Pushing Daisies: Season 2

Pushing Daisies 2Synopsis: Dig into a delicious second helping of Pushing Daisies, the multiple Emmy Award-winning series. In this season, Papen County’s Pie Maker with a witching finger for waking the dead, and his alive-again love Chuck, have more on the menu than a Terrifying Bee-Man and a Deep Friend Chicken Magnate. The secrets are served deep-dish when family skeletons – both literal and figurative – loom over the Pie Hole and its patrons. As jockey cum waitress Olive Snook joins a nunnery to mend her broken heart, the Pie Maker who broke it hides Chuck from her Aunt Vivian and mother Lily, who believes she’s dead. Naturally, this results in resurrecting Chuck’s father, who actually was dead. Private Investigator Emerson Cod has daddy issues of his own when his baby-stealing baby-mama finds herself at the center of a damned dam murder case. This wondrous, witty and moving confection is as irresistible as the Pie Maker’s three-plum pie.

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Pushing Daisies: Season 2 7.5

eyelights: Ned. Emerson. Olive. Lily.
eyesores: Chuck. Vivian. the slightly new direction. the cgi.

Chuck: “What is so terrible about starting fresh?”

Ned: “Because starting fresh means something else is ending stale. Chuck, who I destroyed Play-Doh cities with; Chuck, my best friend, my first kiss; I don’t want that to change.”

Chuck: “Yeah, and I’m also Chuck, who went on a pleasure cruise and got a plastic bag put over her head.”

Ned: “That’s not as much fun to remember.”

What I feared most has become reality: like ‘Twin Peaks’, but to a lesser degree, ‘Pushing Daisies’ started off blissfully original and delicious then lost a bit of its freshness by the second season, becoming mildly directionless, flailing about.

Note the unmistakable correlation between the two: pie. Both shows revolve around pie-making and eating.  Logic being my main instrument, I would suspect that all shows that have pie at their hearts (or hearts of pie) suffer the same fate.

Pie is always better fresh.

Alas, as tasty as ‘Pushing Daisies’  was, its baked goodness has cooled off: Season Two is to Season One as a McDonald’s baked pie is to the strikingly gorgeous pies of the Pie Hole: processed, run-of-the-mill and manufactured for mass consumption; it fills you up, but it’s not nearly as satisfying.

Ned: “The truth is that there are a lot of people like you, us, with strange hobbies or talents or gifts and we try to hide it because we’re afraid that it makes us seem weird or it will turn people off, but that’s a mistake. What makes me unique has brought every person I love into my life.”

From the start something felt wrong: Ned and Chuck’s relationship was shifting, and Olive was moving away from the Pie Hole. Things were simply not the same.

I understand that the writers likely wanted to move the couple along, shake things up, perhaps make them seem more realistic in some ways, giving them real-world needs and problems, but this show is a fantasy, and in that respect doesn’t need to be mired in reality. Its audience wants to escape reality.

In Olive’s case, the impression I got was twofold: 1) the writers didn’t know what to do with her, 2) they wanted to give her more screentime so they had to make her independent from the others; they effectively tried to remove her from her background position and make a whole entity out of her.

The facts of the case are these: 1) The core of the show is Ned and Chuck (it wouldn’t exist if not for Ned making Chuck undead), 2) the secondary characters are delightful because  they are great supporting players, which means that they riff off of the main characters; as stand-alones, they lose their purpose.

Narrator: “At that moment, in the town of Coeur d’Coeurs, events occurred that are not, were not, and should never be considered an ending. For endings, as it is known, are where we begin.”

I believe that I’m right in thinking that Olive was being developed as a separate character: by the show’s end, there was a hint that she would move away from the Pie Hole and start her own business. Now, if this isn’t a move towards making her a spin-off character and show, I don’t know what is.

Except that it never happened. Pushing Daisies was cancelled after the second season and, thus, the seeds that were sown never actually got a chance to take root and grow. What could have been an interesting idea unfortunately got lost in the shuffle and only served to weaken its base.

I’m not saying that Olive didn’t deserve her own show: Kristin Chenoweth is such a talented performer that she certainly deserves the spotlight in some capacity. I just don’t think that Olive is a character that could stand alone. I might be wrong, of course. And I am merely speculating, of course.

Be that as it may, this season of ‘Pushing Daisies’ starts off uneven. It’s only by episodes 5 and 6 that it seemed to get its mojo back, that I was actually charmed and under its spell again. Um… only to fall out again as it strayed some more from episode 7 onward. It was disheartening, given the famous start the series got.

