I have a confession to make: Pushing Daisies has put me in a foul mood. It’s not because Pushing Daisies is a depressing show -- far from it actually. The first episode of ABC’s newest dramedy (that’s a comedy slash drama but the emphasis in this case is on the comedy) is so buoyant, fresh, and pitch-perfect that I’m afraid creator/writer Bryan Fuller (Dead Like Me) and his amazing cast have set the bar higher than any subsequent episode can ever hope to match. Ergo, I’m a little bummed that I won’t get to see Pushing Daisies again for the first time. Yes, it really is that good.
From the sweeping camera pans to the brilliant settings (daisies galore!) to the playful, energetic performances by the cast, Pushing Daisies sparkles in every nook and cranny – and it depresses me to hell. Watching this show do so many things right is like pitching a no-hitter or winning the Tour de France (sans steroids); once the glow of achievement fades, you’re left with the nagging feeling that it’s all downhill from here.
The stylish camera work and exaggerated, almost cartoonish set designs are energetic and bursting with so much life that Tim Burton might get a little upset when he sees how perfectly director Barry Sonnenfeld captured the creative whimsy of Big Fish and Edward Scissorhands. Some of Sonnenfeld’s past projects, like Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, appear to be in the same visual vein as Pushing Daisies so I can’t get too far down on the director, especially when the result is so deliciously off-beat.
Comparing Pushing Daisies to a Tim Burton film is an appropriate comparison for another reason; this show looks, feels, and sounds like a big budget movie. If I had licked my television screen I wouldn’t have been surprised if it also tasted like a movie (minty, fyi). I suppose I should have expected high quality production values since most of the creative forces behind the show have extensive movie and television backgrounds and even the music composer, James Dooley, has been involved in like fifty different projects in the last few years alone.
Lee Pace is Ned the pie baker, a sensitive young man who reminds me once again of Edward Scissorhands not because of any physical deformity but because they both share a peculiar condition that prevents them from forming close relationships. Eddie Scissorhands had kitchen utensil appendages but Ned has the gift (or curse) of raising the dead. Ned’s gift makes the dead come alive as they once were but with a few complicating limitations (are there any other kind?).
At a young age Ned realized his ability had rules and these rules set up some major story arcs for the series.
Rule number 1: Touching a dead person or animal will bring them back to life (Ned learned this rule by reviving his dead dog).
Rule number 2: If the re-animated person (or animal) stays alive for 60 seconds then somebody nearby will die in their place (Ned learned this rule by reviving his dead mother, and then killing his neighbor’s father).
Rule number 3: Once re-animated, a person or other life form will remain alive until Ned touches him, her, or it again – and this time it’s dead for good (unfortunately Ned learned this rule by giving his re-animated mother a kiss goodnight).
With that kind painful education it’s no wonder Ned grew up to be a little distant.
Ned’s character very easily could have come across as a complete wimp or even a lovesick puppy (I’ll explain) but Lee Pace manages to avoid both possibilities with a reserved masculine strength and wry humor that is self-deprecating without being pathetic. It also helps that he has some snappy lines to work with. When somebody tells him he can’t just bring people to back life and then refuse to help them he replies, “Yes I can. That’s how I roll.” And since he can’t touch his dog again without killing him (rule number 3 in effect), Ned pets his poocher with a synthetic hand made entirely from wood. Ned is just far enough offbeat that he’s different and quirky but not a total geek.
Ned is also a pie maker so naturally he runs a diner (aptly named the Pie Hole). However business is bad so he reluctantly begins a side job with a private eye, played by Chi McBride. When private investigator Emerson Cod (I love these names) accidentally witnesses Ned’s powers in action, they strike a business deal: Cod finds reward cases, Ned brings victims back to life and they very quickly find out whatever they need to know to collect the reward. It’s a natural arrangement drawn from unnatural conditions, and it works because Chi McBride oozes an aw shucks affability that neatly plays off of Pace’s reserved dry wit.
Zooey Deschanel. It’s an easy mistake to make since Anna Friel and Zooey both have the same big eyed pixie charm and though I would have loved to see Zooey in Pushing Daisies, Anna Friel does a perfectly good job. It turns out that Anna Friel’s pixie charm is actually quite potent and used to great effect as Ned’s main love interest.
Technically this is a spoiler, but nobody should be surprised to find out that Ned can’t quite leave Chuck dead and the duo of Ned and Cod becomes a threesome. Errrr.
I’ll leave the rest of the plot for your viewing pleasure but by now you can tell why I’m so miserable. The pilot for Pushing Daisies is so exquisitely tuned in pacing, direction and acting that the series can’t possibly get any better. I guess the only cure for my particular brand of depression is to watch another episode of Pushing Daisies and hope for the best. Watch the Pie-lette and you’ll be just as bummed, and eager for the next episode, as I am.