Synopsis: Every not-so-often, along comes a show that’s different. Wonderfully different. Pushing Daisies, TV Guide’s Matt Roush writes, “restores my faith in TV’s ability to amuse, enchant and entertain.” It’s the story of Ned, a lonely pie maker whose touch can reanimate the dead. Cool, but there’s a hitch. If Ned touches the person again, the miracle is reversed. If he doesn’t, a bystander goes toes up. What to do? Easy: Team with a private eye, bring murder victims back just long enough to discover whodunit, and collect the rewards. Things go well until Ned’s boyhood sweetie is the next dear departed, and he can’t resist bringing her back for keeps! Dig the wit, style and quirky romance: If you’re not laughing, you may need a visit from Ned.
eyelights: its mordantly twisted premise. the storytelling. the writers’ clever use of language. its fantastical style. its talented cast.
eyesores: the cgi. its mild disregard for logic.
“At this very moment in the town of Couer d’Couers, young Ned was nine years, twenty-seven weeks, six days and three minutes old. His dog, Digby was three years, two weeks, six days, five hours, and nine minutes old… and not a minute older.”
Once in a while you stumble upon something that truly captivates you, that stimulates your imagination in just the right way. For me, ‘Pushing Daisies’ does exactly that.
I have no idea how I heard of this show. I saw it in stores from time to time but wasn’t pulled to its bright colours and seemingly enhanced rendition of “reality”.
However, there are things in life that creep up on you slowly, that may not be of interest initially, but stand out in some way. Frequently, just by virtue of being distinctive, you can’t help but be drawn to them.
This happened with ‘Dead Like Me’ and ‘Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog‘, for instance. I saw those everywhere, but was only mildly curious. After prolonged exposure, I became more and more curious until I just had to check them out.
‘Dr. Horrible’ was a phenomenal discovery; I was an immediate and emphatic fan. ‘Dead Like Me’, on the other hand, was an original idea that was developed in a less satisfying way; I was unable to finish the first season, even though I bought both.
I was surprised to discover that ‘Pushing Daisies’ was created by ‘Dead Like Me’ creator Bryan Fuller. Perhaps I clued into the series while reading up on ‘DLM’; perhaps this planted the seed. Either way, this is a much more accomplished programme than its predecessor.
In fact, I’d have to say that it’s my favourite television show in a long time. One of its key attributes is its consistency, in that if you love one episode you’re likely to love all of them – they’re all of similar quality and flavour. The counterpoint, of course, being that if you hate one you’ll them all.
But I adored it. I did. And still do. And I suspect that it will even grow on me over time. It’s just one of those clever, quirky little treasures that makes you want to return to it time and time again – and, in so doing, only serves to foster your zeal.
As far as I’m concerned, it’s positively enchanting.; it casts a spell on you. Or it can – on the right audience.
This is a show that would likely play well with fans of Tim Burton’s aesthetic., in that it has a visual style that is slightly surreal, fantastical – something that is perfectly suited to the context, of course. The advantage here is that the writing, unlike much of Burton’s oeuvre (especially of late), is quite sharp.
First there is the genius premise:
Ned is a pie-maker who discovered very young that he could reanimate the dead when his mother suddenly died – while making pies, no less. In doing so, he discovered that : 1) if he touches the undead again, they die permanently 2) if he keeps an undead alive for more than a minute, another life must immediately pay the price 3) even if another being dies, he still can’t touch the undead he gave life to.
His life becomes far more complicated because, by saving his mom, he inadvertently took the life of his childhood sweetheart’s father. He never told her. Years later, now an adult, he renews a bond with her after -you guessed it – he brings her back to life following her mysterious murder. Despite being wracked with guilt, and being unable to touch each other, their relationship blossoms. It’s love. But a blissfully imperfect love.
Meanwhile, Ned has associated himself with a private investigator who needs his help in solving mysterious deaths. Joined at the hip, Ned awakens cadavers for just enough time to question them about their untimely demise and then returns them from whence they came. He and the P.I. split the ransom money fifty-fifty. This collaboration gets more complicated as his paramour gets involved, having no other pursuits to speak of (since she is supposed to be dead, she can’t lead a “normal” life anymore).
The show takes on the allure of a quirky romantic dramedy cum-murder mystery. Each episode has its own story, which is somewhat loose but entertaining, all the while delving into the main characters’ personal lives and interactions more and more, moving along their own individual storylines ahead as well. There is never a sense of being on stand-by, adrift or watching precipitated drama; the pace is just about correct for these characters and the context.
