Tuesday, 27 July 2010
Pushing Daisies was on the air for one year, eight months, ten days, two hours, and fifty-nine minutes before the series came to a premature end, a casualty of low ratings and an unfortunate proclivity for cancelling outstanding shows in their infancy. Even so, this zany fantasy-comedy—part modern day fairy tale, part detective series—is worth watching for just the twenty-two episodes that were produced.
The facts are these: Ned is a pie-maker with a gift—he can bring dead things back to life. But there are a few caveats. Touching a dead person once brings them to life, but a second touch makes them dead again...forever. And if Ned leaves anything alive for more than a minute, something else must die in its place. When a private investigator discovers his magic touch, he concocts the perfect use for it: Ned touches murder victims, asks them who killed them, re-deads them, and together they collect the reward for solving the murder.
With a concept like this, you can imagine the stories are all pretty outrageous—this isn’t a show to take too seriously. Much like its predecessor, Wonderfalls, every episode has it’s quirky, off the wall premise, but what makes it work is that the characters, the relationships, their joys and sorrows, are all very real and heartfelt.
And it’s the characters that make the show. Ned, as proprietor of “The Pie Hole”, is charming and humble. Emerson Cod is the ornery PI, a perfect foil for Ned. Charlotte “Chuck” Charles is Ned’s alive-again girlfriend, who he can never touch. Chuck’s aunts are more than a little eccentric, but have their own charm to them. And the lovelorn Olive Snook, played by the luminous Kristin Chenoweth, brightens every scene she’s in. I’ve come to despise her character on Glee (though, damn can she sing!), but I adore her in Pushing Daisies (and she sings here too!)
A comedy like this lives and dies by its dialog, and in Pushing Daisies it comes fast and clever, easily on a par with shows like Gilmore Girls or Buffy the Vampire Slayer. You’ll have to watch an episode more than once to catch every subtle reference and play on words. All the actors are up to the task, including the one gem that never appears on screen: Jim Dale as the narrator, wry and intrusive, yet so perfect as the all-knowing voice of the fairy tale that is being told.
The final piece of the Pushing Daisies oeuvre is its visual design. It’s like nothing you’ve seen on TV before; every set is full of bright colors and eye-catching shapes, like a storybook come to life. Sometimes the frequent use of CGI can be jarring, but overall the look fits the tone of the show perfectly.
I can only lament that, like so many of my favorite shows, Pushing Daisies was cut off so abruptly. The final episode of the series does nicely wrap up one major storyline, and there is an awkward effort to wrap up a few others. Other threads left hanging. Even so, don’t let that deter you; step on down to The Pie Hole, order up a slice—a la mode, if you prefer—and prepare to be entranced.