Thursday, 18 February 2016

The 2017 Series: Still Fuller Beans

Seven days  on from the news that Bryan Fuller will be joining the 2017 series, Matt Goddard takes a breath and looks back at the announcement without all the furore...

It's been a week since that most eagerly awaited of news hit: Bryan Fuller is actually, positively, no doubt going to be co-creator of the new Star Trek series. I don’t want to tempt fate with a good year until the new show premieres, but Fuller as show-runner really works. 

Set to bring back the colour of the
flora and fauna of alien worlds.
So seldom that happens. A pipe dream of that perfect someone getting that gig they’ve always wanted, that they’re made for – especially in the savage world of American television. And Fuller knows all about that. This could so easily have been one of those dream unions that fall to nothing; like Gilliam getting lost in La Mancha, Burton never getting Superman of the ground or for a heart-wrenching few weeks, Lynch being a donut short of joining the Twin Peaks reboot. Sometimes they in that poetic nobility of ‘creative difference’- one of the best understated shorthands in Hollywood. But without a shred of information beyond the main players, Fuller and Star Trek – that’s just irresistible. At the very least it demonstrates that Fuller’s pitch for a reboot from a few years ago didn’t put the network off him. And sadly for him and us, his diary is wonderfully empty at the moment.

His forthcoming show American Gods, an adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s sublime and challenging 2001 novel is set to debut on Starz in the near-future, leaving the prolific producer and writer with relatively free time on his hands compared to recent years. And the depth of American Gods, let alone the devout Gaiman fan base and a run-in with small screen adaptations of Preacher and Lucifer any adaptation has to deal with, is further proof that Fuller is a past master at adapting, distilling and deflecting when required.

Not Morgan Bateson. 
And not trapped in a temporal causality loop yet.
He’s one of the most progressive and creative minds working on American TV. Creating what fans call a Fullerverse of interconnected shows since he left Star Trek: Voyager, he’s often carried actors through productions and engendering industry loyalty of Joss Whedon proportions. His work over the last two decades has verged from horror to whimsy to comic book to psychology. Black comedy, the darkness, hope and hidden depths of man set against domestic comedy or parody and all carried along with a supreme sense of style. While it’s difficult to find a large depth of fandom that crosses all of his shows there’s little doubt that Fuller’s writing, and excellent writing it is, is powered by character. Monumental themes, life versus death, the comedy and the dark. Deep down that’s what man should be encountering on the Final Frontier.

Indeed it was Trek that set him on that path, and something he’d never been shy of saying. But when Fuller landed in The Next Generation time-frame, it was very next. He’s talked at length about that more clinical future of Star Trek while lamenting the loss of the original style and colour that first brought it to TV. Although he’s spoken of that real unknown, the intriguing fate of The Next Generation in the now rebooted Star Trek universe, it’s doubtful any new series would leap forward. Star Trek Into Darkness showed little willing to expand the beats of destiny packing out this new timeline while it tried to have its cake and eat it.

The Darkness and the Light - Fuller's Deep Space Nine 
stories showed us a lot.
A mere nearly-three films into a whole new universe there’s simply no need for any TV show to be slavish to a Franchise that’s already branding itself in the sweeping intent of Into Darkness and  Beyond. And with an arduously slow release schedule of three years per film, there’s little pressure to tie any series into the overarching film universe in the way Marvel has on the big and small screens. And with mixed results it must be said. Shared universes may be all the rage, from Universal horror to Transformers, but Star Trek can afford to sit back as the godfather of it all.

Still, in sticking to the Kirk and co era, there’s huge scope to mine that re-established continuity, resetting history from the beginning with the vibrancy and frontiership that Fuller’s long admired.

So what’s the downside? Well, frankly there isn’t one. Obviously, the Klingon monster dog in the room is that for all of Fuller’s long CV of brilliantly conceived and produced shows, most have been cut short. His most recent show, Hannibal, was a huge feat. With it, he managed to take the themes and impetus of Thomas Harris’ original novels and steer them through three seasons of incredible television, most of it inspired by brief references to back story in the books themselves. 

Behind the scene stories of that show are yet to be fully told, but there’s little doubt that Fuller had to forge through many rights issues, let alone the reputation of the heavyweight film series carved from the same source, to spin out the wondrous storytelling of those years. Oh, and not to forget that his casting was once again superb.  While Hannibal attracted relatively few viewers on NBC, a major US network who are not afraid to experiment with and then swiftly chop down horror, that uncompromising show somehow managed to stretch boundaries for an unbelievable three years. 

There’s every reason to think that in the Star Trek brand, Fuller has found a vehicle that can finally allow him to align his vision and major ratings. And the potential for him to shape elaborate, fresh and ground-breaking television for long time to come. 

What happened last time Star Trek had a small screen lay off?
The quality of his work on Deep Space Nine and Voyager are cause for hope of course. But the real question may be if Fuller has enough of a link to that past to add a shot of legitimacy to modern a Star Trek that is still fledgling four hours in. The continuity of personnel that propelled Star Trek through its last four series and 18 years threw up the brilliant, but was also undoubtedly a factor in its prolonged difficulty to overcome the sheer weight of hundreds of hours of storytelling set in the same universe. In that way, be it a step back or forward in time, Fuller is more akin to the great man Roddenberry returning the show to the small screen in 1987. That was a time to reinvent, highly successfully if from a slow start, and as Fuller has made it clear in recent years, Star Trek needs to reinvent to retain its spirit and freshness.

Fuller has the breadth and proven ability to reinvent in ways that can surely benefit the show and keep die-hard fans guessing like no other writer could. It’s likely to break his long extending Fullerverse all for the benefit of the four quadrants. And having built a reputation among those in front of and behind the camera in the 19 years since his first Deep Space Nine story aired, there’s no doubt that other talent will flow in with him. Just perhaps, with contributions to those two ‘other’ space shows under his belt, there’s hope that American Gods will lay the way for Neil Gaiman to pen an episode.

The flip-side of those great lost opportunities I mentioned earlier, from Gilliam to Lynch, is when the end product proves that there really wasn’t a dream union there at all. Unfortunately, once again, Mr Burton can step up as an example. But there can be no doubt that Bryan Fuller and Star Trek are a great fit for each other and hope that all temporal or space distortions stay well clear for the next year.

And whatever happens, it’s certain that Fuller will power ambitious and bold storytelling, as daunting as the task of reinventing the saucer section is. 

As a great man once said, “risk is part of the game if you want to sit in that chair”. And man, did Bryan Fuller want to sit in that chair.

Thanks again to Matt for dropping his thoughts on the announcement here on Some Kind of Star Trek!

So has your opinion changed since the news broke? Do you still think Fuller is a good choice?

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