Other Ten Percent 4/17/14

Apr 17 2014

Woah hey I just hilariously remembered I didn’t have one of these queued up for the day. I even had a whole conversation with Suzan earlier about how she’s liking the new kinda more casual direction OTP is taking and instead of using that as a reminder that I should probably, you know, write Other Ten Percent I was like “cool. I can just be super casual about this” and then I forgot to do it. I’m great.
I did find, totally by accident a post I wanted to talk about though because for some strange reason somebody on Twitter posted a BLDGblog post from 2007 that’s basically the best case I’ve ever seen made for Los Angeles. I’ve been casually making this case to people individually for the past like, year, though not quite in these terms and what I love about it is how much it turns what most people consider LA’s traditional area of weakness into a strength.
LA doesn’t really give a shit who you are and in a lot of ways that’s depressing but as this article points out it’s also freeing because it means nobody really stops you from doing…basically whatever you want. And that’s especially fun since LA actually cares very deeply about WHAT YOU DO in a way that New York never really manages. In fact, on some very deep level New York CANNOT STOP giving a fuck about who you are. Are you rich? Powerful? Famous for doing something twenty years ago? Feel free to come to New York where you will never lack for people telling you how great you are for things you’ve already done.
Or come to LA where you can basically create the greatest movie of all time and be forgotten three years later if the sequel doesn’t work out. Each of those options is a very special hell for a specific type of person but all told I think I kinda prefer the one where all that matters is the most recent thing I wrote. It’s going to work out way better when I stop writing things that suck.

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Other Ten Percent 4/16/14

Apr 16 2014

Oh hey guys I’ve got to go do some other stuff this afternoon-evening but I figured I’d check in and see if things are still weird now that we live in a world where cameras are cheap and basically omnipresent.
Yep, turns out it’s still weird as hell out there and people are now taking selfies of themselves with drones. Also “idea on the cusp of becoming a thing” is a great phrase and I totally plan on stealing it.
Drone selfies aren’t even the super weird thing though because there’s also this plan to use your old cellphones to constantly monitor out your window for metrics on how busy your street is and MAN I am so angry I didn’t think of that. Not for like, the startup money, because I have nowhere near the technical skill to pull that plan off, but just so I could have written it into something before it actually became a thing in the real world. Also I am maybe going to see how much they off for the view out our window which would give them a VERY clear idea of traffic patterns in one very specific part of LA.
Anyway that’s all to say that cameras are kinda so weird and creepy now that a book of photographs of organisms that have been alive for thousands of years seems positively quaint in comparison. I still kinda want it though.

