Pushing Daisies: The First Episode

Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld

Written by Bryan Fuller

Starring Lee Pace, Anna Friel, Chi McBride, Kristin Chenoweth, Ellen Greene and Swoosie Kurtz : Narrated by Jim Dale

“Some people may mistake all this for some kind of literariness. I think it’s just really irritating. And twee. And doesn’t mean anything – puns for puns’ sake, super-speedy so people think it’s clever.”

Sam Wollaston of The Guardian reviewed ‘Pie-lette’, the opening episode of the American series ‘Pushing Daisies’, following its broadcast on ITV1 and he wasn’t impressed. I can see his reasoning for much of what he writes, except that I am obviously in the 5% of “clinically insane” men who are not in love with Anna Friel. However, I enjoyed the episode enormously and now look forward to watching more. Perhaps I have mistaken the failings of the show for “some kind of literariness.”

Lee Pace plays Ned, a pie maker and owner of ‘The Pie Hole’, who has the gift of bringing the dead back to life with a single touch. However, this gift comes with a curse. After one minute another living person must die to redress the balance and if he ever again touches the person he brought back to life that person dies and stays dead this time.

He helps private eye Emerson Cod (an amusing deadpan performance by Chi McBride) solve murder cases where a reward has been offered for information leading to the arrest of the killer. He does so by bringing the victim back to life just long enough to reveal the name of the guilty party.

Everything changes when his childhood crush Charlotte ‘Chuck’ Charles is murdered during an ocean cruise. He brings her back to life, but does not touch her again to end her extra one-minute of life. The premise is now established. Ned and Chuck fall in love, but can never have any physical contact. She finds out about Ned and Emerson’s scheme and becomes a third partner. The first case they investigate is her murder.

Other regular characters introduced include Olive Snook (Kristin Chenoweth, previously seen in ‘The West Wing’), a waitress at The Pie Hole who harbours unrequited love for Ned, and Chuck’s two eccentric cheese-loving aunts Vivian (Ellen Greene) and Lily (Swoosie Kurtz).

‘Pushing Daisies’ was created by Bryan Fuller, who previously created the critically acclaimed ‘Dead Like Me’ and co-created ‘Wonderfalls’. Anyone familiar with either of those shows should already have an idea what to expect here – the three shows share many common themes. Fuller also previously wrote episodes for two Star Trek off-shoots, ‘Voyager’ and ‘Deep Space Nine’, and more recently for ‘Heroes’.

Sam Wollaston correctly identifies visual stylings in ‘Pushing Daisies’ that are reminiscent of Tim Burton. He also references “Amélie kookiness”. He does not make mention of the very obvious influence of ‘Desperate Housewives’, particularly in the use of background music (also reminiscent of ‘Amélie’) and the distinctly arch narration. The narrator here is Jim Dale. Americans know him for the hugely successful ‘Harry Potter’ audio books. I know him as a stalwart of the old ‘Carry On’ films.

‘Pushing Daisies’ has been a success so far in America. The nine episodes completed prior to the WGA writers’ strike averaged a little under 10 million viewers per episode and a second season has been commissioned. Both Lee Pace and Anna Friel were nominated for Golden Globes, as was the show itself.

The only thing I knew about Lee Pace prior to this was that he co-stars with Sarah Michelle Gellar in a film called ‘Possession’ that is due into cinemas later in 2008, although he was also in the aforementioned ‘Wonderfalls’. He is certainly very personable in the opening episode of ‘Pushing Daisies’.

I have not previously been fond of Anna Friel as an actor. I can remember her from the TV soap opera ‘Brookside’ back in the early 1990s. She made a big splash in that, largely because of the “novelty” of a storyline involving lesbianism, but her performances in films like ‘The Land Girls’ and ‘Mad Cow’ niggled with me, as did her television advertisements for various products.

There is no particular reason for this aversion; at least not one I could put my finger on. It is just one of those anomalous things. There is nothing different about her in ‘Pushing Daisies’, apart from an American accent, but instead of being irritated in any way I actually thought she inhabited the role really well. I suspect her character exists on that fine line between engaging and annoying, which is also probably the line I stand on the other side of to Sam Wollaston in relation to the show in general, but time will tell which way she eventually falls.

‘Pie-lette’ was directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, an executive producer on the show. Sonnenfeld is the director of several big screen box-office hits, including ‘The Addams Family’, ‘Get Shorty’ and ‘Men in Black’.

For reasons best known to themselves, ITV have decided to skip episode two and broadcast episode three next. I cannot bring to mind any sensible reason for doing this, but perhaps it is something for further comment on at a later date.


whitelabcoat said...

I saw the pilot episode last year and enjoyed it, but I never bothered to stick with it - I got the feeling I'd find its 'quirkiness' grating after a while (perhaps not a great reason, but I've only got so much time to watch so much stuff). Nice to see Swoosie Kurtz again and, despite having seen neither "Wicked" nor "The West Wing", I have a real soft spot for Kristin Chenoweth who seems to have mastered the rare art of 'how to be perky without being annoying'. Maybe I'll give it another go.

alienlanes said...

I have just watched the second episode (or I should say the third episode in view of ITV’s nonsensical decision to jettison episode two) and once again I enjoyed it. I am not sure how far the show can go before the whimsical aspects become more grating than charming – but I suspect it might have a relatively short shelf life. However, I think it will be worth sticking with to see how it develops. I agree about Kristin Chenoweth. Based on various things she has said that have been quoted, she seems to have a quirky sense of humour.

I fully appreciate your comment about choosing to watch or not watch something based on time constraints. I took the decision not to watch ‘The Sarah Connor Chronicles’ mainly because I was already committed to a couple of other television shows and did not want to add to the list.