Chuck: “My first time around I was terrified of change and I’m not going to make that mistake again; I can’t.”

There were two key  problems: 1) this season tried too hard for mass appeal and, thus, wasted time re-establishing the characters or bringing viewers up to speed, 2) the show tried too hard to keep people coming back and, thus, wasted much time serving up soap opera-like twists and ill-conceived cliffhangers .

On the first point, the season’s opening alone spent an inordinate amount of time recapping the last season for late-comers. Seriously, try to make sense of a show like Pushing Daisies for a few seconds; it’s too much in too little time! I always have a devil of a time summarizing it for friends I’m trying to convince to watch the show – and I’m not trying to win over a new audience! The season unfortunately tries, and it feels as cheap as the unwieldy exposition that poorly-written motion pictures hinge on. In my mind, this is an affront to the show’s core audience, who already know the drill – and it likely wouldn’t have won any new people over, anyway.

On the second point, episodes 5-8 started to become more cliffhanger-y. I’m not sure what (series creator) Brian Fuller was trying to do, but I much preferred the self-contained episodes. Some of these cliffhangers were extremely contrived, too, just like the serials of yore – such as when Chuck and Ned open up her dad’s coffin. The problem is that these moments made it seem as though some sort of risk was right around the corner, but by the next episode it had completely dissipated. This may not have been so obvious with a week’s downtime between episodes, but when watched back-to-back, it’s painfully obvious – and extremely disappointing.

Similarly, all of the plot developments amount to nothing because they’re insular, not running through the subsequent episodes. For instance, how is it that Ned discovers that the has two twin brothers but that they don’t become somewhat regular characters, even as cameos? After those two episode they simply vanish entirely and are never referenced again. On the same note, Chuck’s dad shows up for a couple of episodes and disappears seemingly forever, and Ned’s dad makes a minor appearance but it goes nowhere. To me, it felt as though the season didn’t have a game plan, a sense of direction. At the very least, these twists were rip-offs.

Narrator: “The pie-maker helped his friends in need. Not by pretending he was something he was not but by embracing the very thing he always was. It gave him a feeling of joy he would later liken to leaping tall buildings in a single bound.”

There are some interesting character developments along the way, however, and that were worth exploring. For instance, there is Chuck’s betrayal of Ned’s trust, which could have had repercussions or provided minor tremors throughout the season. Unfortunately, this was usually easily dispatched and forgotten. And sometimes, it appeared as though they were trying way too hard to throw something shocking at the audience, again much like in a soap opera. They pretty much dug up so much dirt on each character in such a short amount of time that I can’t even fathom what they would have done in Season 3, had there been one. Eegad.

The cast was still very good, but I felt that the magic was somehow gone: Lee Pace still gave Ned his Cusack-like sensibility, but the fire seemed to be lacking, Anna Friel did what she could with an increasingly selfish and grating character, Chi McBride  continued to perform admirably even as his character didn’t bring anything new to the table, Kristen Chenoweth couldn’t have done more with Olive (but it felt like she gave a bit too much this time), Ellen Greene carried on as before (although the accent became less prominent as the season wore on) and Swoosie Kurtz transitioned her character from moribund to hopeful effortlessly.

At first glance, the show would appear to be very similar to how it was in the first season: it retained its fantastical, mildly surreal style, it carried on at a brisk pace, it served up murder mysteries on a regular basis, it affected a playful demeanor, and was held up by a beautiful score.  But even the dialogues, so breathtakingly rich in the first set of episodes, now seemed devoid of the vibrancy and cleverness that made it so infectious. I was astounded by how little I was moved by the exchanges, given just how genuinely impressed I was the first time around – it rarely hit my funny bone, nor did it go straight for the softy in me.

Still, the second season of ‘Pushing Daisies’ is largely better than your average telly programme. It’s sufficiently entertaining to warrant an investment time, but it’s a darned shame that it doesn’t hold up as well as the first set did.  Unfortunately, this season gave us a show that would have intrigued me even if I had missed the original set, but it wouldn’t have won me over like those ones did. I don’t regret seeing Season Two, that’s for sure, but I will not doubt stick to Season One from here on in. It’s magic, and I’d rather remain spellbound.

Emerson: “Here I was just about to tell you all to shut the hell up, and the you stopped talking so I didn’t have to.”

Date of viewing: May 14-June 2, 2013

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