Snap judgment: 'Pushing Daisies'

Pd_lNew network shows these days seem to get cancelled practically before the first commercial break. Before you know it, the pilot you were watching is gone, and some So You Think You Can Spelunk mid-season replacement stands vacuously in its place. Which is why I’m rooting for Pushing Daisies, which premiered last night on ABC. It’s too cute, almost sickeningly quirky, but its heart is so pure, and its fanciful world so fully realized that I can’t help wishing it a fighting chance. (Watch for an official review in a forthcoming issue of EW.)

The easiest references tend towards the big screen — think Tim Burton’s 2003 fantasia Big Fish or 2004’s Lemony Snicket — both in the super-saturated colors and deliberate magical realism of the characters and storylines. In the first episode (called "Pielette," a double entendre that actually makes sense in context; wait for it), we are introduced to the town of Coeur de Coeur (yes, that’s French for Heart of Hearts), as a boy named Ned bounds across a spectacular CGI-flowered hillside with his beloved dog, who runs into the road and is promptly smooshed by an oncoming truck, leading to a spectacular revelation. Cue the plummy narrator — whom books-on-tape fans may recognize as Jim Dale, the voice of the Harry Potter tomes — telling us, "Young Ned could touch dead things and bring them back to life." And indeed, the pooch bounds back up like a whack-a-mole, alive and well. But, as the narrator also tells us, this particular gift came with "no box, no instructions, and no manufacturers’ warranty."

addCredit(“Pushing Daisies: ABC/Bob D’Amico”)

Accordingly, when Ned’s mother drops dead of a blood clot whilebaking pies in the family’s Norman Rockwell kitchen, Ned brings herback, only to discover that while his first touch brings life, thesecond touch brings death; a goodnight kiss sends Mom promptly back tothe netherworld. Also, as we are told, the dead can be be brought backfor only one minute without consequence; beyond that, someone else inclose proximity has to die. So it is that Ned accidentally kills thefather of his beloved next door neighbor, a freckled pixie of a girlnamed Chuck. Her dad’s death means poor Chuck is sent to live with twowacky maiden aunts, thus signalling the end of Ned’s first — and mostimpactful — love affair.

Cut now to grown-up Ned (Lee Pace, a Thomas Cavanagh doppelgangerwith wounded eyes and very expressive brows), now an emotionallycrippled piemaker — Mom’s pastry-related moment of departure made him alittle bit obsessed. His best friend remains, actually, Man’s BestFriend: the same dog he saved so many years before (which, of course,he can’t pet without killing, calling for the use of surrogate "hand"made of wood). His circle of friends seems to consist of DetectiveEmerson Cod (Chi McBride), the only soul who knows his secret, andwaitress Olive Snook (the bodaciously curvy Kristin Chenoweth), whopines secretly for Ned, and lives next door to him in an apartment thatcan only be described as a floral nursery vomiting all over ten tons ofchintz.

Ned and Emerson are a team of sorts, having discovered that "murdersare much easier to solve when you can ask the person who killed them."Thus, the pair awaken deceased victims for less than a minute, get thegoods, and collect the rewards. Enter the case of the Lonely Traveler:a young woman fished out of cruise-ship waters, strangled mysteriously.It doesn’t take a Mensa member to suspect that once Ned opens thecoffin, he comes face to face with childhood sweetheart Chuck (Britishactress Anna Friel, being resolutely American here). A minute, ofcourse, turns out to be far too brief for smitten Ned, and he lets theshady funeral-home director take the fall. Honestly, so would we;"luminous" is a word way overused, but Friel (pictured) is absolutely charming, akewpie-faced Zooey Deschanel type with cupid’s bow lips and a twinkletoo alive to be, well, dead. Also, she uses expressions like "hoistedby my own petard" and calls hugs "emotional Heimlichs." Sold!

