Pushing Daisies: The Complete First Season (review)

Calculating Pie

For the record, I want it noted that I have been raving about Lee Pace since 2003, when he starred in Soldier’s Girl, a made-for-Showtime movie in which he played a transgendered nightclub performer. He was so beautiful and so feminine that I couldn’t believe how handsome and masculine he actually is as himself.

I also want it noted for the record that if all the people last autumn who were telling me that I “need to be watching Pushing Daisies” had told me that Lee Pace was starring it, I would have made more of an effort to find some time for it.
Anyway: Is this the most adorable show ever, or what? The first season of Pushing Daisies is just out on Region 1 DVD (it’s been out in Region 2 for a while), and it’s only nine episodes (production was cut short by the writers’ strike; it’ll be back for a full second season starting October 1), but it is nine episodes of sweet-and-snarky perfection. It’s full of quirky off-kilter magic, and candy-colored cynicism, and pie: delicious pie. (What is it with pie lately? I mean, we also had Waitress with all the pies last year.) It’s the most chipper show ever about death and loneliness. Oh, and it’s a musical, too. It’s like if Tim Burton and the Brothers Grimm collaborated with Disney on a production of some unpublished Charles Dickens ghost story. How could it be better?

There’s Ned (Pace: Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, The Fall), a piemaker, who runs a little pie diner called *snort* The Pie Hole. He has a strange gift: with a touch, he can bring the dead back to life, though they must die again, at another touch from Ned, before one minute has elapsed or else someone else will die to keep the universe in balance. This wouldn’t generally be a problem for Ned, except he has resurrected the love of his life, Chuck (Anna Friel: Timeline, The War Bride), neglected to send her back to the land of eternal nod, and now can never touch her again. Woe is Ned. So he pines for Chuck, while Pie-Hole waitress Olive (Kristin Chenoweth: Space Chimps, Running with Scissors) secretly pines for Ned. Presumably Digby the dog, the first creature Ned ever resurrected, long ago as a child, and hence can never touch again, is pining for Ned, too.

Wait, it does get even better than that: Pushing Daisies is a mystery-procedural. Because do you know how useful it is, when you’re solving murders, to be able to wake up victims for 60 seconds and ask them who offed them? (Paging Torchwood!) So Ned teams up with private eye Emerson Cod (Chi McBride: Annapolis, Roll Bounce) to solve strange deaths when there’s a reward involved, because even though his strange gift disturbs him, The Pie Hole is not exactly a moneymaker for Ned.

But it’s almost easy to overlook that this is basically a crime show while you’re enjoying the captivating Pace being so masculine and vulnerable at the same time; the sparky, spunky Chenoweth being so lusciously mopey; Swoosie Kurtz (Duplex, The Rules of Attraction) and Ellen Greene — as Chuck’s loopy aunts, who mustn’t ever know their niece is not, in fact, dead — being so, well, loopy; and Friel simply bursting with the joy of being alive again. It’s easy to get lost in Michael Wylie’s wonderful production design, which does indeed make the show look “more like a feature film than television,” as Barry Sonnenfeld — who directed the pilot and the first few episodes — says in the bonus making-of material. There’s hardly ever been a show that’s so much fun to get lost in, visually; creator Bryan Fuller (a veteran of Star Trek: Voyager and Deep Space Nine as well as Heroes) calls the show a “prime time fairy tale,” and it doesn’t just feel that way but look it, too.

It’s a totally modern fairy tale, though, for adults, with a completely of-the-moment attitude that knows that snarky doesn’t have to be mean (though that once in a while mean can be fun), that is life-affirming and huggable and entirely addictive.

The DVD: The making-of featurettes, which are full of production-geek goodness (you’ll never guess where they get all those wacky carpets!), are accessed through interactive menus that are majorly cute, but I wish there was a way to play all of them straight through without having to go back to the menus after each one. Also, since when are Chinese, Korean, and Thai subtitles being included on DVDs? Cool.

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