Pushing Daisies, a sweet little fairytale for grown-ups premieres this Wednesday at 8pm, on ABC. Surrounded by much well-deserved buzz from critics and TV fans alike, it is the show that everyone is talking about. Many have hailed Daisies as the most original and engaging offering of the new season.
Lee Pace stars as the shows protagonist, Ned, a young man with a special, but melancholy gift. Ned’s first touch revives the dead, giving them one last minute to speak their mind. The catch– his second touch kills them again forever. He makes his living baking pies in homage to his dead mother, and collecting rewards for solving murders– a talent that goes hand in hand with a propensity for waking the dead (after all, it’s generally easy to solve a homicide when you can simply ask the corpse who killed him or her).
His world changes, however, when the latest victim is his very beautiful and quite dead childhood sweetheart, Chuck (Anna Friel). Once she’s revived, she is so colorful, so vivacious, so alive with memories of when his life was rich and full, that he cannot bring himself to touch her again and send her back to her coffin. Death takes someone else so that she can live. Ned, however, can not so much as graze her hand with his own hand, since his second touch would surely kill her for good.
As in all fairy tales, this story happens against a fantastic and dreamlike backdrop. It feels more like movie than an ordinary TV show. The colors are brighter, the wallpaper busier, and the buildings more otherworldly than real life. Ned’s pie shop (The Pie Hole) resembles a hobbit hut, and Chuck’s aunts’ home is a stark mansion outside, filled with vivid color inside. The visuals are rich, but the world is sparse and tidy. The characters life in a parallel universe without trivialities; it’s impossible to picture them going to Starbucks or getting stuck in traffic, for instance. A voice-over gives the “facts,” including the years, months, days, hours, and minutes of each person’s lifespan, leaving out the less important details.
The script is cleverly and tightly written, with snappy humor woven throughout, often coming out in wordplay. Chuck collects Honey for the Homeless. Her travel agency is the Boutique Travel Travel Boutique, and her aunts swam in an aquatic show called the Darling Mermaid Darlings. The characters are as vivid as the visuals are rich: Chuck is Sleeping Beauty personified, while Ned plays the counterpart of a conflicted Prince Charming. Chuck’s aunts, cheese-lovers Lily and Vivian (Swoosie Kurtz, Ellen Greene), suffer from a dislike of the outside world so intense that they live entirely in their Victorian. Olive Snook (Kristin Chenoweth), Ned’s neighbor and employee, suffers from the opposite malady: a crippling need to connect with someone. The only character living in our world is Ned’s partner in solving murder, Emerson (Chi McBride).
It’s when we meet Olive that we realize this quirky, melancholy show about death is truly about something else entirely; it is about the connections we make or want to make in life. Olive desperately wants to be touched. Lily and Vivian don’t want to be touched, but need to be. Chuck and Ned long to touch each other, but can’t. Ned has endured a long line of losses: His dog died, his mother passed over while giving him a good night kiss, and Chuck was lost to him once in childhood and nearly again by her temporary death. Ned had reconciled himself to living life without human connection. Yet Chuck revives him as surely as he does her. The love he shares with Chuck is so pure, so eternal, and so all-encompassing that it makes all the deaths and losses seem trivial. They awaken each other, not with a kiss, but with a touch.
– Rebecca Cusey writes from Washington, D.C.