NBC’s Hannibal was always too good to be true—a visually sumptuous, complex, pitch-black crime drama that always seemed to hang on the edge of cancellation with each new season. Sadly, it toppled off the edge of that cliff earlier this week, with NBC announcing that the show’s currently airing third season would be its last. Aside from a truly stellar cast, Hannibal worked in large part because of the guiding hand of showrunner Bryan Fuller, a wildly creative TV veteran who managed to put all the pieces together in a way that often looked like magic, keeping a show going for three years that no one expected to make it past one.
Fuller already has his next project lined up, helping adapt Neil Gaiman’s brilliant modern fantasy novel American Gods for Starz, a source material that should suit Fuller’s talents immensely. In the meantime, however, we here at the Daily Dot decided it was a perfect time to look back at the marvelously weird career path that brought Fuller to this point. And thanks to the magic of the Internet, you can revisit most of it whenever you like … even the really strange stuff.
1) Dead Like Me (2003)
Bryan Fuller got his start in television writing for the Star Trek series Deep Space Nine and Voyager, but the first time he landed on most people’s radar was Dead Like Me. Fuller created the comedy-drama for Showtime, and although he left the show early in the first season after butting heads with the network over creative differences, Dead Like Me still unmistakably carries Fuller’s DNA throughout it. Ellen Muth stars as Georgia “George” Lass, an apathetic college dropout whose (after)life becomes far more complicated after she’s killed by a falling toilet seat jettisoned from the deorbiting Mir space station. That’s a helluva thing to get stamped on your tombstone, but George is more concerned by the fact that she’s now been recruited as a grim reaper, tasked with collecting a quota of souls before she can move on to whatever awaits. That’s right: just like her life, her afterlife involves working a job she hates. And she doesn’t even get paid for it.
George’s duties as a reaper usually involve setting in motion elaborate, Rube Goldbergian sequences of events that lead some poor, doomed schmuck to their demise. Dead Like Me is essentially a behind-the-scenes version of the Final Destination movies, a franchise that is improved significantly if you imagine Mandy Patinkin is the one dropping plate-glass windows and crosstown buses on all the obnoxious teenagers. Patinkin’s wry, weary Rube, who serves as mentor and father figure to George, is the best part of the entire show. With its pitch-black sense of humor and inventive games of murderous Mouse Trap, Dead Like Me is a very different examination of mortality than Hannibal, but still an enjoyable one.
2) Wonderfalls (2004)
A year after giving us Dead Like Me, Fuller co-created arguably an even better, even more Fuller-y series… but one that was cursed with the ill fortune to air on Fox, the place where amazing shows go to die after airing just long enough to maximize the cruelty of their inevitable cancellation.
Co-created with Todd Holland, (The Larry Sanders Show) Wonderfalls tells the story of Jaye Tyler (Caroline Dhavernas), a Brown University philosophy grad who is maximizing her degree’s potential by working as a sales clerk at a gift shop in Niagara Falls and living in a trailer. Her commitment to avoiding responsibility for pretty much anything is dealt a serious blow when the gift shop’s trinkets, doodads, and tchotchkes begin talking to her. But not just talking—making requests. Specifically, requests that she help various people in need, in peculiar and confusing ways that the wax lions, pink flamingos, and wind-up penguins rarely explain in a satisfactory fashion. It’s like if Sam from Quantum Leap had to set right what once went wrong, but Al only provided clues in the form of fortune cookie koans.
Fox aired only four episodes of Wonderfalls’ 13 back in 2004, but it was enough to earn the show a cult following that then fought hard to try and find the show another home after its cancellation. Sadly, there were no takers, but the show has since gone on to air its full run on networks like Logo and Britain’s Sky1, as well as receiving a DVD release in 2005. It’s a shame, because it’s easy to imagine Wonderfalls getting a long, comfortable run somewhere like the CW these days. As it is, it remains just one of the many fascinating footnotes that make up Fuller’s career.
Aside from Fuller himself, fans will also recognize another Hannibal connection in Wonderfalls: Lead actress Caroline Dhavernas would eventually play Dr. Alana Bloom in Fuller’s TV adaptation of Thomas Harris’ best-selling crime novels. Wonderfalls is available on DVD, but you can also enjoy the entire run on YouTube.
