The Quirky, Unloved World of Bryan Fuller
To say that Bryan Fuller has a cult following is a bit of an understatement. The man has been the heart and soul of some pretty unique shows that never really seemed to attract a mainstream audience. Bryan Fuller recently stepped down from his position as the showrunner for CBS’ upcoming Star Trek series, titled Star Trek Discovery, citing a desire to focus on his other projects. Those projects, mind you, are the adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods for Starz and the reboot of Amazing Stories for NBC. I am completely onboard for both of those.
To be fair, Discovery seemed a little odd for Bryan Fuller. Yes, his earliest credits list Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (The best Star Trek), but that was a while ago and a lot has happened since then—Wonderfalls, for instance. Wonderfalls was a quirky little show that followed a hapless clerk from a souvenir store in Niagara Falls who ends up being tasked with helping people through various cryptic inanimate objects. Eventually, viewers are led to believe that her mission appears to be a part of some sort of divine plan, and the show got cancelled.
Bryan Fuller would then go on to create Dead Like Me, another story centering on a directionless girl being tasked with a with a big job against her wishes (ushering dead souls into the afterlife) as part of some grand design. That one would get 28 episodes before the lords of television would decide that its time was up. Then came Pushing Daisies, a show about a quirky pie-maker that has powers over life and death that he uses to reunite with his love but otherwise brings him a great deal of grief. That one managed 22 whole episodes before getting the boot.
What was probably Bryan Fuller’s most commercially successful show was Hannibal. While not a creation of the good Mr. Fuller, the story of Hannibal Lecter’s early days leading up to Silence of the Lambs dominated television through its first season. Hannibal seems like an outlier when compared to the rest of this litany of quirk. Now, we do get Will Graham, the series lead, and fans of what is lovingly referred to as the Fullerverse grew attached to his dog loving ways.
The similarities in his work are pretty apparent. First and foremost, these shows all employ some striking visual design. Pushing Daisies does an incredible job juxtaposing dark and bright colours, echoing the themes of the show to great effect. Even Hannibal, a much more serious affair, presents us with an amazingly artistic spectacle made of blood and bone nearly every episode, inviting the viewer to revel in the gore in the same way as the titular serial killer. This marriage of visual metaphor coupling with theme is, to me, what makes a Bryan Fuller show.
Now, you may have noticed a bit of a recurring idea with all of his creations; the reliance on similar characters is all over his body of work. There are so many proto-hipsters and manic pixie dream girls littering the Fullerverse that it sometimes feels like a liberal arts campus. Furthermore, they always seem to be struggling against fate or a divine plan, gifted with powers that always produce angst and grief. The formula breeds over-wrought philosophy in its more serious moments and irreverent humour in the lighter ones.
Honestly, when I look up at this list of shows, I can’t think of anything less Star Trek like. Gene Roddenberry’s legacy is about as hard science fiction as you are likely to find. Sure, Q and Picard were buds, and would fit nicely in with everything else, but such a capricious space god seems awful cynical by comparison.
All that aside, one has to wonder why all these shows end up cancelled, getting two seasons at best. I think the answer is pretty obvious. While these characters are pretty endearing, despite their nature, they can come off as a bit one note after a season. Their special snowflake status tends to make character development pretty slow and the stories rely on over-wrought philosophy discourse to move the greater plots along at all. Hannibal, in particular, had at least one episode that centered on two characters talking about their nature over dinner. Its great in moderation, but in the age of hour-long television, it can be a bit much.
Furthermore, Bryan Fuller tempts fate by presenting pseudo-religious material to a mainstream audience. Some people are going to love that, and did. Most people, however, are going to immediately find something less subversive. Look, I love Quantum Leap, but a character working directly for any deity might rub people the wrong way.
All this in mind, I think that American Gods is going to be fantastic. Bryan Fuller’s love of religious figures will compliment Gaiman’s work well, and being a Starz production guarantees that it won’t be dealing with your average audience, who might get scared off by the themes and spectacle already present in the source material. Also, having a clear end already in mind will keep the story grounded. If everything goes well, we might even get Anansi Boys out of the deal as well.