Pushing Daisies is a US show broadcasted on the ABC network during 2007-2009, with 3 episodes from the second season yet to be aired this May. Although short-lived, getting canceled after two seasons of only 22 episodes, the show has received great acclaim coming from both the audience and the critics.
The series was created and written by Bryan Fuller, with Lawrence Trilling and Barry Sonnenfeld in charge of the directing. Star Trek geek Bryan Fuller had experienced the cancelling, also after merely two seasons, of two of his past shows, namely Wonderfalls and Dead Like Me. That hasn’t brought him down, but inspired him to create yet another whimsical TV show. Because, you see, these three shows have a lot in common: unusual daily jobs, unrequited love, big secrets, not-your-average family members, female characters who go under male names, anti-heroism and life after death magnified by the juxtaposition of the cliché and the absurd.
The cover for the first season’s DVD sums up what the show is all about, using very bright, cheerful colors to set the mood for this delicious dramedy. The image is very balanced, comprising all three worlds. The soil from which the white daisy blossomed, the world in which the action takes place, and the blue sky with white, really fluffy, rain-free clouds. The two leads (Ned and Charlotte) are lying on the grass , facing the viewer, separated by a white daisy with a bee on it, which represents a major element of the plot. On the cloud, above the title, there is written, with great wit and black humor, the tagline of the series: “life. death. and life again.”.
The facts are these: On a sunny summer day, in the town of Coeur D’Coeurs *misspelled as Couer D’Couers on the sign, which means Heart Of Hearts in French* young Ned, aged 9, was running through a field of yellow daisies with his 3 year-old Golden Retriever, Digby. Digby runs downhill and gets hit by a road train, which catapults him and he falls lifeless on the road. Ned touches the dead dog, as to check his pulse, but, to his amazement, finds out that with that touch he brought his beloved dog back to life.
Taken aback by the act of magic he was able to perform, he went home, deciding to keep this secret. While baking a pie, his mother had a heart attack and Ned, unaware of the consequences, or of what this gift implied, touched her and she rose up, like she had just been awaken from a deep sleep. Across the street from their house, lived 8 year-old Charlotte “Chuck” Charles, a delightful and sweet little girl, Ned’s best friend and childhood crush. Through a series of unfortunate events, young Ned finds out that this special gift that he has comes at a price, like that saying goes “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.”
No longer than a minute passed after Ned had revived his mother, when Chuck’s father dropped dead on the ground. As it seems, Ned’s power to awaken the dead is partial: after he touches a deceased person, that person gets to live only for a small period of time, 1 minute, more precisely. Otherwise, if that person is maintained alive longer than that, another living being in the proximity gets to die instantaneously. Randomly, unbiased and without discrimination, disconsidering all “minor” details, such as emotional attachments related to close relatives or childhood memories in the suburbs. Later on that evening, Ned’s mom kissed him goodnight on the forehead. That was the kiss of death. With that second touch, his mother would stay dead forever this time.
Mourning the death of their parents at the funerals, Ned and Chuck experienced their first (and only) kiss. Ned hadn’t told Chuck that he was the one who killed her father and that guilt is tormenting him. Ned is sent by his dad at a boarding school, while Chuck is being raised by her aunts, Lily and Vivian, this leading to them losing touch with each other. 19 years later, Ned grew up as a strapping young man, having become obsessed with pies, although he hadn’t lost his gift. He now runs a pie shop called The Pie Hole and he is well-known as Ned The Piemaker, being the chef of the restaurant. Olive Snook works as a waitress there, but there are more strings attached.
One day, private investigator Emerson Cod discovers Ned’s secret ability and offers him a job in the crime-solving business, which he immediately accepts. Chuck also became a beautiful young woman, but she had gotten herself into a bit of trouble. The damsel in distress needed to be rescued, and who was better for the job than her old best friend, Ned? This way, the two childhood sweethearts are brought back together and they lived happily ever after.
Unfortunately, that’s not the way things go in this twisted tale… Our (anti-)hero came too late and Chuck was already dead and (about to be) buried, when he brought her back to life indefinitely, in an endearing scene reminiscent of Sleeping Beauty. She is told by Ned that they can’t touch each other and they have to keep a heartbreaking and respectable distance from one another. The four of them start a business partnership as this quirky forensic quartet who collects the money rewards for solving crimes in an unconventional style.
