Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal – In Context of His Other Shows About Life & Death
Bryan Fuller has a new show, Hannibal, on NBC. At first – getting a feel for the show via the promos, then seeing his name – it struck me as odd. The more I think about it, it’s a logical progression of his work, when it has to fit within the fairly narrow framework of network TV in the age of procedurals, ShowTime, and HBO. I haven’t seen Hannibal yet, but that’s about to change, after I muse a little about why it just might work.
Fuller started with Dead Like Me, which is the least developed of his works I’m familiar with (all save Mockingbird Lane), but also hard to judge him by this show since he left early in the first season over ‘creative differences.’ The best thing about Dead Like Me is its insistence on giving all its characters difficult, dislikable, and sometimes truly awful aspects. You’re uncomfortable when Joy and Clancy fight or use their surviving daughter Reggie as a weapon. You are a bit queasy yet more understanding than you think you should be at Reggie’s methods of dealing with her loss. Mason’s justifications for ripping off items of just-dead people makes such perfect sense, but, but . . . it feels icky.
Some of this, though, lends itself to the fact I enjoyed it the first time, but wouldn’t rewatch it. If it had more of Pushing Daisy‘s whimsy or Wonderfall‘s character development, or additional angles in many individual episodes which dragged their feet, perhaps. But the strong female characters, fantastical killing mechanisms, and acerbic wit would show strong in the next two shows Fuller did, the next of which was Wonderfalls.
Wonderfalls is my favorite of the bunch. Its fantastical premise is a little more raw than Pushing Daisies and more jarring than Dead Like Me, and they don’t explain up-front WHY the animal statuettes are talking, which is a plus. Not everything is explicable; there’s a general acknowledgement that we’re just muddling through what we don’t understand. The special effects aren’t anything to write home about, but since the whole show is on the verge of the absurd – did we mention the talking animal statuettes and Jaye’s awesome trailer? – they work almost better than perfectly high-budget ones.
I know too few people who have seen this show. Elevator pitch: Jaye starts having conversations which lead her to question even more the meaning of life, destiny, and sanity – the latter mostly because the conversations are with things like keychains and pink lawn flamingoes. Jaye’s best friend is Mahandra, the general voice of reason. Her brother Aaron’s PHd in comparative religions serves to highlight tension between faith and reason and absurdity. Tender, complex, sometimes ridiculous relationships are formed. Watch it.
Speaking of the strong female friendship, Fuller’s works are always open to strong (and rather sarcastic and sometimes aimless) women, which I appreciate. And at least half of them have good taste in partners, though the rest make plenty of . . . interesting choices.
The biggest carry-over from Wonderfalls to Pushing Daisies is Lee Pace, who does great work in both. He’s believable as a sweet, silent type who just lets things happen, rolls with the punches, whether those be his sister seeming insanity or his ability to touch dead things back to life. Pushing Daisies has a fun story and two engaging leads, but it’s the visuals that are the stars. The sets and outfits are amazing, and it’s incredibly gory in a hyper stylized way. Essentially, Pushing Daisies takes Dead Like Me‘s ingenious deaths, cranks them to 11, and pours melted Crayola crayons over the top. The show continues with characters making uncomfortable and often unconventional choices, though at least one character could do so in smaller doses and it’d work better, thanks. The flashbacks, set decoration, and special effects are more developed – as they should be when lit as brilliantly as they are – and it’s sad they struggled so hard to stay on the air (partially due to the writer’s strike) that plot development was hindered. When I saw Amélie, I was instantly struck by the similar feel, and come to find out that was very much intentional. Production values for network shows are so rarely comprable to big films, and this still remains a rare treat.
Fuller obviously learns a lot from his past shows, and unlike, say, Dick Wolf, his work evolves drastically as it goes. His visuals are always impressive; he walks the cynical-yet-well-intended tightrope well; casting is generally solid, and Hannibal seems to have outdone itself there. In addition, he brings the gore factor – though before cloaked in outrageous costumes and/or blasé cynicism – slightly morphed, to Hannibal’s table. Fuller has quite a recipe for seasoning the macabre with wry humor and probing insight, so here’s hoping this big backing can let the show last more than a dozen episodes without jumping networks, switching actors, losing producers, or getting axed. Otherwise, I’m going to be nine episodes in and ranting at the tv gods. Again.
If you have seen the show(s) and want to weigh in, please do, but please mark if you spoil Hannibal, and I’ll wait to read those parts until after I’ve caught up.