Yep. I’m finally getting around to reviewing Pushing Daisies. I essentially binge-watched the entire series about two months ago, but I never got around to posting my thoughts about the show due to various reasons (including, but not limited to, working on other projects, and general procrastination). But now I’m going to actually do it and finally finish this freaking movie challenge!
What did I think of Pushing Daisies? I really, really liked it. … I probably need to say more about it than that.
Pushing Daisies is a short-lived TV series about a pie-maker named Ned who can touch dead things and bring them back to life. But a minute after Ned touches a dead thing, something else has to die so that balance is retained. But if Ned touches the formerly dead thing a second time, they go back to being dead, only this time, permanently. Ned eventually meets a private investigator called Emerson Cod and is recruited to help solve murders by going to the morgue, bringing the victims back to life and asking them who killed them. Therefore, what the show ends up being is the weirdest, whimsiest version of CSI you’ve ever seen. But then comes another twist. Ned encounters his murdered childhood sweetheart Charlotte Charles (who goes by Chuck) and brings her back to life, initially to ask her who killed her, but ends up not being able to return her to death, thus causing someone else in proximity to die. And so begins the primary romance of the series where the two main characters can’t physically touch each other (super creative idea, but damn that must’ve been hard to write). I believe that covers the main premise of the show. There are also several supporting characters that have their own subplots which also tie into the main character’s storylines. Lily and Vivian are Chuck’s reclusive aunts who raised her after her father died (which, incidentally, was Ned’s fault due to his inexperience with his new-found powers) and Olive Snook is Ned’s co-worker at the pie-shop who is madly in love with him and who becomes jealous of Chuck and eventually suspicious that Chuck is a criminal who faked her death for some devious reason.
Looking at the premise of the show with some distance, it’s a wonder how the show even got green-lit. While it does have a reliable murder-mystery formula, the tone that the show sets is a blend of Dexter and Scooby-Doo, thus creating its own unique style of dark, yet saccharine and silly, fantasy. It tends to be a very off-putting combination. Murder victims are drowned in taffy, boiled in oil for frying chicken, and eaten by a shark during a sibling-synchronized-swimming act. The murderers range from an Asian man whose “great-great-great-great grand-pappy” fought on the Confederate side of the Civil War (“Are you adopted?” Ned inquires), to a circus acrobat who runs a busload of clowns off the road to stop them from organizing a labor union. Yet despite the show’s unlikely premise and contrasting tones of fantastical whimsy and dark, gruesome humor, the show achieved relatively good ratings in its first season. This, I believe, was due to the strength of the characters and the writing.
I am of the opinion that it is character that drives story. If you have a rich, dimensional, and very well-defined character, the stories can almost write themselves. And it is the characters of Pushing Daisies that make it such a good show. These characters are unique and quirky, yet they are likeable and easy to relate to. Ned is neurotic, insecure, and dislikes human contact. He fears that intimacy with others only leads to disastrous consequences. Yet Lee Pace, the actor who plays him, doesn’t play him as a shut-in, but rather as someone who knows that he can’t go through life avoiding everyone, as much as he would like to, and therefore tries to make the best of it when he does have to interact with the outside world, though his discomfort is still evident when he does. The dimensionality of the character is what ultimately makes him endearing. Chuck is Ned’s opposite and their relationship serves as the core of the entire series. Chuck’s fearlessness, and occasional carelessness, is what allows Ned to venture out of his shell, and it is Chuck’s honesty that allows Ned to learn how to grow as a person as she is able to confront him when he makes a mistake or when he retreats too far into his shell. The supporting characters that surround these two primary characters also add much to the proceedings. Emerson Cod provides most of the comic relief, and he is easily the most hilarious character in the show (though Kristen Chenoweth’s Olive Snook comes in a close second). Though he at first appears to simply be a money-grubbing funny-man, he is a character that also has hidden depths. This is most evident when (Highlight to reveal SPOILERS)—> it is revealed that he has a long-lost daughter who he has spent years searching for <— (Highlight to reveal SPOILERS). Olive is a refreshing character to have in a show like this because, in a run-of-the-mill show, she would be the third character that would complete a run-of-the-mill love-triangle. Instead, the love relationship in the show is already established between Ned and Chuck, and it is established that Ned has no real feelings for Olive outside of friendly platonic ones. So instead of being the “other choice” for the main character, she is an outsider who is trying to butt in to the main relationship of the show, which, in my humble opinion, is much funnier and much more interesting. Olive is even able to grow past that role and become a confidant for the characters, as she becomes the one that everyone tells their secrets to and dumps their emotional baggage on (sometimes to hilarious results). While the emotion of the show primarily falls to other characters, Olive becomes the bearer of most of the baggage that results from those emotional conflict, which in turn, leads to her own emotional conflicts. There are many more memorable characters that populate this show (including Chuck’s aunts, Lily and Vivian), but sadly editing is a thing, and this paragraph has gone on long enough. Moving on!
When I say that the second principal strength of the show is the writing, I am referring to the dialogue. The dialogue in this show is super-quick and super-smart, which further cements the tone of the show as very light with a more complex undertone. The dialogue is delivered at lightning speed a la His Girl Friday, making it fun to listen to, but on closer listen, you find that the dialogue is filled with puns, double-entendres, and alliterations. Scenes of dialogue come around full circle in wonderful, unexpected ways that reminds of Dr. Seuss, a very apt comparison as the design of the show is very Seussian.
While the plots are good and the mysteries that they solve are incredibly creative and out-there, there’s never a sense of needing to know who the murderer is or why they did it mainly because the murders they commit and the reasons they do it are so absurd that the only place they make sense is in this world that the writers created. There is a joy in watching the reveal unfold since the plot usually ends up being hilariously complex. The absurdity overwhelms the sensible which is a lot of fun to watch. However, the real joy in the writing comes from watching the characters interact with each other as they try to unravel these incredibly complicated murder-mystery plots.