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Other Ten Percent 4/15/14

Apr 15 2014

Let’s play America’s favorite gameshow “This thing is like this other thing and I’m still working out the specifics but I think there’s something deep about that but also maybe not so sorry if this fizzles out.” It’s a lot like family feud really.
Anyway, hi I just sat down and watched somebody beat all of Half-Life in 20 minutes and was fascinated to watch the ENTIRE thing. I’d actually seen it linked around in a lot of places and finally looked at it when it showed up on Facebook. Speed running a video game doesn’t usually show up on my Facebook wall because most speed runs are kinda deathly boring. They’re either watching a person play a videogame without making any mistakes or watching them exploit glitches in the game you didn’t know existed so everything just kinda freaks out and lets you skip tons of the game both of which get boring fast.
I get why this one’s been picked up all over the place though because this one though has a nice narrative arc to it. It starts off relatively calmly with a player who’s just sort of jumping to his set destination as fast as possible then, around the three minute mark it ramps up in intensity and he starts using explosions and other tricks to acrobatically propel himself into tiny doors and vents and whatever point far in the distance he’s supposed to be advancing toward. Then, around the 10 minute mark it ramps up AGAIN and starts being totally insane. The glitching out stuff begins as he jumps outside the boundaries of the world and gets pulled back in having skipped a fair amount of the content of the game. It’s that slow ratcheting up of the intensity from a normal game into just this random barrage of jumps where you can’t imagine how somebody discovered them in the first place that I want to talk about and try to relate to other stuff.
Back in high-school I used to play Dance Dance Revolution a lot. Technically I played a far superior rip off of DDR called “Pump it Up” where the panels were diagonal instead of orthogonal but if people really wanted 800 words on that distinction I’d still be writing tech journalism on the regular. Point is I played this game that involved stomping on panels on the ground in time with things on a screen and I was okay at it but never that great. Most of my friends were better than me but in a way where I could sit there and watch what they were doing and process it all but couldn’t actually make my body do the same thing. Then there were people who would come into the arcade and do this which was a whole different thing where I couldn’t even make sense of what I was supposed to be doing. And I became fascinated by the distinction between mastery that was sensical but beyond your grasp and mastery that just seemed utterly chaotic.
Obviously it’s all just a continuum and if I’d kept obsessively playing DDR for years and years I’d have eventually gotten to the point where the stuff that guy’s doing wasn’t just nonsense to me anymore and then, eventually, I’d get to the point where I could actually do that but I still make a big thing out of that distinction for some reason. And I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that mastery curve illustrated more purely than in this OTHER thing that I saw on Facebook yesterday where there’s a whole video that lets you practice the Busta Rhymes verse in Look at Me Now at increasing speed starting at like 50% of the original song. That video, besides letting me know part of that verse actually DOES devolve into him just going dadadadada and isn’t a sign I’m developing a hearing problem, does a better job of pinpointing your exact point on a mastery curve better than most actually education we’ve received in our lives. There is a specific BPM where you will top out on being able to mouth along with the words in time and you can just practice it over and over again until you progress to the next level.
Whatever that whole thing’s probably only deep to me. If you’d rather do anything than think about whatever the hell I was just talking about all day Here’s like 20,000 words on the SF housing crisis that explains as clearly as I’ve ever seen what is and isn’t tech culture’s fault in that whole clusterfuck and how the whole city’s doomed…that last part’s never explicitly stated but around the 12,000 word mark it becomes the very clear subtext.

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Other Ten Percent 4/14/14

Apr 14 2014

I apologize this is going out so late you guys. It’s technically Tuesday for the east coast crew but honestly I just…haven’t found something to write about for OTP since last Thursday. I figured the run through my RSS reader this morning would find me something but nothing really popped up that caught my eye. Same for Twitter, Facebook…everything. There was interesting stuff but nothing I really thought I could build 500-1000 words around. Same with TV. Hannibal and Good Wife and Bob’s Burgers were all good this weekend but not in a way that really demanded a long essay about it.
So ummmmm what’s up with you guys? You been having fun lately? Any good books I should know about. I’ve been watching Cheers which I never really liked much as a kid and man did it ever invent the modern sitcom. Like not just the Sam and Diane stuff which is actually kinda boring but just the staging and the beats and the way everybody goes on an emotional journey without learning a very special lesson.
I dunno you guys, I thought that could be the basis for an entry but that didn’t work either. Maybe I just have a set amount of words in me and I’ve been using too many of them on writing fiction since I said that thing about antagonizing AIs last Thursday? Let’s read the wikipedia entry on Transhumanism so we can figure out how to do it right.

