[21 July 2009]
Like breezy travel brochures that instruct eager tourists on how to pack lightly for the journey ahead, as children we are asked and often commanded to rid ourselves of all non-essential items if we wish to make our way from the lowlands of youth to that exotic territory known as adulthood. Unknowing and impatient as many of us are we blindly accept as truth these helpful suggestions and rush to discard all that we deem silly and childish. It is only later that we realize how little in space and weight has been saved by the discarded items we sacrificed for a lighter, faster path to maturity.
It would seem that one of the heavier items we are so quick to dismiss with is our willingness and ability to make-believe. From myths and legends to fantasy and fairytales we often turn away from such pleasures as we grow older to pursue what we believe are more worthwhile endeavors. It would appear that once fully grown, if you want to make-believe, again, you have to really work at it. Many adults may not be willing to put in the effort, but the rewards of indulging and crafting one’s imagination far outweigh any fear of being unnecessarily burdened.
I bring all this up because a certain amount of determined belief (in the make-believe) is required when viewing the wonderfully inventive, singularly distinctive and thoroughly enjoyable television series, Pushing Daisies. From the outset viewers are made keenly aware that this is a television show that not only requires but also outright demands the suspension of adult incredulity. With its whirling blend of fantasy, comedy, drama, romance and suspense Pushing Daisies exists in a narrative world of its own making. The very concept of a pie-maker whose unique talents extend far beyond the kitchen and reach into the supernatural is, at minimum, a stretch.
Ned (Lee Pace), an agreeably melancholic young man, discovered as a child that his touch could bring the dead back to life. Of course a gift this extraordinary comes attached with a few caveats. If something is revived for longer than one minute then something nearby (of comparable life value) must die to restore the cosmic symmetry. Also, should Ned touch the resurrected a second time that life will be lost forever.
It is this second qualifier that proves to be the greatest burden to Ned, who (in season one of the series) revived his childhood sweetheart, Charlotte Chuck Charles (Anna Friel) and chose to let the one minute time limit expire and allow Chuck to remain alive. Reunited after years apart, the childhood friends quickly reconnect and their relationship develops into a bittersweet romance that can never fully be realized.
Ned runs his own bakery, The Pie Hole, and is helped in this charming little enterprise by Olive Snook (Kristin Chenoweth), an enthusiastically pushy waitress who is in love with Ned. In addition to his duties at The Pie Hole, Ned also works with a local detective, Emerson Cod (Chi McBride), who knows his secret, in solving local mysterious deaths and accidents. Emerson, good natured but opportunistic, has enlisted Ned who revives the murder victim long enough to ask who killed them and then touches them again once they’ve answered or their minute is up.
The theory is that neither will have to do a lot of actual detective work and they can quickly split the reward money. Obviously, their strategy for fast answers and quick cash does not always go according to plan, and they are forced to delve further into the mystery and its attendant weirdness.
The second season of Pushing Daisies explores further the back-stories of its characters and the genesis of many of their relationships. The quirky settings and bizarre situations are still ever present in each episode, but a greater emphasis has been placed on the establishment of long-term story arcs, which is helpful in diminishing some of the more cartoon-like aspects of the show and gives depth to the characters and the series as a whole.
Luckily, Pushing Daisies does not rely solely on its main characters and is confident enough to let its stellar supporting cast shine with their own engaging storylines. From Olive to Chuck’s eccentric aunts, Lillian (Swoosie Kurtz) and Vivian (Ellen Greene), Season Two provides these wonderful actors with great material in which to display their prodigious talents.
What makes Pushing Daisies work so wonderfully is the singular voice and imagination of the show’s creator, Bryan Fuller (Wonderfalls, Dead Like Me). His unrelenting belief in and enthusiasm of this magical, bizarre world is infectious and engrossing. Luckily Fuller’s personal passion is matched by top-rate writing and acting. Each episode sparks with quick, clever dialogue and is brought to life by a superb cast.
In its debut season Pushing Daisies garnered critical success, a devoted following and solid ratings. The ability to thrive on network television is no small accomplishment for a decidedly quirky and non-traditional program. Unfortunately, though, Pushing Daisies has now joined the Brilliant but Cancelled club that is home to so many illustrious and noteworthy television shows.
Hampered in part by the scheduling chaos that resulted from the 2007 (WGA) writer’s strike and diminished network support Pushing Daisies was never able to regain its early momentum and was summarily dismissed less than two months after its second season debut. While its cancellation is not surprising, its sting still hurts, as this one of so few shows whose unique voice courted brilliance.
It’s a shame that audiences will never again have the chance to explore this imaginative show on television, but the recent release of Pushing Daisies: The Complete Second Season on DVD should satisfy fans who wish to hold on to a little piece of this magical world.
While the extras presented in this DVD collection are an improvement from the meager offerings on the Season One box, set they remain fairly standard and unremarkable. There are four supplemental features ( The Master Pie Maker , From Oven to Table , Secret Sweet Ingredients , Add a Little Magic that provide an introductory, and rather cursory, look into the production, music, effects and animation of Pushing Daisies.
Pushing Daisies may (initially) require a bit of work, that is, allowing one’s self to make-believe again, but the rewards from this effort will never feel childish. This is a wonderful show that reminds us why we should never outgrow our imaginations.