- Buy the DVD
All photos © ABC
Reviewed by Will Harris
f you don’t think that matters of life and death – or even death and life and then death again, as is the case here – have a great deal of comedic potential, then you’re probably not the target audience for “Pushing Daisies,” one of the most original series to premiere on network television during the 2007 – 2008 season. Then again, if you’ve seen the references to the fact that the show sprang forth from the mind of Bryan Fuller, you probably already knew that.
When the name “Bryan Fuller” is dropped as a show’s producer, you can almost always guarantee a premise that’s out of the ordinary. This is, after all, the man who created “Dead Like Me,” about an 18-year-old girl who died and became a grim reaper, and “Wonderfalls,” about a young college graduate who helps people in need as a result of conversations with otherwise-inanimate animal figurines; given these credits, the knowledge that he attempted to make a weekly series out of a Mike Mignola comic book entitled “The Amazing Screw-On Head” is totally unsurprising. The premise of “Pushing Daisies” is, it can safely be said, right in line with Fuller’s established eccentricities.
The facts are these:
As a young boy, Ned (Lee Pace) learned that he could bring dead people and things back to life – with a few caveats. First, if the dead person or thing stays alive for more than a minute, then something or someone else must die in their place, in order to keep the balance of the universe in check. Secondly, if Ned touches the revived person or thing a second time, then they die again – but, this time, it’s for good. He learns these caveats in a quick and painful manner, bringing his mother back after she dies of an aneurysm and thereby killing the father of the little girl next door, only for his mother to kiss him goodnight and die permanently.
Did I mention that dark humor is a hallmark of Fuller’s work? It’s never been more obvious than it is in “Pushing Daisies.” When Ned grows up, he utilizes his ability to make the tastiest pies in town at the cheapest cost, since he can basically buy rotten fruit and bring it back to the height of freshness with a touch. He also has a side gig as the assistant of a private detective named Emerson Cod (Chi McBride), who gets Ned to bring murder victims back to life, so that he can find out who offed them in the first place. As it happens, one of these victims ends up being the aforementioned girl next door: Charlotte "Chuck" Charles (Anna Friel), who was also Ned’s childhood crush. He can’t bring himself to touch her a second time, so she lives at the expense of a corrupt funeral director, but those are the breaks. Unfortunately, it means that, although Ned and Chuck quickly realize their feelings for each other, they can never touch, lest she die forever. Talk about your doomed romances!
Also in the picture are Chuck’s two agoraphobic aunts, Vivian (Ellen Greene) and Lily (Swoosie Kurtz), who believe their niece to be dead, and Olive Snook (Kristin Chenoweth), the waitress who works at Ned’s pie shop while constantly mooning over her employer.
Although the premise is Fuller’s, there’s little question that the look of “Pushing Daisies” is one which owes a great deal to Barry Sonnenfeld, who has taken his unique cinematic style and brought it to television in a big, big way. The color palate of the show is brighter and more vibrant than anything else on the airwaves, and the design of the sets and backgrounds belong solely to the universe of the show. Or in other words, you know if you’re looking at an episode of “Pushing Daisies” because there’s nothing else that looks quite like it.
Or feels or sounds quite like it, for that matter. It’s a comedy, it’s a drama, it’s got mystery, romance, and a sizable amount of fantasy. And with Kristin Chenoweth and Ellen Greene in the cast, you can count on the occasional song as well. Although the patter between Ned and Chuck is sweet, the real hero of the series is Chi McBride, who gets a laugh out of every look he gives and every line he delivers; additionally, for as much as the show’s romantic elements are played up, it’s the cases which come to Emerson Cod that drive the proceedings as much as anything else.
If the preceding text hasn’t managed to sell you on “Pushing Daisies,” you still shouldn’t dismiss it without at least seeing an episode of the show, since it’s a series which works as much because of its visual appeal as anything else. And once you’ve fallen for how original it looks, you might just find yourself drawn into how original everything else about “Pushing Daisies” is. Yes, it’s often a little too precious for its own good, and some may find that a little bit of the series goes a long way, but you can’t say it isn’t creative.
Special Features: The back of the DVD refers to a lone special feature which is entitled “Pie Time- Time for Pie” and described as a “delicious interactive featurette with flavorful, fresh-baked pie slices as your entire and cast/creative team members dishing forkfuls of series secrets.” Yeah, it’s interesting stuff, but as is so often the case, “interactive” loosely translates as, “There is no ‘play all’ feature, so you’ve got to move between each of the brief bits by yourself.” There are examinations of what director Barry Sonnenfeld brought to the series and how he left his touch even on episodes which he didn’t direct, how the set for the Pie Hole came to fruition, brief looks at tiny touches within the series ranging from pigeons to windmills, and Bryan Fuller and Lee Pace examine various moments from various episodes – sets, scripts, guest stars, etcetera – and reminisce fondly about the experiences therein. Basically, it’s a big collection of lots of little moments, with each moment represented by a different piece of pie, but after hitting “enter” for the thirtieth time, the novelty has long since worn off.