I was trying to explain the premise of ABC’s Pushing Daisies (Premiering on Wednesday, October 3rd at 8pm EDT) to my boss shortly after watching its pilot, and I must admit that the task was quite difficult. Said boss is the epitome of the casual television viewer, so I was trying to word things in such a way as to catch his interest.
I eventually was able to use my knowledge of his own personal world views to frame the show as a morality tale about actions and consequences with a whimsical and ultimately happy twist. At a certain point in this conversation, I resolved myself to the belief that ABC will never be able to properly market this wonderful television program.
I also, however, resolved to help them out as much as possible. Pushing Daisies is a heartwarming and wonderfully told fairy tale that, without doubt, is the best pilot of the 2007-2008 season. And I’m going to tell this to anyone who will listen.
What makes Pushing Daisies so difficult to market is that for each of its elements that feel downright familiar there is something that makes it entirely unique. On a very surface level, the series is about a man who has a unique power that renders him adept at solving crimes.
Ned, a pie maker, discovered at a young age that he is able to bring people back from the dead with just a touch; he also, however, discovered that there are consequences should he touch them again, or leave them alive for more than a minute.
There are all sorts of these shows: Medium and Ghost Whisperer speak to the dead, House uses his rude bedside manner to be a genius, Numbers features people using math abilities to solve crimes, and even this season’s New Amsterdam has a cop whose 400 years of eternal life make them more knowledgeable than any other. So, you’d think that Pushing Daisies would fit right in, right?
Wrong. You see, Pushing Daisies is not like any of those shows in any other way.
Most specifically, Pushing Daisies is as much a fairy tale romance as it is a dramatic television series. Unrequited love is one of those concepts that you see a lot of in television, but never has it been so whimsically portrayed. The entire pilot is about love and loss, and how mending those fences can be more difficult than you realize.
Ned emotionally disconnected himself after leaving his childhood home to go to boarding school, and the result is that he no longer has relationships: his baker yearns for his attention, his dog (22-year old Digby) can only be petted with a hand on a stick, and his childhood love, having returned to his life, must remain separate from him forever.
And yet, despite all of these barriers between the idea of love in this story, it is one of the most heartwarming forty-two minutes of television I’ve seen in a very long time. Watching as Ned starts to reconnect with his emotions, and his lost love, is something that should be saccharine but isn’t: it feels right at home within this universe that Bryan Fuller and director Barry Soddenheim (Men in Black) have created.
As a visual piece of work, the pilot will received various accolades; however, it is also an emotional piece of work of a rare breed. When the pilot ends on hand-holding and voice-over narration, I should be retching…but instead I’m returning back to the beginning to watch it again.
And watch it again I have: there is something wholly infectious about the entire affair. The relationship between Ned and Chuck, the couple at the center of the episode, is far too charming to capture in a paragraph. Lee Pace (Who also starred in Bryan Fuller’s Wonderfalls) and Anna Friel (Pictured) each bring to the table the right amount of hopeless puppy love and yet also an understanding that their relationship (and their pasts) are not normal.
The rest of the cast is similarly good: Chi McBride (Boston Public) embraces his comic side as Ned’s private eye and business partner, Kristin Chenoweth delivers low-key comedy as The Pie Hole’s baker, Olive, and Swoosie Kurtz (Who played Locke’s Mother on Lost) and Ellen Greene (Who played Sylar’s Mother on Heroes) round out the cast as Chuck’s aunts. These are characters that, once seen, are impossible to not fall in love with. Plus, we have to mention the fantastic Orbit the Dog as Digby. Dogs should be in credits more often.
And there’s the kicker: people need to be watching this pilot, not just reading previews of it. This is the kind of show that you can’t really sell in commercials or even in conversations, because people have so many misconceptions about its elements. I’ve seen it described as a “forensic fairy tale,” and while this is an apt title I also think it’s not going to help people really understand what the show is about or why they should be watching it. I’ve heard word that the pilot is making the rounds in numerous forms on the internet, and despite it being illegal and all of that…I implore you to seek it out as soon as possible.
I stopped my pitch for the series with my boss before getting into the plot of the episode, much as I’ve done here, because that’s something that people need to see for themselves. I’ve read reports of people feeling underwhelmed by the pilot’s opening, but end up a fan by the time it ends. I think that this pilot could be a treatment for depression: a cute dog, a love story, and despite a fair amount of death a sense that right is being done in the world.
And right can be done in the world if people watch this series. My faith in the viewing public is riding on the success of this series, and while I am prepared for my dreams to be crushed, I can’t not make it clear that I am rooting for Pushing Daisies more than any other show this year. Watch it. Download it. Whatever: just do it.