Now that the set up has been laid down in “Pie-lette,” we get an example of a typical episode of ABC’s new fantasy series PUSHING DAISIES, and it ain’t pretty, despite the glossy day-glow colors. The way it works is this: Ned (Lee Pace) brings a murder victim back to life for one minute; private eye Emerson Cod (Chi McBride) tries to use the minute to solve the crime, but recently resurrected Charlotte “Chuck” Charles (Anna Friel) wastes the time asking the living corpse if it has any last requests or unfinished business. With the precious seconds wasted and a little in the way of clues to show for it, the rest of the episode is devoted to solving the crime by more conventional methods. Although neither Ned nor Chuck is in anyway qualified to do this, they tag along with Emerson because they are the stars of the show and have to be in the scenes whether it makes sense or not. Meanwhile, Olive (Kristin Chenoweth) pines silently for Ned, and Need and Chuck try to come to terms with the fact that they cannot touch without Ned’s special power sending Chuck back into the Big Sleep forever.
The silly tone of the series – in which traumatic events are shrugged off with a laugh – might have some comic potential, but it undermines any attempt at suspense. After seeing one witness blown up in a car before she can talk (only to reveal that she survives and recooperates), it is a bit much to expect us to worry that our heroes might die in a similar explosion.
With verisimilitude and suspense tossed out the window, the series needs style and wit to survive; unfortunately, it is short on both. When Olive breaks out into a musical number (a nod to Chenoweth’s Broadway stage experience, which includes a stint in Wicked), it’s an opportunity to wow the viewer, but scene is deliberate undercut by a series of allegedly comic interruptions. In effect, instead of falling on its face naturally, the scene is deliberately pushed down and mercilessly kicked until it passes out.
The characters seems slow on the uptake and even foolish. Chuck and Ned, who know they cannot touch without fatal consequences, casually jump into a deep hole side by side, unconcerned that their feet might slip in the uneven terrain below. Chuck wears deliciously low-cut tops that seem designed to drive Ned to distraction – there hasn’t been an allegedly innnocent temptress dressed this provocatively since Princess Amidala in STAR WARS, EPISODE 2: ATTACK OF THE CLONES. (“You can’t touch this,” indeed!) Finally after two episodes, Chuck and Ned answer the question we have been asking since Episode One: what about wearing glove? Maybe by Episode Three they will have worked their way up to a full-body condom.
So far, the biggest mystery about PUSHING DAISIES is why it has been embraced by critics. Presumably, the artificiality of the presentation, coupled with the self-conscious effort at being different, lies at the heart of the appeal. Sadly, the result remains overly cute and precious – all icing and no cake.
PUSHING DAISIES: “Dummy” (Season 1, Episode 2 – 10/9/07). Directed by Barry Sonnefeld. Written by Peter Ocko. Cast: Lee Pace, Anna Friel, Chi McBride, Kristin CHenoweth