Reel Toronto: Hannibal
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Reel Toronto: Hannibal

NBC's new TV series about America's favourite cannibal is shot in Toronto, and you can tell.

Toronto’s extensive work on the silver screen reveals that, while we have the chameleonic ability to look like anywhere from New York City to Moscow, the disguise doesn’t always hold up to scrutiny. Reel Toronto revels in digging up and displaying the films that attempt to mask, hide, or—in rare cases—proudly display our city.

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We’ve mostly stayed away from TV shows to this point, but a lot of them have been shot around town. Putting aside CBC productions, Flashpoint was a rare, well-made show shot (and set!) in Toronto. More typical, though, is B-Movie fare like Relic Hunter and Nikita. A few series also shot pilots here before setting up shop down south, including Fringe and Gilmore Girls (and, amusingly, a long-lost 1998 TV series called West Wing which, no, is not that West Wing).

We thought it was high time to make an exception to our movies-only policy when we saw Hannibal, which is currently airing on NBC. It’s far better than a TV series about America’s favourite serial killer has any right to be. Despite the fact the “franchise” has delivered diminishing returns (remember Hannibal Rising? Us neither), the production values, writing, acting, and directing on this show are all top notch. It’s not to everyone’s taste (no pun intended) but watching it, and seeing Toronto locations, can be a pleasant surprise.

As readers/viewers of the Thomas Harris series of books know, the respectable psychiatrist Hannibal Lecter lived in Baltimore. Shots like this…

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…are merely there to establish some bona fides before putting the GTA to work.

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The FBI headquarters and academy in Quantico, Virginia, is a crucial setting in the books, movies, and now the TV series. The aesthetic for the show’s version is a chilly, concrete brtualism that initially looked a bit like the Ontario Science Centre to us.

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But more and more shots like this…

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…and this show it to be the University of Toronto’s Scarborough campus.

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Did we mention that the main pathologist is played by Scott Thompson? Yay!

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Speaking of remote U of T campuses, the Baltimore Psychiatric Hospital is also an important location, since Lecter will eventually end up living there, dreaming of Florence and the Duomo as seen from the Belvedere. The exterior here is actually the administration building of Richmond Hill’s David Dunlap Observatory (with a CGI wing added in the back), which was run by U of T until they unceremoniously sold it to developers six years ago.

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The interior shots of the hospital…

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…show off the beaux arts architecture of the building. Serendipitiously, this episode aired the same week the OMB approved a settlement deal that will see these buildings handed over to the town while development proceeds at the other end of the huge site.

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It’s supposed to be a totally different location, but the telescope itself (which is perhaps 100 feet to the left of the admin building) is seen later in the episode from the outside…

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…and in.

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Obviously, most of the interior shots are sets, but the exterior of Hannibal Lecter’s office may be familiar to you. You can see it in this day shot…

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…and this night shot. The building is actually this very photogenic old house on Simcoe Street, directly across from Roy Thomson Hall.

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The interior of the hall gets a major shoutout when a murder victim is found there. (If you know your Silence of the Lambs-ology, it’s Benjamin Raspail, but with a different name, due to rights issues).

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And the week before featured an opera performance in this handsome space…

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…which you can see is actually the AGO’s Walker Court.

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Rather more banal, another clue to the Toronto-ness of it all comes during the second episode, when the FBI storms what is very obviously a No Frills.

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The shots of the exterior aren’t exactly helpful, but it turns out to be the one at Dundas and Landsdowne.

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Beyond the store itself, the evil pharmacist within is Aidan Devine, one of those Toronto actors you just seem to see in everything.

There are other harder-to-place rural locations and apparently they shot something out at the Orangeville train station, but we haven’t seen it yet. That’s okay, we’re happy to keep our eyes peeled for more local shout-outs as the series progresses.

And all that’s just eight episodes in! They’re still waiting to hear if the show is renewed for the fall schedule, but if it is they’ll have to pace themselves before they run through all our photogenic spaces too quickly. We put the over/under on “episodes before they use the Distillery District” at 15, so the clock is ticking.

CORRECTION: May 23, 2013, 5:40 PM This post originally referred to Flashpoint as an “American” show. In fact, it was a Canadian production.

CORRECTION: June 3, 2013, 2:20 PM This post originally identified a house on Simcoe Street as being the (fictional) exterior of Hannibal Lecter’s home on Hannibal. In fact, it’s the exterior of his office.

UPDATE: October 23, 2013 We originally couldn’t identify the No Frills pictured above but thanks to “Mike” for identifying as the Dundas-Landsdowne outlet. The text has been corrected above.