Pushing Daisies: Feel-good Fantasy-noir

Ned sees dead people. Well, that’s only half the story of Pushing Daisies, ABC’s rookie fall drama that airs on Wednesday nights at 8 p.m., that has garnered more than its share of praise and viewers. The other half of the story is that Ned sees dead people, because he can bring them back to life.

The basic storyline is as follows: Ned (Lee Pace) is a pie maker who can revive the dead simply by touching them, but if he touches them a second time, they go back to being dead. If he doesn’t touch the dead within a minute of reviving them, then someone else will die. Ned’s unique gift makes him a perfect partner for private investigator Emerson Cod (Chi McBride). The two have developed a partnership, where they ask the dead for clues in solving murders, and Ned has had no problem with putting the dead back into place until he comes across the case of his childhood sweetheart (and first kiss) Charlotte “Chuck” Charles (Anna Friel). All of this is explained by an omniscient and ever-present narrator in the opening moments of the pilot, in which Chuck’s murder is solved.

The dialogue and setting is typical of series creator Bryan Fuller’s (creator of Dead Like Me and Wonderfalls) work. His characters inhabit a world that is saturated in bright hues and lights reminiscent of Big Fish or Lemony Snicket, while they speak in an iambic pentameter-like rhythm: “You haven’t been hugged properly,” Chuck says to Ned, who naturally avoids physical contact with her. “It’s an emotional Heimlich. Someone puts their arms around you, gives a squeeze. All your fear and anxiety comes shooting out of your mouth in a big, wet wad and you can breath again.”

Or take this line from Ned: “I was being selfish. I’d love to tell myself that I was being unselfish but I know deep down in my primal sweet spot I was being unselfish for selfish reasons.”Written out, it may look like the dialogue is forced or contrived, but the characters have been perfectly cast. Friel fits her role perfectly. She’s cute and quirky with an undeniable love for life, and someone certainly worthy of Ned’s affection. Meanwhile, Pace is no stranger to Fuller-speak. He was on Fuller’s short-lived-but-equally-quirky Wonderfalls, which aired on Fox for four episodes before gaining cult status as a DVD. While Pace played the under-utilized brother of the main character, he nonetheless has acquired an affinity to be able to handle the complex nature of Fuller’s rapid-paced ping-pong dialogue.

Besides Pace being the title character, the two shows have other similarities. Wonderfalls is more entrenched in reality in that it takes place in an actual place (Niagara Falls, New York), but still has the feeling of the surreal due to the touristy nature of the area. The concept behind Wonderfalls also gives the main character a special power. In this case, it’s Jaye, who is at the mercy of inanimate objects who spring to life only in her mind and make her do the bidding of fate, although the message is rarely clear and leaves the door open for interpretation, and therefore more trouble. Still, if Fuller has one unifying theme throughout his work, it’s that everything happens for a reason, and the future tends to unfold as it should through the magical power of fate.

So, it should come as no surprise that in Fuller uses an inanimate object in Pushing Daisies (this time, it is two ceramic monkeys) as a vehicle to get Chuck’s two shut-in sisters out of their house for the first time in years. In a later episode, Ned and Chuck help take down a corrupt car-maker while simultaneously helping a bulimic model. Fuller just has a knack for producing feel-good fantasy-noir, and this is no different. Meanwhile, the monkeys also serve as a conduit for Chuck and Ned to share their second kiss, even though, as we all know, they can’t actually kiss again in the present.
There are plenty of romances on television, and many seemed forced upon the viewer. The romantic tension isn’t written into the script so much as it appears natural the more you get to know the characters. And it isn’t the focus of the storyline, anyway. Each episode begins with a segment of Ned’s past exploring an annoying habit or a character trait at present. In some ways, the show on its face may be a comedy, but it is really just a ruse to explore the routes we take in life, and why we are the way we are.

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