Whether you're a horror fan who's interested in cannibals, like sweet romance tales with a dark twist, or are itching to understand a war between the gods, chances are you've come across the work of Bryan Fuller. The American screenwriter and producer has the kind of body of work that almost doesn't fit together, and that's because his back catalogue is the definition of eclectic.
His 2007 TV series Pushing Daisies, which followed the life of a pie-maker who could bring the dead to life, is worlds apart from Hannibal, the NBC adaptation of Thomas Harris's 1981 novel about the eponymous cannibal. And his latest work, an adaptation of American Gods by Neil Gaiman, is a story that pits gods of old against the new.
So what is it that brings these three very different #BryanFuller helmed TV shows together?
1. His Color Palette
Fuller uses very specific color palettes in his TV shows that help to define their visual uniqueness, in addition to creating mood and tension. Take a look at these two shots from Pushing Daisies:
In both shots color dominates the mise-en-scene. There is almost an excessive use of yellow: outfits, curtains, wall paper, even the kitchen utensils have yellow hues. This is not only used to create a sense of comfort, it also contributes to the fantasy aspect of Pushing Daisies. This is a world where everyone dresses appropriately to their job, where noir-like detectives rub shoulders with piemakers and people consistently die in surprising ways.
In contrast, Hannibal's color palette is not used to create a sense of whimsy and comfort. Here, dark reds and blues are key to portray the twisted and uncomfortable world that the characters reside in:
Within the confines of his own home, Hannibal's tendency towards bold, dark colors not only highlights his perceived status as a man with cultured and sophisticated tastes but also darker aspects of his personality. The dark red walls and complimenting curtains in his office do not hint at a comforting environment in which his patients can express their worries and fears. In fact, the blood red can almost be read as a outward declaration of his inner desires.
2. Slow Motion And The Abstract
Some people have criticized the adaptation of American Gods for what they perceived to be a slowness in its story telling — literally and figuratively — in relation to both the show's pace and its use of slow motion action in various episodes. However, I'd argue that it is the beauty in the abstract that sets American Gods apart from other TV shows, and in fact links it to other shows by Fuller.
For example, take the scene in Episode 3 "Head Full of Snow" where Mr Wednesday asks Shadow to imagine snow, which results in a drastic change in the weather. Here Fuller uses slow motion to capture bursts of light emitting from a copy machine as they slowly crystallize into flakes of snow, and he does so with stunning effect. Rather than an over the top sequence, this serves as a unique scene transition, blending Shadow's understanding of his world with that of the gods.
The use of slow motion is also something that Fuller has used before — remember Will Graham's murder reenactments on Hannibal? Fuller often used slo-mo flashbacks or sped up the visuals, causing blood to splatter slowly over pristine walls.
3. The Anatomy Of Horror
The final aspect of Bryan Fuller's visual universe, which brings all three shows together, is the use of the human body as spectacle; yet how that transfers to the screen is vastly different in each production.
Pushing Daisies takes, as expected, the most lighthearted approach to this. The manner in which each character died directly correlated to their bodies (and what they did with them). Remember the man who worked as an automated vehicle safety supervisor? He was run over. Or the lighthouse keeper who fell against her lamp at the top of the lighthouse?
Both are grisly ways to die, and while the deaths are serious, the manner in which they are portrayed are almost funny. While keeping it lighthearted enough for mid-evening TV, Pushing Daisies certainly has a large amount of body horror about it.
Hannibal was also praised for it's innovative and beautiful cinematography, rendering the murdered bodies of victims into a bizarre spectacle. Take, for a first example, the totem pole of bodies on the beach from Season 1:
The thing itself is horrific and awful, but the way it is framed — in the middle of a dully colored screen, surrounded by crime scene paraphernalia — makes it look like a particularly dark oil painting.
Or the angels from Season 2, surrounding a bed like eerie guardians of prayer:
Using the body as a narrative tool was something set Hannibal way ahead of other crime shows on television — the art of the body horror became part of the mystery in its own right.
The use of bodies in American Gods isn't as central to the plot as it is in the other shows, but it is nevertheless important. Laura Moon's journey from dead wife to a moving and not-breathing corpse is focused on her own desire to get her husband and her life back.
Her body is one that is not sexualized but instead takes on it's own aspect of horror, from her deep stitches on her chest from the autopsy, to the flies that become increasingly persistent.
Her body becomes a key part of the story — her search for someone that can bring her back to life and fix her becomes increasingly desperate as she begins to decay. The camera's focus on her is not a gaze of any sexual nature, it is one of a morbid interest in her slowly disintegrating body.
You can discover more about the manner in which Bryan Fuller tackles Laura's sexuality in American Gods via the video below:
There are many different ways in which Bryan Fuller's TV shows break boundaries, with stark and vibrant visual themes, but I'd argue that these three are ones that define and link his work. His TV universe is one that is both beautiful and disturbing in equal measure.