The internet blew up today when it was announced that Bryan Fuller is serving as co-creator and showrunner for the new Star Trek series, scheduled to premiere on CBS in early 2017. That gives us roughly 365 days to get excited about how this is the best news to hit the Star Trek universe since... a really long time ago.
Here are seven reasons why Fuller's appointment is the best thing to happen to the Star Trek universe in awhile...
Fuller may be best known for some of his more recent work as TV showrunner for cult classics like Hannibal, Pushing Daisies, Wonderfalls, and Dead Like Me — or for his gig as the co-showrunner of Starz's upcoming American Gods adaptation — but guess what? Long before Fuller was killing people creatively on quirky, beautiful shows, he was just a new writer, trying to write for his favorite show: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
Fuller told Comic Book Resources in a 2006 interview: "I really didn't want to be a television writer as much as I wanted to be a Star Trek writer. I had every action figure, so it was all about Star Trek for me."
Fuller got noticed when he submitted a spec script through Star Trek's open submission system, before going on to act as a staff writer and eventual co-producer on Star Trek: Voyager. In a press release for the showrunning announcement, Fuller said...
Before seeing a frame of the television series, the Star Trek universe lit my imagination on fire. It is without exaggeration a dream come true to be crafting a brand new iteration of Star Trek.
Guys, Bryan Fuller (as with all of his shows) is taking this responsibility very, very seriously.
Bryan Fuller's first shows as creator and showrunner — Dead Like Me and Wonderfalls — were both centered around young, brilliant, confused, brave women. Fuller has always seemed to favor ensemble casts for his storytelling, but these shows demonstrated an interest and talent for writing female characters who aren't caricatures of what female characters are supposed to be. Long before the relatively recent pushback against the Strong Female Character trope, Fuller was writing interesting, compelling female characters by (and here's the secret) treating them like three-dimensional people.
In a 2013 interview with Den of Geek, Fuller commented on what his (at the time, hypothetical) Star Trek reboot series might look like, starting with casting a female character of color in the captain role:
I would love to do something on the Reliant ... I want Angela Bassett to be the captain, that’s who I would love to have, you know Captain Angela Bassett and First Officer Rosario Dawson. I would love to do that version of the show and but that’s in the future to be told.
Unlike some recent incarnations of the Star Trek story, I'm guessing Fuller will cast more than one woman in the main cast — and, hopefully, have a more diverse cast in general (as diversity is an important part of the Star Trek legacy).
One of the things Fuller does incredibly well as a storyteller is mix seemingly disparate tones in an organic way. (He pulls this off by grounding absurd happenings with consistent characterization.) All of his shows are funny, deeply sad, occasionally horrifying, full of a sense of wonder, and always beautiful. Even Hannibal, arguably the darkest of the shows he has created (Dead Like Me can be pretty depressing...), is laugh out loud funny at times. It finds beauty in the darkest things, and pins meaning onto the meaninglessness, just to see what it looks like — while never devolving into emotional exploitation.
Fuller infuses even his darkest work with a sense of wonder and optimism — and wonder and optimism are at the heart of the Star Trek story. They are two characteristics that have been noticeably absent from the recent Star Trek films, making the reboots somewhat unrecognizable as Star Trek properties. It will be good to have wonder and optimism back.
Fuller isn't professionally unfamiliar with fandom. Though he has never showrun a property that has quite the same fanbase as Star Trek (because, let's face it, few things do...), his shows have always inspired rabid followings and, unlike many showrunners and producers, he has never condescended to that fannish passion. On the contrary, he seems to respect and appreciate any degree or incarnation of fannish passion people throw his shows' way.
Like all genre fandoms, Star Trek has a history of gatekeeping, of policing how everyone should engage with its stories — often, along gender boundaries. For example: It's cool to geek out about the design of a spaceship. It's not cool to ship Spock and Kirk together.
Fuller seemingly has no such qualms with fannish engagement in any of its innocent forms, a refreshing perspective in a television and film industry that usually dismisses and ridicules whole swaths of its fanbase.
At last year's Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association's national conference, fan studies scholars Lori Morimoto, Shannon Howard, and KT Torrey gave a whole presentation on the subject titled: "Fans, Producers, and Romance in Bryan Fuller's Hannibal."
Check out this excerpt from the description...
