Gone But Not Forgotten: Pushing Daisies
Every now and then a show comes along that’s so original it stands out like a rare gem from the muck of the rehashed shows around it. Those viewers that are lucky enough to find it are amazed at how no one else seems to get it. You cheer the little guy on but watch in dismay as it inevitably sinks beneath the mire. Pushing Daisies is one of those shows. Everything about it was like nothing I’d ever seen before. I don’t know how so few people found this show, but those who did praise it to the skies, and for good reason.
Created by Bryan Fuller, it is the story of Ned (Lee Pace) who, as a young boy, discovers that he has the ability to bring dead things back to life, first his dog Digby, then his mother. Like with all good things, though, there are consequences. He tragically discovers that if the person (or creature) stays alive for longer than a minute, someone else in close proximity has to die. By unwittingly letting his mom stay alive, his best friend and childhood crush Charlotte aka “Chuck” (Anna Friel) loses her father. He also learns that if he touches the same person again, they revert back to their lifeless state and then nothing will bring them back. After her father and his mother die (permanently), he and Chuck are separated; she goes to live with her reclusive aunts, played by Ellen Greene and Swoosie Kurtz, and he is sent to boarding school.
Years later, Ned has opened a pie shop called The Pie Hole. Olive Snook, played by Kristin Chenoweth, works for him and is secretly in love with him, but has no idea of his ability. One day he meets Emerson Cod (Chi McBride), a private investigator who learns Ned’s secret by accident. Emerson suggests they go into business, waking the recently deceased to find out who killed them and collecting the reward money. It seems to be working out fine until one day, the recently deceased turns out to be Ned’s childhood crush Chuck, and Ned simply can’t lose her again.
One of the things I think I loved most about this show was the fact that the will-they-or-won’t-they plot line was basically removed. It’s one of the most common tropes in the book: the hero of the story falls in love with the beautiful heroine, but there are complications. So many episodes – so many seasons sometimes – of other shows, including the others I’ve written about on here, are devoted to exploiting this desire the audience has for the two stars to get together, because who doesn’t love it when two people are in love? Shipping is serious, y’all; people can get nasty. However once the couple in question get together, the show sometimes suffers because that question is solved and the chemistry changes. Any complications after that seem forced. One of the many reasons I love the U.K. version of The Office is because Ricky Gervais had the good sense to end the series when Dawn (Lucy Davis) and Tim (Martin Freeman) finally got together (which the US version should have done, I think), a theme he continued with Life on the Road (and seriously, if you haven’t seen that yet, you need to take care of that really soon). Ned and Chuck come up with ingenious ways of being intimate without touching – kissing through plastic wrap is my favorite – but you know they will never be able to be anything more. No tension, just a given, letting more inventive storytelling take the forefront of the series.
The plot was beautifully inventive. The dialogue was witty and fast-paced. Add to that the incredible richness of the settings. Every shot had the most vibrant color palette. It was the first television show I had seen that was as gorgeously photographed as a big screen film. It’s like a candy store exploded on your screen. The cinematographer and producers were quoted as saying they wanted it to be a cross between Amelie and Tim Burton, and it is. Such bright, chirpy colors in a show about death is actually a charming juxtaposition. Also, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the narration by Jim Dale which adds such a soothing overtone to each episode.
It aired for only two seasons, and maybe part of the problem was that it became a victim of the writers strike that was going on in Hollywood at the time. It’s easy enough to blame that, though, but still it should have garnered the fans it deserved just from the sheer uniqueness of the story and the production. It won seven Emmys in that short period. Critics loved it and it’s been voted to a number of canceled-too-soon lists. So why didn’t it stay on the air?
Maybe the better question is, how do you market something this delightfully quirky? It seems that the harder it is to describe a show, the less luck it has gaining and retaining an audience, especially on the major networks. Psych is the only one of the fantastic shows that I have talked about here that found and maintained its audience until the show runners themselves decided to end the run. It’s also the only one that was not on a major network, although USA is under the NBC umbrella. It’s disappointing really that all things – be it television shows or even people – have a tendency to be overlooked by the populace at large because they don’t fit into a formula that someone somewhere has decide was the norm. So many things get overlooked that way. Pushing Daisies may have enjoyed a longer life had it been on a smaller network, but it may have reached even fewer people. Life is full of little trade offs. Now, with more ways to get our entertainment than ever, maybe it’s the time for the quirky and the unique series. We just have to hope Hollywood still has the guts to make them.
I could have talked about so many other shows that are now gone, but that still have dedicated and loyal fans. So much has been written about Firefly that I don’t really need to add more, but Galavant is another that just didn’t get the audience it should have. I’ve only written about a few of my favorites, but let me know yours in the comments.