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Other Ten Percent 4/11/14

Apr 11 2014

Thank you and welcome to the Other Ten Percent corrections section.
Other Ten Percent discussed Hannibal last Friday but only realized on Sunday the insightful thing they were trying to say about Pushing Daisies and Hannibal is that both shows walk right up to the line between comedy and tragedy that would totally disrupt their reality without ever actually crossing it and that kind of daring brinksmanship shoes that Bryan Fuller has a total mastery over tone most show runners can’t even imagine. We regret wasting your time with a paragraph that was almost that good but not quite.
Other Ten Percent intended to use its discussion of running time in media as a jumping off point to talk about the alternative cut of the Anchor Man movies, how these cuts give some of the bits more time to breathe and become appropriately weird like a 12:50 SNL sketch as discussed in that NY Magazine article, and how we would watch alternative cuts of several other things whose running times dictate clamping down on weirdness just to see what happens. We regret just kinda giving up on that post.
In other Ten Percent 4/3/14 I stated that Other Ten Percent had been purchased by Buzzfeed. This was incorrect. We have been purchased by Pets.com which, like Buzzfeed, sounds like an online pet supply store but also actually is one. We apologize for the confusion.
In the past Other Ten Percent has repeatedly made the same dumb joke about how all the money poured into using computer aided recognition to do live VFX probably could have been used to cure cancer and so it’s bad or whatever but now this happened so it turns out that stuff’s kinda cool. We regret repeating that bit at people’s parties a lot when everybody was just trying to discuss sports or whatever.
Earlier this week Other Ten Percent provided complete spoilers for the end of Captain America: the Winter Soldier but failed to spoil the ending to the classic Twilight Zone episode To Serve Man. To Serve Man is a cookbook and the aliens are going to eat us. Other Ten Percent regrets that you’d have to use wikipedia or watch one of those sci-fi channel marathons to find that out.
We also made a big thing out of spoiler warnings being dumb just a day after we refused to spoil Hannibal. We regret how obvious that made our hypocrisy especially since the whole thing about spoilers being dumb was a pretty good bit.
Other Ten Percent has failed to mention that Matt Berninger, lead singer of The National has been making the rounds on several comedy podcasts despite several Other Ten Percent readers being super huge National fans. Like, almost as big of a fan as every comedy podcast host apparently is. Other Ten Percent just kinda skips over comedy podcasts unless Paul F. Tompkins is a guest these days. However, Berninger was really really good on The Pete Holmes Show so we’re now just assuming he was also good on Comedy Bang Bang so our bad. We regret the error but not nearly as much as Matt Berninger regrets basically everything because judging by his music that dude basically breathes regret like oxygen.

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Other Ten Percent 4/10/14

Apr 10 2014

So hey there’s a big new design/tech think piece up that everybody’s talking about! This time it’s talking about various strategies we’ve developed for coping with a world where algorithms are vaguely inscrutable to us and where humanity isn’t always the prime mover in our own decision making process. It even provides a proposed solution through the power of design!
Of course I don’t actually like the proposed solution that much, not because I don’t think it would work. The point about how you can make an algorithm where the base motivations are transparent even if the whole decision-making apparatus isn’t is especially solid. I think I oppose it because I…I kinda like the decisions that tech makes being inscrutable to me? I mean obviously not on a direct interaction by interaction basis. I yell at Siri as much as anybody and I think it is time to give up “technology as magic” as a design aesthetic.
But I also think binding machine intelligence to never be inscrutable to human understanding gets us a BORING techno-utopian future. One where everybody is some sort of code-ninja equivalent of a warrior poet making intelligent decisions around technology at all times. It’s the future where the issues of class tech brings up are solved by just making EVERYBODY a successful coder because wouldn’t a whole world of Silicon Valley be great? And ugh, no. No it would not.
Instead I find myself fixated on the three paths suggested for adapting to a world with empowered machine intelligences and I’m fascinated by the idea of being a direct antagonist to one. I mean it’s by far the least fleshed out path in the essay, there’s exactly one example and i’m not clear why CV Dazzle couldn’t just as easily be seen as a negotiation strategy but the very fact that I can’t think of a good example of it makes me want it to be a thing SO, SO badly.
I’m seriously struggling to even find a good FICTIONAL model for the behavior. Asimov’s robot short stories, which mostly weren’t stories so much as logic puzzles around the three laws of robotic that had an unusually large amount of character dialogue, had the occasional attempt at opposing A.I. but mostly it was stupid blind protesting or Ludite destruction. There was basically no attempt to use an understanding the peculiarities of how robots thought to destroy them because, of course, as far as Asimov was concerned that was no distinction between Artificial and real intelligence except for one of degree. Machines thought just like humans they just had more processing power to throw at the problem.
You could also make an argument for Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother series where a bunch of teenagers use DIY tech to fuck with the security state but that was mostly just using better tech to fuck with the PEOPLE running the security state and not directly trying to antagonize an algorithm. Wait, no, one exception: at one point the characters start copying and pasting people’s transit cards onto each other to screw with the security state’s ability to get meta-data on where people are entering and exiting the transit system.
But now that we seem to be slowly writing more and more fiction where we’ve got AI but it behaves more like an alien intelligence than a human one I can’t believe we’re not getting more fiction about attempts to antagonize those intelligences. Even Person of Interest which is well beyond the curve of even most written sci-fi on this stuff, just has oppositional forces screw with the A.I. by shutting off video feeds strategically which is kinda the most boring line of attack on a strong A.I. that has access to all digital information everywhere. Why not flood the thing with absurd amounts of false information? Or falsify people’s consumer data to create weird patterns in their meta-data to screw up Wal-Marts supplying algorithm so they lose millions of dollars shipping things to the wrong parts of the country? Or…actually screw this today’s entry is long enough and I gotta go write up some of this as fiction.