Although recent fan studies scholarship tends to treat the increasingly muddy nature of fan/producer relations as a cause for concern, we suggest that Hannibal's fannish romance — and romance of its fandom — showcases the possibilities that this muddiness can offer. Thus, we invite the audience to linger with us at Hannibal's table so we might together explore the distinctive delights the series offers to discussions of fan practice, identity, and production.
Bustle has named Fuller "Maybe The Internet's Favorite TV Showrunner" and The Daily Dot dedicated an entire story to the way the Hannibal showrunners positively interacted with their fanbase at this past summer's San Diego Comic Con. Fuller treats his show's fanbases with respect, and people are noticing.
Hugh Dancy, Gillian Anderson, Eddie Izzard, Raul Esparza, Mads Mikkelsen, Gina Torres, Laurence Fishburne, Lee Pace. These are only a few of the many talented actors Fuller has managed to attract to his work.
Star Trek has a history of luring prestigious actors to its shows — i.e. Patrick Stewart for The Next Generation. Who might Bryan Fuller be able to land?
Though Star Trek has always embraced a certain degree of character-driven, long-form storytelling, the shows fall on various points of a spectrum from procedural to serialized, with DS9 embracing serialized the most. Relevantly, after the original series, Fuller has named DS9 his favorite precisely for these character-driven arcs...
The Star Trek universe is such a fertile place to tell stories. There were lots of new and innovative things going on during Deep Space Nine and that's why it's my favorite of the new series. It was much more character-based.
This is good news for fans of character-driven, more serialized science fiction (aka the best kind). Fuller's shows have always been interested in longer story arcs, even when TV networks fought against highly serialized storytelling for fear that viewers — who, at the time, had no way to catch up on missed episodes — would lose interest or, if late to the game, choose not to engage in the first place.
But Fuller has always been a showrunner ahead of his time. In many ways, it feels like — with the advent of more and more ways for viewers to catch up on TV — the industry and its narrative practices have caught up with him. All of Fuller's shows — from Dead Like Me to Hannibal — have slowly evolved into more and more serialized versions of themselves, and have been the better (at least creatively) for it.
Fuller hasn't always had the best luck in getting lots of people to watch his shows. Partially, perhaps, because his shows are so hard to describe or compare. They are like nothing else on television and, therefore, tend to inspire a deep rather than broad passion.
But the new Star Trek series may be the exception. It already has a built-in fanbase and an interesting new form of access. Though the premiere will air on CBS, the following episodes will be available via video-on-demand and digital platforms. Has Fuller finally arrived at the medium that best suits his unique brand of storytelling?
Fuller is adept at working in other people's sandboxes and not only making them his own, but improving upon the original. Yep, I said it: Fuller's Hannibal is better than anything that has ever come before in the Hannibal fictional universe — and I'm including the original novels in that statement. Sure, this show would have been impossible without the original novels as a rich template to draw upon, but Fuller's television world uses the colors and structures given by Thomas Harris, and uses them to paint an exquisite portrait of theme, nuance, and beauty.
Fuller was part of an entire panel on the art of adapting an already-existing work for the television screen at last year's ATX Television Festival. He shared his thoughts about the current obsession with remakes and his own personal feelings on working in an already-established world vs. a wholly original one...
I think that there is such a glut of reboots and reimaginings, but, when they're good, they're good and I don't care. I understand the sentimentality. And I understand, "Oh, it's familiar, but they're doing something different." And that's kind of the best of both worlds because it's like a gateway drug into a whole new story.
After working on a show for three years, that is an application of my skillset — interpreting someone else's world — I do yearn to go back to creating something that's more signature to me. People don't talk how I talk in Hannibal. It's all very purple and inflated, and it's fun to do, but it is a sense of mimicry that I think can be confining at times.
The world of Star Trek certainly has more room for experimentation than a direct story-to-screen adaptation like Hannibal, but it will be interesting to see how much freedom Fuller has to put his own signature brand on this Star Trek series. Surely, it will be an amalgamation of a Fuller original and the pre-existing elements of Star Trek that make something distinctly a Star Trek story (that sense of wonder and optimism we were talking about, for example).
Personally, I love the world of Star Trek and I trust the work of Bryan Fuller. As we all anxiously await the first new Star Trek TV series in more than a decade, that's a good place to be.