November 12, 2007


Reanimator: “Pushing Daisies” lives to tell the tale. (Nancy Franklin, November 12, 2007 , The New Yorker)

“Pushing Daisies” is as peculiar a creation as you’re going to see this year. It’s not like anything else, though as you watch it you can’t help making a checklist of influences and progenitors: the Tim Burton of “Edward Scissorhands” and “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure,” David Lynch’s “Twin Peaks,” “Amelie,” “Little Shop of Horrors,” “Fractured Fairy Tales,” real fairy tales, Roald Dahl, and Greek mythology. Every pixel in your TV screen has been accounted for in the show’s obsessively imaginative production design, and the sound has the nutty specificity of the old Warner Bros. cartoons, where each stealthy footstep and shifty glance was denoted musically. It’s a fast-moving tale, about a boy named Ned (Lee Pace), who discovers when he’s nine that he can bring the dead back to life with his touch. But, as the narrator (Jim Dale) tells us portentously, that gift “came with a caveat or two.” If Ned touches the newly alive person a second time, that person will die again, this time for good. And if he doesn’t touch the person again within a minute, someone nearby will die. One of Ned’s secrets is that as a child he—unwittingly—caused the father of the little girl next door to die; he loved the little girl, whose name was Chuck (Anna Friel), and twenty years later she resurfaces—he has brought her back to life—making his secret even more agonizing. Worse, he cannot touch her. He loves her, she loves him, and never the twain shall meet, except for the occasional kiss through a sheet of plastic wrap or an embrace while wearing beekeepers’ suits. “Pushing Daisies,” like “Dead Like Me” (and its rough coeval “Six Feet Under”), is poker-faced about the arbitrariness of life and death. In the first three minutes of the series, Ned’s golden retriever gets killed by a truck and his mother keels over from a burst blood vessel in her brain while baking pies; both events are handled coolly, with no tears. You’re more likely to be taking note of the art direction—the mother’s pale-green apron against the pale-green-and-beige checked linoleum, and the boy in his pale-green striped shirt—than you are to be feeling anything about the fact that a nine-year-old boy’s mother just died in front of him.

I think that Fuller wants to be more than clever in this show—it’s a serious comedy about life and romance. And there are payoffs, though few of them materialize as quickly as you want them to. It wasn’t until the fifth episode that I believed that the characters’ feelings came from them instead of being imposed on them. Luckily, the structure of the show keeps it moving. Ned works with a private investigator, Emerson Cod (Chi McBride), on the side, solving murders. Cod is all about getting the job done. Chuck and Ned have eyes only for each other; Cod has his eye on the prize—the payday when they solve a case. McBride provides some much needed normal humor amid all the mannered wackiness of the show. A travel agency, for example, is called the Boutique Travel Travel Boutique—that kind of thing wears a viewer out.

“Pushing Daisies” probably shouldn’t last longer than a season; fairy tales aren’t supposed to go on forever. It will then take its place proudly beside other worthy efforts that lived fast, died young, and left behind a beautiful DVD.

Cod gets all the good lines.

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 12, 2007 12:44 PM
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