I should mention the design, as that aspect is a major part of what makes this show so unique. I mentioned Dr. Seuss earlier in relation to this show; well, if Dr. Seuss and Tim Burton decided to combine their efforts to create a cubist masterpiece, you’d get something similar to Pushing Daisies.
The colors are so saturated and so bright, it feels like the visuals of the show have been infused with sugar, as if the visuals themselves were were conceived of in Ned’s pie shop. For a time, this was one of the reasons that it was difficult for me to keep watching. For the first two minutes of each episode, I would be bombarded with sugary whimsy that was way too sweet for me. It wasn’t until the main plot of the episode started and the characters started doing their thing that I was reminded how much fun this show is and how the sugary sweetness of the visuals is balanced out by the dark humor of people dying in horrifyingly gruesome ways.
All in all, the visual design was executed really well and provided a great balance to the darkness underneath, and complemented the whimsical fantasy of the premise as well.
[In the next section, I talk about how the series ends. So SPOILERS, obviously]
The last thing I want to talk about is the ending, which in the case of this show is a very difficult thing to judge. Unfortunately, Pushing Daisies was one of the shows that was really hit hard by the Writer’s Guild Strike of 2007 and 2008. ABC had originally picked up the show for a full 22-episode season, but when the strike hit, only 9 episodes were written by that time. Once the strike had ended, instead of resuming the season, the writers decided to simply continue on with the second season. However, by that time, the ratings had declined and ABC made the decision to cancel the show. I find this particularly sad as the series was just beginning to hit its stride as the second season progressed. A lot of the main conflicts from the first season (like Chuck not knowing that Ned accidentally killed her father) were resolved before the season started and the writers could now take those conflicts to the next level. The season also began to explore the relationship that Ned had had with his estranged father. It was a fantastic follow-up to what was already a great show, when it was cancelled with three episodes left in the 13-episodes that ABC had originally ordered for the season. ABC eventually put those last three episodes into production and let them air, but that left the creators to wrap up all the storylines they were juggling in only three short episodes. Overall, these last three episodes do a pretty good job of wrapping up a majority of the characters’ stories and relationships. They spaced it out where one episode is focused on Olive, one is focused on Emerson, and the last one is focused on Chuck’s aunts, Lily and Vivian. Ned and Chuck’s story is then interspersed throughout all three of the episodes. As I watched the three episodes with the foreknowledge that the creators had to satisfactorily end all these story threads in such a short amount of time, I thought it was really well done. And as I finished the final moments in the last episode, I thought to myself, “What a great ending that was!” and I was satisfied.
… Then I started to think about it. And the more I thought about it, the less satisfied I became. I had started remembering all the plot threads that the writers had been building up throughout the majority of the season and how so many of them were simply dropped because there was no time to wrap them up properly. The main victim of this shortening of the season is the subplot involving Ned’s estranged father. The tenth episode of the season ends with this huge cliff-hanger where the narrator says something like “Little did they know that the man sitting in the booth with his hat pulled down was actually Ned’s father!” There was a big dun-dun-duunnnn! moment and the episode ended. You can tell that this was a story thread that the writers were preparing to embark on, but Ned’s father is literally never mentioned again during the rest of the series. This was one of the biggest stories in the season and had even been built up in the first season, and it was dropped because they didn’t have enough time to do it justice. Then there’s the actual ending itself.
While I remained mostly satisfied with how Emerson’s storyline ended with his missing wife and daughter, as well as with how Olive’s story was dealt with, Ned and Chuck’s ending felt too neat. Their story ends with Ned and Chuck visiting her aunts, therefore revealing to them that Chuck is actually alive. While this is a moment that the show has been building up to for the entire series, and it is initially a very satisfying moment, it felt too easy. If all they had to do was walk up to their front door and have Chuck say, “Surprise! I’m alive!” what reason did Chuck and Ned have not to do this before? I guess it was because Ned didn’t want his secret revealed to Lily and Vivian but why was this moment chosen (other than the fact that the show was ending)? This especially irks me because this assumes that Ned and Chuck explained to Lily and Vivian how Chuck is alive and about Ned’s powers. If this is the case, then that means that the only main character who never learned about Ned’s powers is Olive. That really bothers me because by the end of the series, Olive had become part of the gang. She tagged along with the threesome of Ned, Chuck, and Emerson and was solving the mysteries along with them. Especially as she had worked so long with Ned, and eventually became Chuck’s best friend, in addition to the fact that there was no real reason given why she had to remain in the dark, I found it to be a great disservice to her character that she never finds out about Ned’s powers.
[And now the SPOILER section has ended!]
All in all though, I understand why some things had to be left by the wayside. There was already a lot that had to be filled into three episodes, and the writers did the best they could with the time allotted them. So despite some problems with the rushed ending, this show was an absolute delight. While the visuals and the murder-mystery stories were certainly a lot of fun, what really made this show work for me were the characters and the dialogue that they spewed out at lightning-speed episode after episode. Due to the strength of the characters and the sense of fun derived from the tone that the show established, Pushing Daisies is a winner!
Final Rating: 9/10
And with that, I have officially, officially finished the Summer Film Challenge of… 2012. Eh, who cares? Time to move on to bigger and better things. I’ve decided to try to stick to a steady deadline when posting these things, so there will be a new blog post on this day every two weeks. If I can get things done fast, I might change that to a week, but I find that highly unlikely. So keep an eye out, it’s gonna be fun!
Next time we talk about some, let’s say “issues” I had with Man of Steel as well as some thoughts on Superman, but I don’t think it’ll be what you’re expecting! Stay tuned!