'Pushing Daisies' is Odd, But Ultimately Endearing
In the current TV era, truly original shows don't appear all that often on the broadcast networks. If and when they do, they usually aren't around for very long. "Pushing Daisies," a quirky amalgamation of a fairytale and film noir, is the latest offbeat offering to bow on the Big Four. Comparatively speaking, it has done fairly well thus far.
"Daisies" comes from the creative mind of Bryan Fuller, whose unique body of work includes the odd "Wonderfalls" and darkly comedic "Dead Like Me." It is the story of a pie maker named Ned (Lee Pace), who as a young boy discovered that his touch could bring the dead back to life. In addition to owning a pie eatery known as "The Pie Hole," Ned moonlights as an assistant to private detective Emerson Cod (an always fantastic Chi McBride), using his special "gift" to momentarily awaken corpses and solve their murders.
The story is set in a whimsical world that is full of color and vividly brought to life with creative set design and superb direction. The first two episodes of the series were helmed by veteran film director Barry Sonnenfeld, who did a wonderful job framing the unique world that Fuller created. Subsequent installments have maintained the feel of the pilot more than adequately and put to rest any fears that the series would not be able to match the wonder of the beautiful first episode.
What works so well in "Pushing Daisies" is the mixture of genres. It can often be dark and heartbreaking, yet is also consistently hilarious. The almost constant third-party narration, subject matter and setting of the series give it the feel of a quirky adult fairytale in the mold of a Tim Burton film. The rapid-fire dialogue and P.I. investigative work are reminiscent of film noir offerings from the 40s. Finally, the crime of the week aspect of the series is representative of a procedural (since the victims of the weekly crimes are deceased, it is most similar to "CSI" in that sense).
Despite the above description of the series as a mixture of several pre-established genres, the final product manages to feel wholly original. While the crime of the week format might seem a little trite these days, it is not the overall focus of the series as is the case with the countless procedurals currently airing. Each episode does focus on a different case, but similar to the CW's "Reaper," the relationships between the main characters ultimately are what propel the narrative forward.
The central relationship in "Pushing Daisies," between Ned and his childhood sweetheart Chuck, a.k.a. Charlotte Charles (Anna Friel), is a tragic one. In the pilot, Ned first discovers that Chuck had been murdered. He revives her in order to get more information about her death but quickly decides to keep her alive, ignoring the repercussions that act brings. The two quickly resume their childhood affections for one another and become quite attached.
Unfortunately, Ned cannot touch Chuck without immediately sending her back to her grave - permanently. In these early episodes, Ned and Chuck attempt to convince themselves that they will be able to share a life together despite that major complication. Their heartbreaking romance shares more than a few similarities with the ill-fated relationship of Buffy and Angel.
The fictional world is populated by an eclectic mix of characters, and just about all of the actors do an excellent job in bringing those people to life. Highlights are McBride, whose deadpan delivery of Emerson Cod's often sarcastic dialogue is routinely excellent and Kristin Chenoweth, who is delightful as perky and lovelorn waitress Olive Snook. Also of note is the character of Digby, Ned's dog. Digby is portrayed predominantly by Orbit, the most expressive and talented canine actor working today (perhaps ever.)
From a practical standpoint, it seems somewhat unlikely that no one has been able to identify Chuck as of yet. Although she doesn't exactly parade around in the public spotlight, she also isn't very careful about concealing her identity. She has conversed with a wide variety of individuals while helping with the cases, yet no one has noticed her striking similarity to "dead" Charlotte Charles.
Considering the fact that her murder was featured on the news, one would think that at least some residents of Couer d'Couers would recognize her. The only one who is somewhat suspicious is resident smellologist and sewer rat Oscar Vibenius, although he doesn't recognize her but instead "smells death" when she is around. It is a nitpicky point for sure, and the series would not be nearly as entertaining if she were permanently housebound. Still, it can be bothersome at times.
While "Pushing Daisies" has been consistently engaging through the first 11 episodes, there is always room for improvement. One suggestion would be to spend more time exploring some of the odder elements of Couer d'Couers. It would be nice to see more locales like the windmill farm, where the color and splendor of the town are fully utilized. The show is most intriguing when the unique nature of its world is at the forefront, and it would be great to see more of that in the future.
Story by Derek Krebs
Starpulse contributing writer
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