Friday, March 28, 2008

Pushing Daisies: how life (and death) can be sweet

If I could only use one adjective to describe the TV series Pushing Daisies, it would have to be "charming". Everything about this show is coated with charm, from the whimsical, deliberately fake-looking sets, to the vibrantly colorful costumes, to the narrator whose mellifluous voice-overs give each episode a storybook-like quality. The main gimmick of the show is quite fairy tale-ish in itself: mild-mannered pie-maker Ned can bring dead people back to life with a single touch. If he touches the resurrected person again, that person dies for good, but if he doesn't do it within a minute, someone else in the vicinity forfeits his or her life. Ned uses his magical gift to help private investigator Emerson Cod solve murder mysteries, and in the course of one such case, he revives his slain childhood sweetheart Chuck, then chooses not to "kill" her again. Now the two carry on a strange but sweet love affair, never touching (lest Chuck die), but finding cute and creative-- and yes, charming-- ways to show their affection for each other.

Pushing Daisies owes
a significant amount of its charm to its engaging cast of characters. Lee Pace is the sensitive, gangling Ned, owner of the establishment cheekily named "the Pie Hole", and it's refreshing to see a protagonist who's not all macho swagger or dark cynicism. Ned has his own hang-ups to be sure (as a child he accidentally killed Chuck's father when he brought his mom back to life), and he broods from time to time, but he's not whiny or nasty about it. Pace manages to give Ned an accessible vulnerability that makes him an unlikely but thoroughly likeable hero. Meanwhile, Anna Friel is the sunny and kind-hearted Chuck, the girl Ned loves. Friel is the kind of pretty brunette who's not necessarily a head-turner, but because of her expressive eyes and warm smile, it's easy to see why Ned decided to keep Chuck alive. Emerson Cod is played with lovable sardonic gruffness by Boston Public's Chi McBride, and he gets the best lines that make me laugh out loud. Emerson's a shrewd, hard-nosed businessman who's exploiting Ned's special gift to profit from the mysteries he solves, but he's also a big teddy bear who likes to knit in his spare time, and his exasperation with Ned and Chuck's romance veils the growing fondness he feels for them (although he persists in calling Chuck "Dead Girl").

And then there's waitress Olive Snook, played by the fabulous Kristin Chenoweth (whose first claim to fame was assuming the role of Glinda as part of the original Broadway cast of Wicked). This petite powerhouse brings Olive to life in huge proportions. She's a spunky, sexy firecracker, and though she's madly in love with Ned who has eyes only for Chuck, her unrequited feelings don't turn into spite. Rounding up the cast are Ellen Greene (for those old enough to remember, Audrey from The Little Shop of Horrors) and veteran actress Swoosie Kurtz as Chuck's eccentric hermit aunts, who have no clue their niece is alive and well. In one episode, Chenoweth and Greene perform a duet (I won't elaborate on the circumstances to avoid any spoilers), and to me, that song number underscored the unique charm of this show: it was no over-the-top, bizarre David E. Kelley production, just a delightful ditty that showcased the 2 actresses' vocal prowess and highlighted the 2 characters' personalities.

Pushing Daisies reminds me of the Tim Burton movie Big Fish. It's surreal, fanciful and effervescent, and within the wonder is a warmth that is both comforting and captivating. The whole premise is very Tim Burton, really, mixing the morbid with light-hearted humor and tender romance. The writing is snappy but not sassy, the plot lines quirky but not kooky, the themes poignant without being pretentious, and the mood sincere yet not schmaltzy. Make no mistake, despite the proliferation of corpses, this is a feel-good show. Fans of angstier fare like House or Brother & Sisters, or grittier series like Prison Break or Heroes, will either find Pushing Daisies a pleasant change, or a cloying slice of honey-crusted fruit pie. I, for one, find it simply charming.


At Saturday, March 29, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

the narrator of the show (Jim Dale) is also the narrator of the Harry Potter audiobooks :) one of the many reasons why i love the voiceovers!

if you like Pushing Daisies, you should definitely check out Bryan Fuller's other shows, Wonderfalls and Dead Like Me. they're not as whimsical as PD, but they're equally quirky :) i'm still pissed that they were both prematurely canceled.

At Saturday, March 29, 2008, Blogger Ailee Through the Looking Glass said...

Thanks for the recommendations! Do I know you? :)


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