He Said, She Said: Pushing Daisies
Here we have two reviews of one of the most critically acclaimed new shows this season, ABC’s “Pushing Daisies”. Did they both love it? Hate it? Find out after the jump.
If a single world could describe the “Pie-lette” of ABC’s new hour-long drama Pushing Daisies, it might simply be magical, because this modern day fairy tale is by far the most enchanting new show of the fall season, if not the best in years.
The premise is as follows, as so eloquently set up by narrator Jim Dale (an omnipotent, never-seen force in the show) in his charming British accent: Ned is a young boy living in the small town of Couer d’Coers living a normal life, until the day his dog is hit by a truck, dies, and then, with a single touch from Ned, is brought back to life. Later, his mother falls over dead while baking a pie, but when Ned touches her she also comes back alive. However, the rules of Ned’s mysterious power quickly become apparent to him. One: His touch brings the dead back to life, but a second touch returns them to the grave (which he learns the hard way when receiving a goodnight kiss-of-death from his mother). And once he has touched someone for a second time, he cannot bring them back again. Two: Bringing the dead back to life for more than one minute causes someone else in random proximity to die in their place. Because Ned keeps his mother alive, the next door neighbor, who happens to be the father of Ned’s childhood crush, Chuck, dies of a heart attack.
Flash forward about twenty years where Ned (Lee Pace) owns a quaint bakery called The Pie Hole, but is also working with private investigator Emerson Cod (Chi McBride) to solve murders and collect rewards. Their methods are not by-the-book though, with Emerson finding the cases and then Ned reviving dead people for less than a minute, asking them who killed them, and then putting them to rest again. However, a kink is put into their plan when the dead person they show up to revive turns out to be Ned’s childhood sweetheart, Charlotte “Chuck” Charles (Anna Friel). He is supposed to bring her back only long enough to ask her a few questions, but Ned cannot bring himself to kill her again. So he lets her live and a nearby funeral director dies in her place. Now Ned can never touch Chuck again and they must hide her, since the entire town believes she has been murdered. The trio spends the rest of the episode trying to discover who killed Chuck and introducing more of the eccentric cast, like Chuck’s hermit-like aunts who once awed the town with their synchronized swimming act (under the name “The Darling Mermaid Darlings”) and Olive Snook, an employee at the pie shop who has an unhealthy obsession with Ned. The adorable Kristin Chenoweth, who brings her quirky presence well known on Broadway to network television for the first time, plays Olive — mini-musical numbers included.
Less than five minutes into the show it is clear this is going to be an experience like no other on TV — with bright, fifties-inspired sets and costumes and an overall atmosphere that feels very reminiscent of Tim Burton. There is also a storybook quality narration that does not grate like in many instances (such as in Desperate Housewives), and a cast of characters and storylines that seem pulled from a fairy-tale, then twisted and jumbled to make them entirely fresh and unique. With all of these unique elements coming together so well, this show’s middle name might as well be “Quirky.”
Creator Bryan Fuller, the mind behind critically praised yet prematurely cancelled shows Dead Like Me and Wonderfalls, applies his off-kilter storytelling and comic wit once again to Daisies. But while all his series to-date have been brilliant in their own way, Pushing Daisies is the least dark of the bunch and probably the most accessible. Hopefully that means it will withstand the increasingly tough standards of network television and not receive the touch of death that is cancellation.
It’s almost impossible to find any flaws in the first episode, and beginning from such a high point there is the lingering question of whether or not the show can maintain the same level of quality. The answer is probably yes, considering the creative team involved, the cast of mostly unknowns that instantly gel well together, and the procedural nature of the show, which gives essentially limitless storylines to draw from.
From spending a single hour with Pushing Daisies it is already clear that ABC has something special on their hands, and just like Ned revives the dead, this show has the power to make even the most jaded viewer believe in magic once again.