The deaths are bizarre, at times quite graphic, yet humorous, there is this fascination with the macabre that just draws you in and you can’t help, but admire and be astonished by the fantastic array of ways certain characters got killed: ranging from Chuck’s death strangled with a shopping plastic bag, dying due to a crash test dummy, to scratch-and-sniff book explosions, dying on the loo, frozen bodies, literally sugar-coated corpses, or “ghost” serial killers in the likes of the Headless Horseman. There are secrets to be unraveled, mysterious crimes to be solved and perfect, fairytale-like love stories to bloom and blossom, leading to the ending that every character deserves.
Ned – The Piemaker is played by the talented Lee Pace, who represents the love interest of both Chuck and Olive. He is the most complex character, but the show is based on an ensemble cast which complete and complement each other successfully. It comes hard for him not to touch Chuck and so, he finds unusual and highly imaginative manners in which the two can touch, even the least bit: they would kiss through plastic wrap, they hold hands during winter with gloves on, or they hug and dance in beekeeper suits. For Digby, he has this hand made of wood with mobile fingers which he activates like a ventriloquist would do on his dummy, with which he scratches and pets him.
Charlotte “Chuck” Charles is played by the British Anna Friel, who is really (in)credible in her role, as her accent doesn’t slip through and comes across as a typical American small-town girl. After the loss of her father, she got raised by her aunts and when she grew older, it was her turn to help them. She had beehives and honey bees to take care of, as she was making honey for the homeless, giving something back to the community. There is this optimism in her, she is happy to be given a second life, but the drama of not being able to touch Ned, although they love each other is tragic indeed.
Aunts Lily and Vivian Charles, played by Swoosie Kurtz and Ellen Greene, are two former synchronized swimmers in the duo Darling Mermaid Darlings, dwelling on their long gone glorious career. Lily also lost her right eye while cleaning up the kitty litter box, some sand getting in her eye. The two have done a great job at raising Charlotte, as they call her, although after becoming has-beens, they never left the house. They have developed certain personality disorders and become recluses, suffer from social phobia and prefer living in their own little world. They had birds and a passion for good cheese. Their temperaments and sudden changes in mood could be soothed with delicious pies from the Pie Hole, to which they had become addicted.
Olive Snook is played by Kristin Chenoweth, a sweet and bubbly waitress who livens up the place. Although she is quite petite, her stature doesn’t stop her from getting what she wants and she is truly feisty. She has got spunk, but also the most wonderful singing voice, she just bursts into singing at the most unusual times, but with numbers that fit right in. As they say, “good things come in small packages”. Kristin is actually trained in singing opera and she is primarily an actress in Broadway musicals. She is the odd man out, so to speak, as her, Chuck and Ned form a love triangle.
Emerson Cod is a “private eye” played by Chi McBride. He is very keen on his work, he wants to go down to business as soon as possible, more likely in order to collect the money reward, although he is quite passionate about what he does. We learn that he also has a soft spot and loves knitting.
All the other characters are less emphasized, but they are very important for the whole plot. The narrator has his way with words, being a wonderful story-teller, like in the old days, luring and enchanting you in this magical world. The children we see in the flashbacks, as in the actors who play young Ned and Chuck, are very skilled and show great potential at this early age. They can express so much through just one look, without being necessary for them to say too many words to put important messages across.
The soundtrack is perfectly made up by James Dooley, which added a lot to the story. It has creepy and eerie sounds playing during tense moments and happy, surreal instrumentals alternating with Kristin’s magnificent performances as a hopeless romantic, madly in love with Ned.
The series’ uniqueness is based not only on the cheerful, colorful and sometimes computer-generated imagery, but also on the dialogue. The comedic genius lies in the obvious: clever word play, metaphors, anecdotes, puns, both deadpan delivering of the lines and the greatest facial expressions.
I absolutely love this series, it caught me off guard and kept mesmerizing me during every episode and plot twist. I think it’s too short for the complexity and originality of the premise, it’s a shame that shows that deserve getting amplified to great extents, but without major plot holes get to be canceled. I will surely rewatch it, but it’s going to be bittersweet, as I had high hopes for such an appealing and intriguing concept.
In a classical Burtonesque manner, although not created by the great Tim Burton himself, this series is guaranteed to make you dare and dream and laugh to your heart’s content. There is a degree of duality to the story, it’s both moralizing and relaxing, bringing hope and fantasy to the uptight modern world through this dark, yet cheery tale.
You will surely feel for the characters and, why not, even develop something more than that. They are extremely likeable and they all make perfect princes, princesses and monsters in this modern day fairytale.