Back in May, when I heard about the intriguing concept of “Wonderfalls” and “Dead Like Me” creator Bryan Fuller’s new show, I was titillated enough that I wasn’t even going to let the likes of director Barry Sonnefeld spoil it for me. However, when I found out it was starring Lee Pace, who had a supporting role in “Wonderfalls” and whom I am very, how shall we say, fond of, I was completely sold. Without a doubt, “Pushing Daisies” was for me personally the most anticipated new series of the fall season. Now, as I’ve come to learn in life, getting my hopes up for just about anything usually warrants some level of disappointment. Be that as it may, I am happy to report that “Pushing Daisies” turned out to be one of life’s little anomalies, because am I ever smitten with this show. Some of you around here may have picked up that beneath my snarky demeanor lies a hapless sucker for a good fairy tale. And that’s precisely what “Pushing Daisies” boils down to — one helluva nice fairy tale. As a series its definitely rather conceptual, and almost seems better suited for the big screen. Immediately I noticed a similarity between Daisies and Big Fish, one of my favorite films of the genre, both in theme and with its use of dazzling imagery and vibrant colors. But since I’m a TV gal at heart, I’m happy they chose the serialized route, and thrilled to see where they’re going to go with it.
As you likely have already gathered, “Pushing Daisies” is the story of a guy named Ned (Pace) who has the ability to temporarily bring the dead back with his touch. However, once he touches them again they’re dead dead, which logically calls for solving murder mysteries. As the pilot opens, our trusty narrator (Jim Dale) wastes no time delving into the logistics of Ned’s gift. Young Ned learned of his gift at a early age after bringing his golden retriever, Digbee, back to life. (Props to the casting agent who found the kid playing Young Ned, who bears an uncanny resemblance to his adult counterpart.) However, the gift does not come without its drawbacks. In addition to not being able to touch the dead person (or animal, in Digbee’s case) again, if he lets them live for more than 60 seconds, someone else will die and take their place — a fact he learns the hard way after resuscitating his mother (who suddenly died of a brain aneurysm) only to have the father of the neighbor girl and childhood crush, Chuck, drop dead. Ned’s mother ends up dying anyway, after an ill-fated kiss goodnight, and the two kids are torn apart — Ned sent to boarding school and Chuck sent to live with her two eccentric, ex-circus performer aunts Vivian and Lily (Ellen Greene and Swoosie Kurtz). I was slightly annoyed at at the fact that his dog died before his mother, and for whatever reason he just never touched his dog again to discover the second part of the gift — but since it’s fantasy I’m just going to roll with it. Plus I dig the continuity of having Digbee still alive and living with Ned.
In the present day, Ned lives a solitary life working as a pie maker — apparently his gift is also good for bringing fruit “back to life” which makes for some bitchin’ pies — until a chance run-in with private investigator Emerson Cod, played by the always wonderful Chi McBride. When Cod accidentally learns of Ned’s gift, dollar signs light up in his eyes and he recruits a reluctant Ned as his business partner, solving murders and collecting rewards. This is all well and good until one case leads them to the recently departed Chuck (Anna Friel), who was mysteriously murdered on a cruise and dumped into the ocean. Needless to say, after bringing Chuck back to life — who as it turns out didn’t get a look at her killer — Ned can’t bring himself to re-kill her. Although he moves in for the (death) kiss, he falters and the corrupt funeral director bites it instead. Knowing what I know now, I think I would have gone through with it if I were her. I’m just saying, there are worse ways to die than kissing Lee Pace.
[Episode spoilers ahead]
With the now very much alive Chuck, the three decide to solve her murder regardless, with plans to split the reward money, but instead wind up attempting to rescue her aunts from the murderer, who is now on a killing spree searching for a pair of antique monkeys Chuck mistakenly smuggled. I picked up a nod to Fuller’s “Dead Like Me” in the pilot, with the bittersweet way Chuck has to let go of her former life and guardians, who for all intents and purposes think she’s dead. It seems that Vivian and Lily are regular cast members, however, so I wonder how they plan to deal with those characters over the course of the series. Furthermore, my only minor complaint about the pilot was the way they may have glossed too quickly over the solving of Chuck’s murder, which maybe would have been better suited to a series arc rather than be resolved in the first episode, which already had enough background context and character development to flesh out on top of everything else.
[End Episode Spoilers]
Minor complaint aside, this is a fantastic show, and absolutely lives up to my expectations as the best new show of the fall season. The cast is stellar — Lee Pace seems tailor made for the role, with his intrinsically subtle sense of humor combined with heartbreakingly tortured gazes. Anna Friel is perfect as the eccentrically quirky Chuck, channeling kind of a Zooey Deschanel vibe. If the show makes it to mid-season, Paul Reubens is set to join the cast as a recurring character — a move that would bring me so much unsurpassable joy it just might make my damn head explode. Clearly, my main concern for “Pushing Daisies” is that it may be pushing it with the twee quirkiness for the general public. In his column over at wweek, our own Dan Carlson gives it a 1 in 10 shot of survival, which is probably just this side of realistic. It’s a wonderful show, and if people won’t watch it on merits alone, I guess the best we can hope for is that it makes it to at least mid-season with a nice arc wrap-up and a DVD release. And much like kissing an smolderingly hunky Lee Pace only to immediately meet your demise — really, you could do much worse.
Stacey Nosek is a television columnist for Pajiba, and lives in a quaint little town in rural Pennsylvania. You can also visit her blog, Litelysalted.
"Pushing Daisies" / Stacey Nosek
TV | October 4, 2007 | Comments ()