For any viewers perusing the channels for an alternative to a fall lineup saturated with serious dramas, there is finally another option. Pushing Daisies, ABC’s newest addition to its Wednesday evening lineup, is a charming modern-day fairy tale that deals with the topics of love and death and the consequences of toying with either. But creator Bryan Fuller’s (Heroes, Dead Like Me) newest high-quality creation refreshes viewers rather than weighing them down.
The show centers on the life of Ned, a lonely piemaker, and his special ability to revive the dead with a single touch. But his gift is cursed with two limitations: If he touches something a second time, it dies permanently, and if he keeps a being alive for more than a minute, something else in close proximity will die to achieve some strange version of cosmic balance. Unfortunately, these abilities are reiterated multiple times throughout each episode, which quickly becomes redundant and unnecessary.
On the side, Ned (Lee Pace) works with greedy private investigator Emerson Cod (Chi McBride) to solve murder cases. Ned touches the murdered corpses, asks who committed their murders, re-murders them before a minute is up and the two split the reward money. Their arrangement works out well until Ned discovers the latest corpse to be of his childhood sweetheart Charlotte “Chuck” Charles (Anna Friel). Once he touches her, he cannot bear to kill her again, so he allows the 60 seconds to pass without a second touch. They spend the remainder of the episodes avoiding each other’s touch while also proverbially falling head over heels for one another. The third episode, titled “The Fun in Funeral,” finds the trio in trouble again when they encounter the corpse of Lawrence Shatz, the looting funeral director randomly killed when Chuck is kept alive. His brother Louis suspects he was murdered by one of hundreds of irate family members who wrote outraged letters and death threats to the funeral home when it was discovered the brothers were looting the dead under their care. Louis turns up dead and stuffed in Ned’s freezer, and the trio later ascertain Ned was being framed by one of the aforementioned family members.
The most obvious question the relationship between Ned and Chuck raises is how it will ultimately be resolved. The writers/creator have constructed an impenetrable wall between the two that threatens to produce a disappointing end to the series (either a sad ending or the discovery of some tacky loophole, and neither would do it justice). Hopefully the writers will be able to preserve the quality with each new episode.
Though the actors who play Chuck and Ned are terrific, the standout is the minor character Olive Snook, played by Kristin Chenoweth. She is adorable as the lovesick piemaker’s assistant, who spends most of her time attempting to convince Ned to notice her (mostly by strategically placing his hands on her breasts). In fairy tales, most characters are one-dimensional, being all good or all evil. Olive is one reason this show can be described as a “modernized” fairy tale. She’s complex, doing everything within her power to get Ned for herself while also maintaining her sweet naiveté.
In addition to the complex storyline, the third episode also incorporates numerous effective theatrical elements from various popular movies and television shows. The voice-over narration is similar to Desperate Housewives, the plot has the same sort of fantastical twists and turns as in Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events and the witty banter between Ned and Chuck is not unlike the wit in early episodes of Gilmore Girls. The familiarity of these elements helps viewers overcome the initial shock of the show’s tendency toward hyperbole and whimsy.
A drawback exemplified by the show’s latest episode is its tendency to exaggerate every character and unbelievable situations. The cartoonish nature sometimes borders on silly, such as when the unseen narrator (Jim Dale, who also narrates the Harry Potter series on tape) introduces the character Alfredo Aldarisio by explaining his irrational fear that the earth’s atmosphere will dissolve and he will be sucked into the vacuum of space. Though such colorful elements generally work to the show’s advantage, such an over-the-top detail was unnecessary in the context in which it was presented.Though the plot of the series is complicated and the show’s quality may be difficult to maintain, the unique premise is appealing to a wider audience than one might expect. It’s a grown-up fairy tale, a murder mystery and a romantic comedy fused together in every episode. The show’s invigorating whimsicality is enough in itself to potentially create a cult following to keep it alive through a second season. Though there’s plenty of chuckles along the way, just don’t expect to keel over from hysterical laughter.