Watching the two embark on a mission to solve her murder — it involvesa shady travel agency, her two housebound aunts (nice to see SwoozieKurtz again, and in a jeweled eye patch, no less), and twoceramic monkeys — isn’t so much about the destination but the journey.All we know is that as much as they may wish to, Chuck and Ned cannever share another kiss… leading them to touch the two monkeystogether in a smashing makeout session, which in turn leads to thediscovery that said monkeys are not so much ceramic as solid gold.Wherever this leads — and whether I can involve myself in theVictorian idea of a love affair without physical contact — I am,frankly, a little smitten. Still, I can see the kind of diabetic comasuch kooky cuteness could induce.

Readers, what do you think — is thisone of the most original shows of the season, or merely a networkexec’s bad acid trip? Can Ned and Chuck sustain a life without regularwhoopie, let alone hand-holding? Do monkeys not make everything alittle bit more awesome?


Comments (145 total) Add your comment
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  • Chaddogg

    This was probably the GREATEST “Pielette” that I’ve ever seen (or maybe 2nd, to Lost’s spectacular beginning). I loved every fantastical moment – please, everyone, WATCH THIS! It’s a great, refreshing touch of whimsy on network television, and the chemistry between Pace and Friel is OUT OF THIS WORLD!
    Best new show of the season, BY FAR!

  • Sadie

    I have fallen for “Chuck” and “Journeyman” and “Bionic Woman,” but this is my favorite new show this season. The concept is great, as are the characters and the staging. I hope this one sticks around!!

  • B

    “Is this one of the most original shows of the season, or merely a network exec’s bad acid trip?”
    I don’t see these two things as being mutually exclusive. I enjoyed the show, but it was most definitely quirky. I’ll keep watching, but I won’t be surprised if it’s ratings are less than stellar.
    Oh, and just in case it is canceled — would you and all the other TV reporters/reviewers/whatevers please agree in advance not to make some lame comment about Ned’s ability to raise the dead not having the same effect on the show itself? It’s too obvious to be even remotely clever.

  • E

    Loved it! And as a Harry Potter audio fan, I’m glad to hear from Jim Dale again. I hope this show lasts. I was a Wonderfalls fan, so I automatically love the show and simultaneously fear for its cancellation.

  • Rachel

    I think I was sold the moment they had them “touch” through the wall. Absolutely the most adorable, sweet, loving, sexy moment I’ve seen on TV in a long time.

  • Sean

    I loved it, very good show. It was magical and clever and thats not something you get on primetime anymore. It’s not a formulated cop drama though so it won’t last. It will be laid to rest in the ABC TV show grave yard, right beside Daybreak, another show that ABC ripped away from me. I’ll keep praying that this one lasts but I can’t see it doing that.

  • lily

    I thought it was great! Very Tim Burton-esque. Great story. Made me want some pie.

  • Amber

    I loved it but I’m afraid it won’t last. Kind of Six Feet Under meets Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. PS: I love Kristin Chenowith.

  • Lucas

    I loved it, despite it being very “Amelie.” Lee Pace is great. Anna Friel is great. Chi McBride is great. Even the stupid dog is great.

  • wendy

    I loved it best show so far this year

  • Sarah

    Loved it. I hope it sticks around, it’s nice to have something so unique on TV. I think that the lead actors are adorable, and I hope that the aunts stick around too.

  • Verity

    Definitely my favorite new show of the season. It’s quirky, intelligent, hilarious (“B**** I was in the near vicinity!”), and absolutely beautiful. I mean, they paired up Swoosie Kurts and Ellen Greene! Plus, any show that casts Kristin Chenoweth gets my vote. I loved it! And I hope people are watching because I want this one to stick around!

  • Lars

    After reading the NYT review (http://www.buy.com/search/q/querytype/home/qxt/home/dclksa/1/western%20digital%20elements.html), I was excited for this show. I was not disappointed! I thought I was going to be stuck watching only House this season, but Pushing Daisies will definitely keep my attention.

  • Michael

    I’ll have to admit that I admired it more than I liked it, but I’ll stick around for a few weeks if it lasts that long. Whether the show survives or not, I think we’ll be seeing lots of Friel. She’s a real find.

  • Gigi

    I loved it! It is the most original show on TV this year. It’s cute, romantic, and you are instantly drawn to the characters.

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