Dead To Rights
“Pushing Daisies” on ABC
By Devin D. O’Leary
So far, the fall 2007 TV season hasn’t exactly distinguished itself with its originality. Primetime television is still a realm inhabited largely by cops, lawyers and doctors. It’s no surprise, then, that a show like “Pushing Daisies” would stand out like a sore thumb. A giant, lovable, entirely welcome sore thumb.
The show is largely the work of Bryan Fuller, writer/creator/producer of Showtime’s innovative “Dead Like Me” and FOX’s exceedingly underrated and incredibly short-lived “Wonderfalls.” It’s executive-produced (and often directed) by big movie mogul Barry Sonnenfeld, director of The Addams Family, Get Shorty and Men in Black. That background gives you some idea of the offbeat wonder in store for viewers of this surreal comic fantasy.
The unusual plot revolves around Ned, a shy pie-maker (Lee Pace, salvaged from “Wonderfalls”) who, since childhood, has had the ability to bring dead things back to life simply by touching them. There are several “rules” to this ability. If Ned touches them again, they die. Permanently. If he fails to touch them again within 60 seconds, they stay alive. But someone else in the immediate vicinity dies to replace them. One fateful day, Ned stumbles across the dead body of Charlotte “Chuck” Charles (Anna Friel, Goal!), a girl he had a crush on when he was, like, 7. Suffused with nostalgic love, Ned brings her back to life, willingly sacrificing some poor sod nearby. It’s a lovely gesture, one only slightly marred by the fact that these reunited lovers can never actually touch one another.
In addition to its offbeat love story, “Pushing Daisies” is a crime-solving detective series. You see, besides baking pies, Ned has teamed up with a low-rent detective named Emerson Cod (Chi McBride from “Boston Public” having fun for a change). Emerson is more than happy to exploit Ned’s supernatural abilities, quizzing murder victims to find quick solutions to the crimes. (Unfortunately, most reanimated murder victims are a little too freaked out to provide much solid help in only 60 seconds.)
Odd concept aside, “Pushing Daisies” strikes viewers most in the visual department, looking like some sort of campy “Twilight Zone” episode directed by Tim Burton. Cartoonish characters, skewed angles and DayGlo colors slap the eyeballs silly. There’s also a wry narrator who voices-over the entire show, treating it like some queer modern fairy tale. Throw in a supporting cast of strange characters (Broadway babes Ellen Greene and Swoosie Kurtz as Chuck’s performing mermaid aunts and Tony Award-winner Kristin Chenoweth as a waitress obsessively in love with Ned) and you’ve got a show like no other.
There’s a good chance mainstream audiences will give “Pushing Daisies” a single glance and write it off as “too damn weird.” That’s a major shame. The show is charming, original and full of inventive humor. That’s more than enough to put it in the running for best show of the new season.
“Pushing Daisies” airs every Wednesday at 7 p.m. on KOAT-7.
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