Especially delicious is the use of language, primarily through dialogue but also via the names of characters and places. You can tell that the writers were having fun with this. They also transformed the show into a sort of modern fairytale, with opening intro and running narration that is akin to storytelling, alliterated names, and atypical banter.
‘Pushing Daisies’ doesn’t feel real, but that’s the only way one can accept it’s fantastical set-up and the way the episodes unfold. In knowing that it’s all just a fantasy (again, a fairytale of sorts), we can more easily accept the discrepancies and unusualness of the characters’ behaviour and plot development.
The cast is fabulous:
- Lee Pace gives us a John Cusack-esque Ned, but with a warmer tone to him. He’s intelligent, introspective, awkward, well-meaning and big-hearted. But he is saddled with guilt and weighed down by the knowledge that his gift is also a curse; it gives him pause and a sense of responsibility.
- Anna Friel gives us a delicate, offbeat Charlote (or “Chuck” as she is known to everyone). I think that she is the one with the least presence, and yet I understand her because I’ve met a lot of women like her, floating along on the winds of life, unsure of her destination. She is rather sweet, what with her ’60s retro vibe.
- Chi McBride is Emerson, the cool-headed, cynical detective. Um… who has a penchant for knitting. This is a role that Bernie Mac would have thrived in, and Chi takes it on quite well. He makes him serious and amusing at once, totally cementing his place at the table with the others.
- Kristin Chenoweth plays Olive, one of Ned’s employee’s. I love the part: the woman is sweet on her boss, and doesn’t take kindly to Chuck’s appearance, but she isn’t spiteful like most shows would have made her. In fact, she’s rather positively intelligent about her emotions and expresses them nicely. She loves her job, loves her boss, loves her life. She’s a real ray of sunshine.
My only casting issue is with Chenoweth herself. I find her both strikingly alluring, and also off-puttingly artificial, like an ageless beauty salon Barbie. This takes away from the freshness of the character and seems out of sorts with the beauty of her heart. Having said this, Chenoweth is formidable in the role, proving herself an exceptionally talented performer. Of course, this is the perfect show for one such as she, but could she handle pure drama? Well, she is surely one to watch.
The key cast is completed by Ellen Greene and Swoosie Kurtz as Chuck’s aunts, who are unaware that she is has been brought back to life. Ned, Chuck (incognito, of course) and Olive all visit them at various moments for various reasons, and they round out the show admirably well as these oddball recluses. Greene’s affected accent bothers me to no end, but that’s really my only gripe about the pair – performance-wise and as characters.
There are a number of guest appearances throughout this first season, but my favourite must Paul Reubens, who, towards the end of the season, plays a suspect . He comes back in another one, but I don’t know if he’ll become a recurring character. I don’t see a place for it, quite frankly. Still, his performance was terrific, and miles away from the other parts he most famous for, proving his range and ability.
Aside from Chenoweth’s caramel lady and Greene’s grating delivery, the only other issue I have with this show is their constant reference to Ned and Chuck’s hometown, Couer d’Couer, which is a gross mispelling of Coeur de Coeur (“Heart of hearts”) and which could easily have been avoided with a quick online search. My understanding is that the show corrects this at some point in the series, but I never noticed (if that’s the case, then this mispelling was not intentional. Hmph.).
Otherwise, this is one heck of a show. Even if the second season doesn’t hold up (sadly, it never made it to a third one!), I am incredibly pleased to have discovered and experienced this. It’s very rare to find something so thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish, something that tickles the brain, heart and funny bone at once.
‘Pushing Daisies’ is not to be taken too seriously, though; one should watch it as though it were a clever, quirky Burton-esque comic book. Whatever one might think of this notion, at the very least, it’s worth seeing to experience the heartwarming tenderness and love that flows between Ned and Chuck, even as they are limited to a chaste relationship for the remainder of their days.
To me, there’s something pure, lovely, about their connection. Even though the series has plenty of other qualities, I think that Ned and Chuck’s bond is its soul.
Ned: “You’re supposed to be dead. You’re pushing your luck.”
Charlotte ‘Chuck’ Charles: “Yeah, well, luck pushed me first.”
Post scriptum: I wonder if Ned and Chuck’s story was meant to be a metaphor for the lives of couples who live with HIV, or other such diseases. Even if it was not intentional, one could easily find parallels between them. Either way, it’s a totally intriguing scenario, and it allows the show to explore dynamics and emotions rarely seen on TV.
Date of viewing: March 24-27, 2013