Five reasons to sniff out ‘Pushing Daisies’

Dave Bartlett
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I often wonder how many shows became victims in one way or another of the 2007-2008 television writers strike. There’s no question it played a part in “Pushing Daisies” being pulled up and off the air far too soon.

The cast of “Pushing Daisies,” a show plucked of the air before its time. — Submitted photo

The dramedy’s existence was a mere two part-seasons — a total of 22 episodes — but was nominated for 17 primetime Emmys and won seven of them. Four wins came after the show’s cancellation.

I just finished rewatching the first season this weekend, and really have to recommend it.

I wrote about the show in January 2013, and noted that, though I own both seasons on DVD, I’ve never finished the second season after it takes a dark twist. Sadly, I’ve packed the second season while I prepare to relocate, so I’ll have to delay it once again.

But here are five reasons why I can’t wait to pull those DVDs out of a box, and why the show is worth sniffing out.

1) It’s both surreal and light-hearted. These days the word surreal is overused following tragedies, and while I’m sure it applies, the word means dreamlike or bizarre. From its bright palette of colours to its plot, “Pushing Daisies” is certainly that. And while it’s a murder-mystery show at its core, it’s closer to the movie “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” than countless whodunits, including creator Bryan Fuller’s current show “Hannibal.”

The show is about Ned (Lee Pace) who can bring dead things back to life with a touch, but a second touch means dead forever. Also, if a dead thing is brought back to life for more than one minute, then something else has to die in its stead to keep the universe nice and balanced.

A completely unique fairy tale that blends colourful magic realism with dark gallows humour and a quick-paced wit that keeps the tone light, “Pushing Daisies” is narrated by a friendly, grandfatherly voice that adds to the storybook feel. Add a few musical numbers, a little bit of claymation, and corpses that gets a minute to leave a final message to a loved one or get a chance at justice, and you have a show like nothing else I have ever watched before or since.

2) True love without physical contact. It’s too common for shows to wrap the story around in the all-too-obvious sexual tension between male and female leads. But “Pushing Daisies” celebrates its love story. Yet it’s a sad tale, maybe the saddest in its own way.

Ned brings his childhood sweetheart Charlotte Charles (known as Chuck and played by the adorable Anna Friel) back to life in the pilot, after she is murdered. However, they can never kiss, hold hands or even brush against each other or she will die. And she can never be seen in public, nor visit her spinster, shut-in aunts — played with great aplomb by Swoosie Kurtz and Ellen Greene.

Add that Ned’s employee, Olive Snook (Kristin Chenoweth), has a not so secret crush on him, learns part of Chuck’s secret, yet is conflicted about the whole deal, and you get a love triangle where Olive and Chuck become friends while the earnest and reserved Ned struggles with almost ever aspect of the relationship, except that he knows he loves Chuck and has no regrets with having her in his life, despite the complications.    

3) Writing and direction. The creative team behind “Pushing Daisies” employed every tool in the writer’s toolbox from alliteration to repeated phrases; a plethora of puns and a lyrical flow. Combine this with perfect pauses and the facial expressions of the cast and you find humour at its root, in its words and phrases and direction. Add that veteran Barry Sonnenfeld (“Men in Black,” “Get Shorty”) directed the first two episodes before writing a manual for the folks who followed behind the camera and you get and very deliberate look and feel.

4) Food Fetish. Ned is a pie-maker by trade, and while there is lots of pastry-hugged humour, food references — especially smells — are subtly inserted into the dialogue in a perfectly subliminal way to achieve a sort of smellovision. The show is a real sensory treat.

Ned’s restaurant, The Pie Hole, is such a great headquarters for a group of sleuths, with its padded booths and tiled walls, and “Pushing Daisies” clearly plays homage to “Twin Peaks.” It’s too bad FBI agent Dale Cooper never got to try Ned’s fruit-filled creations in a guest appearance.

5) Emerson Cod. While the entire cast is fantastic, the private investigator Emerson Cod (Chi McBride) who learns Ned’s secret and proposes a partnership is one of the most unique detectives I can think of.

While he’s charming, well-dressed, sarcastic and chews a cigar, he also loves pop-up books, pie and knits non-stop. He loves the fact he can spend thousands on yarn, and have lots of time to pearl stitch gun cosies and sweater vests because his partner’s ability makes solving crime much easier.

He’s acerbic to Olive and Chuck, and isn’t happy that “deadgirl” is still walking around, putting his profitable business in jeopardy. McBride has a John Goodman-like aura and steals every scene he’s in. And I’ve discovered the show he did afterwards “Human Target” is on Netflix.

Yet another show I have to add to my watch list.

Dave Bartlett muses about watching habits, TV shows — new and old — and anything related to whatever he may be watching at the moment. You can get in touch with him at talkingtelevsion@gmail.com.

Organizations: Charlotte Charles, FBI

Geographic location: Twin Peaks

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  • Holly Wood
    July 03, 2014 - 09:44

    Great show. Magical. Dreamlike. Never had the chance to properly conclude, but certainly worth a watch for something delightfully quirky and bizarre. Great review.