and executive producer Bryan Fuller for years, and he has politely declined to make the process easy. They get that he has talent, along with a florid visual style that luxuriates in colors, sounds and imagery that are jarringly off-center.

But what to make of the stories? In "Wonderfalls," a young woman talked to animal figurines; in "Dead Like Me," grim reapers escorted souls to their reward; in "Pushing Daisies," a pie-maker conferred life on the dead. ... Watching, it's easy to get the impression that a trip through the so-called (by fans) "Fullerverse" is a trip through his obsessions: Death, the abominations of nature ... and of man. His special obsession is flowers, which represent transformation, and death. (Back to that again.) As such, his floral arrangements tend to be more like excrescences than objects of beauty.

Strange obsessions, which may be why his shows usually last only two seasons, which also could be the fate of the modestly rated "Hannibal." That's unfortunate -- this is a superior program, after all -- or maybe it's not. Maybe Fuller has said all he wants to say about Lecter, one of TV's most intriguing characters this season.

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Fuller and Mikkelsen have done a particularly fine job with this monster -- an excellent therapist who offers sound advice, or "sound" until you realize he's a cannibal. Hannibal is the series' only fully realized, or fully transformed character -- transformed not only into what he wants to be, but must be. Without remorse, he has perfect self-understanding. He is, in a sense, what he counsels to everyone else, Will in particular.

You suspect that with Lecter, Fuller is trying to work out some basic truth about the worst parts of human nature. No wonder more people aren't watching.

BOTTOM LINE Good, smart, compelling series -- though often too gross. Will it last a third season?