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Other Ten Percent 4/9/14

Apr 09 2014

So this was originally going to be part of yesterday’s post but then that one started getting a bit long so I decided to split this topic off. But now I’m kinda worried it isn’t enough content to be a post by itself and I kinda just want to ramble for a while about random stuff like, hey, I was totally right about Agents of SHIELD, this week’s episode was really good! Also The Toast did a really good write up on Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and how weird (and awesome) all the gender stuff is in that game. Also…okay yeah I guess I should stop stalling.
Content length fascinates me these days because there’s kinda no good reason why sitcoms HAVE to be 22 minutes or movies have to be one or two hours long and there really hasn’t been for a while now. Sure there are still advertisers for a lot of TV but even there stuff like Cartoon Network’s blocks of successful 11 minute shows. Really though it’s the weird fringes where the only limit to how you’re going to structure your work is YOUR IMAGINATION that really interest me.
Like do you guys remember when I did that video about how people just record themselves riding trains and I was super fascinated by how that was a thing? Turns out we didn’t even begin to explore the depths of how much that’s a thing because please welcome Slow TV where your television becomes window into a mundane but fascinating part of the world and the only enemy is narrative. Where “classic television forerunners” include that video of a fireplace you used to have on at Christmas. Where the future of television is a day in the life of a snail.
Do I think this stuff’s going to take over TV? Probably not but I also thought reality TV wouldn’t last so what the hell do I know? Really though it kinda doesn’t matter how it evolves so much as that it exists right now because I think it’s very of the moment to have running time be kind of a non-factor. A lot of webshows have made the transition to television in the last few years and I struggle to think of one that’s really had real problems with running time. I honestly can’t tell the difference between 22 minute sitcoms and 29 minute ones on HBO unless I’m sitting there with a stopwatch. …I can still weirdly REALLY feel the difference between a 42 minute show and an HBO hourlong but that’s also almost an extra twenty minutes of TV soooo.
Anyway the reason I wasn’t sure this was enough content is because I really didn’t have anywhere I was going with it except “hey this is a thing” so….yeah. Also in retrospect I totally could have smoothly transitioned into this whole thing talking about podcast running time after talking about Song Exploder and then transitioned out to Silicon Valley after talking about HBO sitcom running length.
Welp, my life is regret. Here, have a new Girl Talk EP to distract you from how this didn’t really work out. Oh hey, EPs and Mixtapes! Even music albums aren’t obeying the laws of running time anymore. There, salvaged that. Smooth.

