Monday, October 10, 2011

Writers' Spotlight: Bryan Fuller

I’ve been wracking my brain trying to come up with something special for this post, and it’s been surprisingly difficult. You see, this is quite a major milestone for MTVP. This is the five-hundredth post here at MTVP. Yep, Sarah and I have somehow managed to come up with well over five hundred thousand words of content about television. And we do have lives, I promise! Well, okay, I admit, I didn’t really have much of a life for part of the time this blog has been in existence, but I do now. Really! Anyway, I’m going to devote this milestone post to my favorite TV writer, Bryan Fuller. In fact, I think I’m going to make this the kick-off to a series of posts about great TV writers. Fuller, who got his start on “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” and made a name for himself on “Star Trek: Voyager” has created three wonderful television shows: “Dead Like Me,” “Wonderfalls,” and “Pushing Daisies.” He has a delightfully lighthearted way of dealing with the macabre, and his trademark is a heroine with a traditionally masculine name. Who is often quite snarky. I always enjoy spending time in worlds he has created, and I hope that some network sees reason and brings him back to television soon. And not to reboot an existing franchise (yes, I’m looking at you, NBC).

Fuller’s first original show, “Dead Like Me,” aired on Showtime. It featured one George Lass, who was part of a group of Grim Reapers. After she was killed by a falling space toilet. And right there you have an example of the macabre humor that makes Fuller’s work shine. I admit, I haven’t watched al of “Dead Like Me,” but I have watched all of the episodes Fuller supervised before leaving to work on “Wonderfalls.” I remember the pilot most clearly of those episodes, because I remember grinning like a madwoman. I think it was the absurdity of George’s death by falling space toilet that let me know that the things I loved about Fuller’s work in “Pushing Daisies” wasn’t just a one-time thing. The absurdity and the macabre are definitely present through all his work.

“Wonderfalls” is a show I love mostly because of the main character, snarky gift shop cashier Jaye Tyler. Jaye has a degree in philosophy from a prestigious school (Brown, if I remember right), but she has instead chosen to live a simpler life working in a tourist trap Niagra Falls gift shop and living in a rather awesomely decorated trailer. There are days when I wonder why I essentially work three part time jobs (if you include this blog as one of them) and attend school full-time instead of taking the Jaye approach to life. Jaye is prickly, but she has people in her life who love her anyway. Caroline Dhavernas’ performance as Jaye is masterful and fun to watch, especially when she goes on rants, like one from “Lovsick Ass” about how she’s not a baby-saver. Jaye kind of reminds me of myself, or maybe the self that I wish I could be. Not in the standoff-ish sense, but in the confident in who she is and her life choices and always quick with the snark sense.

Jaye is by no means all snark and easy contentment, though. There’s definitely some self-loathing going on beneath the surface. She temporarily implodes her potentially good relationship with bartender Eric just because she’s convinced she’s going to hurt him. After breaking down to her sister and asking why she can’t “have nice things,” Jaye and Eric finally reconcile…just in time for the series to be over. Fuller had some really creative ideas for where the series might have gone next, such as Jaye and pyro-boy (you’ll know him when you see him) meeting up again in an institution, and Jaye’s brother Aaron starting up a cult around Jaye’s ability to talk to animal-shaped inanimate objects. Again, Fuller has such a unique ability to blend whimsy and the macabre.

Fuller’s most recent creation, “Pushing Daisies,” is sort of the ultimate blend of whimsy and macbre that was tested out in his earlier series. The macabre: a guy touches dead things and brings them back to life, including his murdered childhood sweetheart. And did I mention that he accidentally killed his mom and said childhood sweetheart’s dad with these powers? As for the whimsy, Ned, the aforementioned guy who brings dead people back to life, is a pie maker, and he and his friends solve crimes in a beautiful, colorful world. Ned’s pie shop is actually shaped like a pie, and characters randomly break into song. It’s a morbid subject matter wrapped up in a delicious, colorful candy coating, and that candy coating never failed to lift my mood and make me grin like an idiot.

The female lead in “Pushing Daisies,” Charlotte “Chuck” Charles, is different from George and Jaye in the sense that she doesn’t really bring the snark. She’s sweet instead of sour. She lives in her head and loves to imagine things, which is a trait I identify with. While Chuck doesn’t have a zinger ready for every scenario, she has her own form of strength and independence. She’s spent most of her childhood caring for her agoraphobic aunts, and now that she has a second chance at life, she wants to truly experience it. Most of the time she’s giddy at the prospect of spending her second life with Ned, but she’ll stand up for herself when she needs to, also.

Fuller has had a number of pilot scripts in the pipeline at NBC/Universal since Pushing Daisies was cancelled, including an adaptation of the novel “Sellevision,” a sitcom about an animal shelter called “No Kill,” and a reboot of the classic TV series “The Munsters.” I’d love to see Fuller take a crack at creating an original, somewhat-genre world again, only because when he does, it gives me so much joy. His shows don’t usually last long, but they burn brightly and I thoroughly enjoy them while they last.

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