Sunday, October 07, 2007

Fall 2007 TV: Pushing Daisies

Pushing Daisies (ABC)

Bryan Fuller created the clever, funny, and unique series Dead Like Me, which was cancelled after two seasons, and Wonderfalls, which was yanked after only a handful of episodes had aired. Barry Sonnenfeld was involved with producing or directing (or both) the clever, funny, and unique series Maximum Bob, The Tick, and Karen Sisco, none of which made it past ten episodes. These two people with powerful creative visions but terrible track records come together to produce Pushing Daisies, which is a clever, funny, and unique series. I liked it a lot... but I'm not getting too attached.

The pilot (or "Pie-lette," according to the episode title) was written by Fuller and directed by Sonnenfeld. It introduces us to Ned (Lee Pace of Wonderfalls), who has the inexplicable power to bring dead people back to life with a touch, then send them back to death with a second touch. Along with his partner, a P.I. named Emerson Cod (Chi McBride), Ned makes a living by reviving murder victims, getting them to tell him who killed them, and then collecting the reward money. When Ned discovers that his childhood crush, a girl named Chuck (played by Anna Friel as an adult), was recently murdered, he revives her, but withholds the second touch, keeping her alive. They discover a strong love for one another, but if Ned ever touches her again, she'll die.

You can see why the average viewer might not be so quick to embrace this show. It's a little odd by TV standards. But it's also charming and sweet and painfully romantic, packed with humor and originality. I got into the weird premise immediately, and I greatly enjoyed the entire cast, which also includes Kristin Chenoweth as Ned's infatuated neighbor/co-worker, and Swoosie Kurtz and Ellen Greene (whom I will always love as Audrey from Little Shop of Horrors) as Chuck's oddball aunts. Pace is able to ground the show just enough to keep the quirkiness on a relatable level; Friel, whom I don't think I know from anywhere else, is adorable as the romantic interest who can never be touched by the one she loves; and Chi McBride always has the potential to be awesome, though he so frequently appears in garbage (like The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer, Waiting..., and the worst new show of the Fall 2005 season, Killer Instinct).

My affection for the characters and the clever writing is tempered by a few quibbles. The look of the show is blatantly artificial, with unnaturally bright colors and sets that look like models, which can work in films like many of Tim Burton's, or Sonnenfeld's own Addams Family flicks. But on the small screen, where such experimentation is rare, that kind of look doesn't play as well. Rather than seeming cleverly inventive, it can seem cheap and phony instead.

And the writing raises several questions. When Ned is a child, he resurrects his dead dog. Some time later, his mother dies, and he resurrects her as well; when she touches him a second time, he's shocked to find it results in her death. So... he never touched his dog again after raising it from the dead? Even before knowing the second touch meant death? What kind of a child wouldn't immediately hug that dog? And 19 years later, Ned still has that dog. So, did Ned's touch make the dog immortal? Or is it merely the oldest dog in the world? Also, when Ned allows someone to live without administering the second touch, that means someone else has to die. So when Ned touches wilted strawberries in his pie shop, to make them new and fresh, does that mean, say, a bunch of boysenberries are dying in their place? And so on. I realize that a show centered on magic can't be expected to adhere strictly to reality, but it would be nice if it didn't raise more conundrums than necessary.

I can see this show collapsing under its own quirkiness. I could also see it being cancelled within a couple of months. But I really dug the pilot, and I can't wait to see the next episode. Pushing Daisies is up there with the best of the new Fall shows.

Rating: 8 out of 10

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