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Other Ten Percent 4/8/14

Apr 08 2014

So I watched and listened to a couple of things trying to settle on just one to talk about this morning and instead I…actually kinda liked all of them. As it turns out Owen Pallett stopped doing those things for Slate because he’s got an album coming out and he thinks being a musicians is cooler than writing a series of blog posts for some reason. It isn’t quite as in-depth about the music theory and tends to operate more on the “instruments and influences” level of breaking down music but the closest thing I’ve found is the Song Exploder podcast which has an artist come in every week and discuss one of their songs in detail.
The first episode is about District Sleeps Alone Tonight which, as it turns out, is the FIRST track off the Postal Service album and not the next to last because my iTunes has had it in the wrong order for all these years and I can’t tell you how much that’s been wrinkling my brain for the last week. Anyway, it breaks down a lot of stuff I didn’t know but now can’t un-hear about the song like the drums totally being a Bjork homage and the origins of that weird loop of Jenny Lewis saying “alone” over and over again toward the end of the song.
It’s also great because man this podcast is a model of efficiency. Hello, here is the premise, let me play this song for you, let me discuss the song’s major elements. A quick rap up at the end that mentions all the specific influences mentioned in the whole episode (very useful for reference) and then BOOM, done in 15 minutes or less.
One of the things that LA traffic has really imparted to me is how much podcast length is based entirely on assumptions of commute time. Just like how TV was shaped by when advertisers needed to yell things at your audience podcasting is based around when you’re going to get out of your car or train and get to work. I don’t want to make it some grand law of podcasting length or something but I think it explains why east coast shows tend to offer a lot of mini-episodes you can chain together or not and the L.A. comedy scene produces so many hour and a half epic podcasts that just kinda throw everything at the wall and do little or no editing.
So I was going to be all, “great, go listen to that everybody!” But then I also watched Silicon Valley since HBO put the whole first episode up on youtube for free.
And I liked it a lot TOO actually which kinda surprised me because the show’s marketing (the show’s five leads all wearing identical Steve Jobs sweaters while doing the Steve Jobs thoughtful hand to face pose) has inspired a lot of discussions with Nikki about how wrong Hollywood tends to get startup culture.
It’s always troubling watching somebody try and translate something you’ve lived to television because they’re always going to get it wrong. Certainly after trying to sit through Betas I just decided that watching a show about start-up douches after a few years in tech journalism is like trying to watch a legal drama after you’ve passed the bar. Silicon Valley is a lot better about that than Betas though. Not because it doesn’t get anything wrong because the detail work here is…hit and miss. Brogramers aren’t high-school bullies for instance, they actually want to be my bro too much for that and it somehow makes the whole thing way worse. To be fair it also gets a lot exactly right. At one point in the back half of the episode a dude tries to brag to a billionaire about his “very small percentage” of Grindr and then proceeds to explain, at length, what Grindr is to a room full of people who don’t really need an in-depth discussion of gay hookup culture AND already knew what Grindr was. I’m pretty sure I’ve had to shove past this guy to order drinks more than once.
But expecting Silicon Valley to be a perfect representation of Silicon Valley is unfair since it’s, you know, a fictional TV show. What it does do is navigate the uncanny valley between the elements that are a little bit off for comedy and those that are terrifyingly accurate much better than Betas which was basically just willing to play in a universe where the start-up scene had unequivocal good guys so its leads could play without any pesky moral quandaries.
All of Silicon Valley’s off elements basically serve to make it a cartoon version of ACTUAL Silicon Valley. (Well, most of them, if I never hear somebody on this show say “lossless” again that’d be great.) The result is that even when it’s not directly translating the startup scene it’s getting the spirit of what’s wrong with it better than anything I’ve seen on the topic before. Silicon Valley the show doesn’t shy away from the fact that basically all the power players vying for control of the lead’s new startup are jerks just from the sheer wealth that’s being thrown around. It also, very correctly, makes sure they’re always at their worst when they’re explaining how much better they’re making the world. The slightly less evil CEO, the one that at least offers the lead some measure of control in his new company, meets him after giving a TED talk on how college is an absolute evil and everybody should drop out immediately.
Also it’s got Martin Starr and Kumail Nanjiani in it and I always like them getting work.

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Other Ten Percent 4/7/14

Apr 07 2014

Man I kinda dragged my heels on writing this today because I kinda couldn’t figure out a way to write AROUND a fairly large portion of it and so I kept looking for something else. But screw it, we’re all agreed that we don’t really give a shit about spoilers here in the year of our lord two thousand and fourteen right? Like we’re all adults here and realize that the interesting part of entertainment is watching how it chooses to do its job and not whatever twist happens in the third act? Well I hope so anyway both because if not I just spent a few sentences insulting you but also because THE REST OF THIS POST CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE NEW CAPTAIN AMERICA MOVIE.