3) The Amazing Screw-On Head (2006)
After Wonderfalls dried up, Fuller sold a pilot called The Assistants to NBC, which would have told the story of “a group of assistants who work in the same building in different industries for an Upstairs, Downstairs-esque look at assistants and their bosses.” The show didn’t make it past the script stage, so Fuller moved onto a far, far weirder project: The Amazing Screw-On Head.
Based on a one-shot graphic novel by Mike Mignola, creator of Hellboy, The Amazing Screw-On Head is almost impossible to describe in a way that sounds like you aren’t a crazy person. The titular Amazing Screw-On Head is a robot agent who works for President Abraham Lincoln. He gets his name because he can unscrew his head from his body and then attach it to other bodies, such as ones equipped with heavy weaponry. In the animated pilot Fuller wrote and executive produced for the Sci-Fi Channel, Screw-On Head is tasked with stopping his former manservant, the now-undead Emperor Zombie, from unleashing a terrible supernatural evil from a parallel dimension contained inside a turnip.
The Amazing Screw-On Head pilot continues Fuller’s habit of managing to attract top-notch talent to his projects, featuring a voice cast that includes Paul Giamatti as Screw-On Head, David Hyde Pierce as Emperor Zombie, and Patton Oswalt as SOH’s current manservant, “Mr. Groin.” Sci-Fi aired the 22-minute pilot on the network’s website on July 12, 2006, as a way to gauge interest in the admittedly batshit-bonkers property, but eventually passed on taking it to series. Thankfully, it turned up on DVD in 2007, and you can watch it in full via the YouTube embed above.
4) Mockingbird Lane (2012)
Fuller had a bit more luck in the years after The Amazing Screw-On Head. He worked on the first season of NBC’s Heroes, then went on to create Pushing Daisies, the delightful ABC comedy about a piemaker who could resurrect the dead with a touch. That show ran for two seasons before ending in 2009, after which Fuller signed a seven-figure development deal with Universal. The next Fuller offering was typically surreal and unexpected. Mockingbird Lane is a reimagining of the classic sitcom The Munsters, written by Fuller and directed by another well-known Bryan, that guy who is currently busy repairing Fox’s X-Men franchise (Bryan Singer). But while The Munsters was wholesome and bloodless to a fault, Mockingbird Lane has a delightfully dark sense of humor, most notably in the form of Eddie Izzard’s “Grandpa,” an unapologetic vampire who has no qualms whatsoever about plotting to exsanguinate Eddie’s scoutmaster or hypnotizing a neighbor into working himself to death repainting the Munster household.
Jerry O’Connell stars as the big-hearted Herman, a patched-together bloke who can nonetheless pass for human (although he is introduced with an excellent “flat head and bolts” visual joke) and who just wants his family to be happy and normal(ish). Portia de Rossi is his stunning and elegant wife Lily, also a vampire like Grandpa, but one who’s trying to help the family maintain a lower profile. Charity Wakefield is Marilyn, the black sheep of the family whose mother once planned to eat her until Grandpa talked her out of it. And Mason Cook is young Eddie, a budding vegetarian struggling with the fact that he occasionally turns into a werewolf.
The Mockingbird Lane pilot is, like many of Fuller’s projects, an odd duck conglomeration that is unique, visually spectacular, and delightfully unlike 99 percent of what makes it to the airwaves—and that’s saying something, since it’s a remake. Sadly, NBC wasn’t quite sure what to do with it, finally airing it as a standalone Halloween special in 2012. Thankfully, YouTube preserves that which otherwise might be lost, and you can watch the whole thing above. It’s funny, dark, mischievous, and will almost certainly make you wish it had gone to series.
The loss of Hannibal is going to sting for a long time, but the knowledge that Fuller is moving on to head Starz’s adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s excellent American Gods definitely takes away some of the pain.
And if it’s the Hannibal cast that you’ll be missing most, don’t worry, you can still find plenty of them online. We recommend checking out Hugh Dancy Emmy-nominated work in HBO’s excellent Elizabeth I miniseries on Amazon Prime, Mads Mikkelsen in the epically violent Viking flick Valhalla Rising, and watching Gillian Anderson kill it as a cop on the trail of a serial killer in The Fall on Netflix Instant.
Screengrab via Michael Grubb/YouTube