Sunday, June 21, 2009
I just got around to watching last Saturday’s Pushing Daisies television finale, the twenty-second and final episode of one of the stranger hours ever aired on mainstream, network television, a comedic-crime-of-the-week-modern-day-fairy-tale that seemed to combine elements of Tim Burton, Roald, Dahl, David Lynch, Lewis Carroll, Bruno Bettlelheim, Looney Tunes and Pee Wee Herman. While I don’t count myself as someone typically enchanted by pop culture that is certifiably whimsical, particularly if it veers towards preciousness, creator Bryan Fuller’s imaginative concoction did cast me under its peculiar spell; and I can't help but think that a one season run (however truncated---the show debuted with nine episodes in the fall of 2007, returned in 2008, and sputtered out over a handful of episodes the last few weeks), maybe the proper limit for a TV show so breezily fanciful and blatantly affected.
Fuller’s last two television efforts, Showtime’s Dead Like Me and Fox’s Wonderfalls (both, strangely enough lasting a mere 14 episodes), were both cult shows, noted for their quirkiness and Pushing Daisies simple but distinct premise pushes his TV-auteur-of distinction ante up to three notches. Ned (Lee Pace), a pie maker and pie shop proprietor, has the ability to bring the dead momentarily back to life, and he reluctantly utilizes his talents in the service of a throwback money-grubbing gumshoe Emerson Cod (Chi McBride), both further aided by two Pie Hole employees, Charlotte Chuck Charles (Anna Friel), the back-from-the-dead love of his life, and Olive Snook (Kristen Chenoweth) who is head over heels hooked on the pie maker. Throw in Chuck’s two former synchronized swimming stars, now housebound, Aunties (Swoosie Kurtz and Ellen Greene), a constant eye-winking narrator (Jim Dale) seemingly weaned on a steady diet of Fractured Fairy Tales, and the fact that Ned is underlined as an obvious symbol of contemporary isolation and the supremely mannered and never-ending fast-paced dialogue exchanges sound like 40’s screwball comedy lingo pureed through a blender of 60’s marijuana archness , and you got one weirdly original small screen vision.
While the show’s players are more than up for their hybrid-playing tasks, with theater vets Kurtz, Greene, and Chenoweth ably blending caricature, gusto, and parody, McBride scoring as something of a caustic comic find, Friel tripping right along the ever-thin line between perky and precocious, and Pace settling in the eerily passive center of the action, the show unfolds with a buoyantly optimistic tone that gets cauterized with a left-of-center bleakness. The production values are, particularly for TV, out-and- out eye candy, all swirling camerawork, miniature sets, crayola colorings, and Wizard of Oz-meet-Dr. Seuss set designs. Don’t feel too bad if you missed it during its on-and-off run, it’s bound to be one of those DVD discoveries, the sort that makes those buying or renting wonder how they missed it in the first place.