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Other Ten Percent 4/4/14

Apr 04 2014

Woah it got super late and I haven’t written anything but that’s because I’ve kinda been catching up on my TV today which I kinda fell behind on this week and as I was telling people yesterday I’ve got exactly one show that’s appointment television for me and it isn’t The Good Wife or Person of Interest or any of the 10 brilliant comedies on the air right now (Christ there’s so much good TV these days). It’s a show that’s so good I get anxious when I’ve got more than a one episode backlog to get current and it’s Hannibal.
Sure part of the reason I don’t like have more than one episode to watch at a time is that it’s a brilliantly art directed show about elaborate and gruesome murder and it’s kinda hard to watch it while, say, eating something for reasons I think are probably pretty obvious but I mostly don’t want to miss it because it’s probably the best crime show on TV right now.
Jane would dispute that statement, and has made a compelling case for True Detective and honestly I’m not sure I can make an objective case here. I’m certainly not one of the people who was disappointed by that show’s ending and I totally agree that the singular tone that it set by having ONE writer and ONE director for an entire season created something that was, in execution if not in concept, wholly new to TV.
I still kinda think Hannibal is better though. Because it’s a show that’s able to grapple with any number of themes instead of the laser like focus of True Detective. Because the art direction is so gorgeous it lends the incredible gruesome murder tableaus a sense of unreality I find comforting since I’m not really fond of gore.  But mostly because what it lacks in purity of vision it makes up for in meta-textual resonances and somebody could put “he was a sucker for meta-textual resonances” on my tombstone and I’d really be alright with that.
Hannibal is a prequel to any interpretation of Hannibal Lecter we’ve seen on film before, set when he was still a practicing psychiatrist and everybody he knew still thought he was just a charming european polymath. And that lets the show get away with Hannibal Lecter delivering some of the most inspired dark comedy I’ve ever seen on TV but it also, much more importantly, gives the audience a very different understanding of the characters and their relationships than any of the characters have save Hannibal which both allows you to work through some interesting thematic issues around death and life and food and…really pretty much everything but also makes Hannibal, by default, the audience’s point of view character. The only person that’s privy to as much information as the audience, and that has a way of making you feel viscerally complicit with…maybe the single most evil person in all of fiction?
None of this would work though if this weren’t a Bryan Fuller jam. You might know the name Bryan Fuller from Dead Like Me or from Wonderfalls. If you don’t know the name from Pushing Daisies then shame on you and go watch that whole series right now. Not just because it’s really really good but because in some ways it’s a strange spiritual prequel to Hannibal, a meditation on death that manages to stay JUST on the safe side of the line between absurd and macabre that Hannibal tends to cross with abandon. Pushies Daisies had people die in chemical explosions caused by scratch-and-sniff books; Hannibal has a serial killer who strings people’s vocal chords up post-mortem to make them into human cellos he then plays. Neither of those things really makes any damn sense if you think about them for half a second but they’re both just so beautifully shot you kinda don’t give a damn.
Fuller’s a straight up genius and one of the real gifts of this season is the fairly unprecedented degree to which he’s made himself available to talk about the show as it airs. At the end of the first season he did a series of interviews with the A.V. Club discussing the first season in blocks of three or four episodes which is a series they’ve been doing for the last few years at the end of the season with a lot of shows they’ve particularly enjoyed. This year Fuller has done an interview with the A.V. Club about EVERY. SINGLE. EPISODE. that they put up just an hour or two after the episode’s done airing.
I’d link to all this stuff directly but Hannibal is one of the few shows I think is genuinely ruined by spoilers so I’m going to make you seek it all out once you’ve watched the show. Considering everybody knows the destination already the way these events plays out as we watch Hannibal stave off the inevitable is a unique pleasure I’m not sure I’ve ever seen executed quite like this on television before. It’s almost the opposite of the Game of Thrones problem where on Hannibal people who are obsessed with the books are constantly asking “wait but if that person’s…then who? How are they going to catch Hannibal?” which people who’re less familiar with the mythology just kind of cackle madly as Hannibal plays everybody like some sort of mad Machiavellian demon (Mads Mikkelson has said he’s explicitly playing Hannibal as satan incarnate and while Bryan Fuller is very careful to make sure there’s some sort of earthly explanation for everything Hannibal gets away with COME ON how’s somebody supposed to say no to that with this dude?)
I haven’t even discussed the way the show brilliantly turns the idea of the “brilliant criminal profiler who gets TOO CLOSE TO THE CASE” on its head or really anything about any of the other main characters on the show besides Hannibal but I’m also supposed to like, have links in this thing so here’s a full hour of Bryan Fuller talking about Hannibal along with all of his other shows and the start of his writing career. Did you know he got his start on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine- AKA The Gayest Star Trek? Because I did not know that and it’s yet another thing I can thank that show for because damn Bryan Fuller’s a genius.

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