If you can handle the violence, sadism and gore, "Hannibal" (10 p.m., NBC, TV-14) could just be one of the better network series to debut this year.

Based, however loosely, on the series of novels by Thomas Harris featuring his infamous Hanni-

bal Lecter character, "Hannibal" stands out in a television schedule crowded with violent and morbid detective procedurals. British actor Hugh Dancy stars as Special Agent Will Graham, a profiler of serial killers. He's a brooding and slightly delicate guy. He can't, or won't, look people in the eye and eschews personal contact. This distance allows him to approach every crime scene with a powerful empathy, recreating killers' actions and motivations -- however diabolical in nature.

Special Agent Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne) keeps Will on a fairly short leash, lest he get permanently lost in the dark realm of his criminal prey. That's why he assigns Will to seek treatment from esteemed psychiatrist Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen). And we all know that Lecter has a hunger for more than mere medicine.

With an English star and a Dutch actor in the title role, "Hannibal" has a European feel to it. The cinematography has the muted light of far northern latitudes. The chilling and impeccable set design plays up contrasts between dark and light and white and red. Just where the action takes place does not seem to matter, as so much of it involves the strange game of mental chess being played between Graham and an onslaught of strangely ritualistic

killers, and between the

special agent and his icy analyst.

Featuring well-developed characters and riveting, if gruesome, stories, "Hannibal" is a smart procedural for the discerning viewer. The great mystery of its broadcast is why NBC would air it opposite "Elementary," another above-average mystery series that has already found a large and faithful audience.

OTHER HIGHLIGHTS

---Dance fever on "Com munity" (8 p.m., NBC, TV-14).

---Carrie Underwood performs and results are revealed on "American Idol" (8 p.m., Fox, TV-PG).

---A hero's welcome on "Parks and Recreation" (8:30 p.m., NBC, TV-14).

---A busy executive on "Person of Interest" (9 p.m., CBS, TV-14).

---The documentary on "The Office" (9 p.m., NBC, TV-14).

---A big risk, a health emergency and a wager's conclusion on "Swamp People" (9 p.m., History).

---Feels like the first time on "New Girl" (9 p.m., Fox, TV-14).

---Proactive parenting for Derek and Meredith on "Grey's Anatomy" (9 p.m., ABC, TV-14).

---The gang must design lines worthy of a major fashion magazine on "Project Runway" (9 p.m., Lifetime).

---A real professional on "The Mindy Project" (9:30 p.m., Fox, TV-14).

---Charlie dates Jennifer's business partner on "Anger Management" (9:30 p.m., FX, TV-14).

---Blizzards and burglars don't mix on "Elementary" (10 p.m., CBS, TV-14).

---A past mistake resurfaces on "Scandal" (10 p.m., ABC, TV-14).

---Tyler schemes on the second season premiere of "Men at Work" (10 p.m., TBS, TV-14).

CULT CHOICE

The television set becomes a portal to unspeakable evil in the 1982 shocker "Poltergeist" (8 p.m., IFC).

SERIES NOTES

---Tenure wars on "Big Bang Theory" (8 p.m., CBS, TV-14).

---A self-styled hillbilly meets a pageant mom on "Wife Swap" (8 p.m., ABC, TV-14).

---A generational divide on "Two and a Half Men" (8:30 p.m., CBS, TV-14).

---A new rival is a team mascot on "Go On" (9:30 p.m., NBC, TV-14).

LATE NIGHT

---Danny Boyle is on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" (11 p.m., Comedy Central).

---Charles Barkley and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis appear on "Conan" (11 p.m., TBS).

---Ross Mathews guest hosts Greg Fitzsimmons, April Richardson and Ryan Stout on "Chelsea Lately" (11 p.m., E!).

---NIH director Francis Collins sits down on "The Colbert Report" (11:30 p.m., Comedy Central).

---Martin Short and Tyler, the Creator, appear on "Late Show with David Letter man" (11:35 p.m., CBS).

---Jay Leno welcomes Eva Longoria, Terry Crews and Cavalia on "The To night Show" (11:35 p.m., NBC).

---Goran Visnjic and Seth Sentry appear on "Jimmy Kimmel Live" (11:35 p.m., ABC).

---Melissa McCarthy, Chris Jericho and Ryan Bingham visit "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon" (12:35 a.m., NBC).

---Craig Ferguson hosts Kunal Nayyar and Molly Shannon on "The Late Late Show" (12:35 a.m., r, CBS).

Kevin McDonough can be reached at kevin.tvguy@g mail.com.