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 It’s like if Tim Burton and the Brothers Grimm collaborated with Disney on a production of some unpublished Charles Dickens ghost story.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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Tue, Sep 16, 2008 12:44pm

Great review MaryAnn! Pushing Daisies was my favorite new show of last year and was so sad that we only got 9 episodes.

What’s even more tragic is AFTER they were done they were nominated to Golden Globes and Emmys. They couldn’t capitalize all of that buzz because the show was no longer on the air! In any case I’m just counting down until the premiere.

As for Lee Pace. He’s phenomenal isn’t he? Loved him in Wonderfalls. Loved him in Soldier’s Girl. Loved him in The Fall. Loved him in Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day. And now he’s the Pie Maker. Sigh.

Tue, Sep 16, 2008 2:01pm

They’re going to do a Wonderfalls crossover this upcoming season 2. Don’t know how they’re going to resolve Aaron Tyler / Ned / Lee Pace; probably ignore it for now, since it’s a minor crossover.

Details: http://www.aintitcool.com/node/37671

Tue, Sep 16, 2008 2:16pm

I’ve been describing this wonderful show as the love-child of Amelie and Edward Gorey. So glad you are finally hooked on it!

Tue, Sep 16, 2008 5:12pm

This is my particular high praise for Pushing Daisies: When I first saw this show, I thought for sure it must be a remake of a British series, and went looking for the original.

Tue, Sep 16, 2008 5:18pm

Yes, I felt a very British vibe coming off this. It’s good to know that we Yanks are capable of such wonderfulness, too. :->

Wed, Sep 17, 2008 3:57pm

Is there a time limit on how long the person has been dead for Ned to be able to bring him or her back? Could he touch a mummy, for example, and bring it back to life? Abraham Lincoln? Shakespeare? And if so, would the deceased come back to life in full health or in their current condition?

Pat Kelly
Pat Kelly
Wed, Sep 17, 2008 4:12pm

Nope, no time limit. And they would come back in their current condition–that’s one of the morbidly funny gags on the show every week.

Wed, Sep 17, 2008 4:49pm

Thanks, Pat!

So, if he touched a skeleton, would it come back to life? And could it talk to him given that all of the apparatus needed for talking would be gone?

And what did Chuck die of that she appears perfectly fine and healthy? And is she immortal now or can she die again via some method other than Ned touching her?

I only saw one episode of this show–loved it, and have ordered the DVD set–but obviously don’t have a handle on all the ins and outs of the basic premise! (And am having lots of fun wondering about them.)

Pat Kelly
Pat Kelly
Wed, Sep 17, 2008 5:11pm

Welcome. :-) I would guess, with the tongue gone, a skeleton couldn’t talk.

Chuck died of suffocation, then was thrown overboard a boat.

But, very worthy purchase. My Blu Ray came today. So pretty.

Pat Kelly
Pat Kelly
Wed, Sep 17, 2008 5:12pm

Oh, yes, she is immortal. So is Ned’s dog.

Wed, Sep 17, 2008 5:32pm

As Pat Kelley said, it’s a running gag. Ned makes $ by solving crimes through questioning corpses that arrive in the local morgue. If he revives a corpse for longer than 60 seconds, it stays alive and something else nearby (other than Ned or probably another previously revived corpse) must die so that death has a soul to take.

Ned has a whole “grass and dead strawberries” thing going nearby. The strawberries are gross and wasted; he revives them and they are fresh. When a corpse has a hole in it, he revives the corpse, but it still has a gorey hole in it; not sure how this reconciles.

When he revives the strawberries for his pies, the grass he has planted nearby withers and dies.

Wed, Sep 17, 2008 5:43pm

Thanks, Josh. Now I have whole new things to wonder about. As in–since the strawberries were resurrected and are resurrected permanently thanks to the grass dying, do they come out of the customer the same way they went in? :-) Guess we’ll never get that one answered on TV!

Wed, Sep 17, 2008 5:46pm

Oh, and doesn’t Ned have a partner? (He did in the episode I saw.) If this partner is always with him when he revives the murder victim, isn’t the partner the one at greatest risk if Ned misses his deadline to re-deadify the corpse?

Pat Kelly
Pat Kelly
Wed, Sep 17, 2008 6:02pm

Yep, he does have a partner. And yep, that partner would be at risk if Ned missed the deadline. (There’s a joke in the pilot about that that I won’t spoil.)

But as much as it’s proximity, it’s also a little random.

Wed, Sep 17, 2008 7:36pm

The strawberries are gross and wasted; he revives them and they are fresh.

As so his pies are eternally fresh! Or, at least, the fillings are. I guess the crusts would go bad eventually.

Wed, Sep 17, 2008 8:43pm

There was that one episode where he accidentally bit into a pie made with his fruit. Now that was a priceless facial expression, poor guy.

Thu, Sep 18, 2008 12:45pm

It’s complicated, but Drave does bring up the once scenario from the show that I didn’t mention.

Ned makes a profit by buying dead fruit in bulk (there’s that one episode with the Health Inspector), reviving them with his touch, slicing straight into them (never letting go of the pieces), tossing them into the pie crust, and baking said pie.

So he re-kills the strawberries with a knife, but they’re still fresh. They can be cooked; they bake and change chemically, etc. It’s just if he touches them again, they’ll wither.

It makes his pies simultaneously the freshest and most cost-effective, as long as he doesn’t re-touch them. The strawberries don’t revert to “unhealthy” after he chops them up; they probably do die eventually. Whatever he revives can be re-killed by anything other than age : like, FOR EXAMPLE, you can probably hit his dog with a car (again) to kill it.

Thu, Sep 18, 2008 2:39pm

Pushing Daisies is the best show on TV!!! It is smart, funny and unique. I’m so pumped for the season 2 premier on Oct 1. Yay…finally it’s back.