The Sophomore Test: Pushing Daisies
While breaking into the headquarters of the Dandelion Car Company, Ned the Pie Maker experiences a mixture of happiness and trepidation, and poses a rather telling question:
“Why does it always have to be a mixture?”
I concur, Ned, I concur: watching tonight’s sophomore episode of Pushing Daisies, my reactions formed a dangerous mixture of optimism and pessimism. With each passing scene, the pilot’s potential flashed in front of my eyes before disappearing shortly after. It was an emotional rollercoaster, but I am now back on solid ground and capable of breaking this mixture down to its key ingredients.
While it’s too early for the verdict, Pushing Daisies’ second stanza featured a comparable level of wit, an adequate level of characterization, a mildly disappointing dialogue devolution, a massively predictable procedural story, a case of overnarrativitis, and one overly long musical number. What does this all mean?
Pushing Daisies is still the best new show of the season…but they’ve got some work to do.
[There are light spoilers below, but this is really designed as more of a preview than a recap. So, if you want to know what to expect, keep reading.]
The Procedural Question
The week’s procedural mystery, its first, was clearly designed more for its design possibilities as opposed to its actual element of mystery. It surrounds the apparent hit and run murder of Bernard, a scientist at Dandelion Car Company, which is developing the Dandelion SX that runs on, well, dandelions. Fancy that!
The story was decent, and features a fated love at its center to help parallel and drive a wedge between Ned and Chuck. However, the mystery is quite literally over as soon as there is only one logical suspect (I called it immediately upon its introduction), and the only real mystery is the slow reveal of how things went down. It was almost too far in the background, actually, and felt more like an excuse to reveal more about our characters. This is fine, but I might want maybe a few unexpected twists and turns too.
The Character Development
This week was all about learning more about our characters as Ned, Chuck and Emerson bickered about knowing both each other and the people Ned makes alive again. We didn’t get much of a view of Ned, although he does enjoy driving. Chuck, meanwhile, taught herself how to speak multiple language, and Emerson knits when he’s nervous (And several other delightful situations to picture Chi McBride in). Chuck and Ned’s relationship is also further delved into, with some tension resulting in some form of development by episode’s end.
I feel like each of the character were fleshed out just enough to justify the relatively unchanged dynamic from the pilot, and that there is a strong dynamic present: they smartly abandoned Chuck’s aunts to better establish our core characters. This was one of the episode’s strongpoints, as it was handled through the main procedural storyline and not through contrived situations.
Olive, Olivia and Jim Dale
However, the same cannot be said for Kristin Chenoweth as Olive Snook. Not related to the crime-solving element of the series, her character development was entirely her own…and it was clunky. There was some great interaction between her and Digby, including my favourite line of the episode, but there was two problems.
First off, her big character moment is an overlong and unnecessary version of Olivia Newton-John’s “Hopelessly Devoted to You” from Grease. It stuck out as a way to justify her existence in the series (And to say “Yo, she was on broadway!”) as opposed to a real character development.
The second problem was Jim Dale. There was some discussion of overnarration with the first episode, and those fears have not been removed here: Dale’s lovely tones are out in full force, and sometimes too often. He started to tell us when people were lying, and in many cases overexposited what could have been said in a line of dialogue. Olive, in particular, had most of her thoughts explained as opposed to shown, except when she broke out into song of course. This is something to watch in the future, and I hope it’s just a bit of a sophomore crutch.
The Dialogue and Design
However, the pilot’s charms came mostly from two things: the dialogue and the production design. With Barry Sonnenfeld behind the camera, the design remained sharp (Although I’ll have to rewatch the episode tomorrow night on something that isn’t my fuzzy antenna reception to make sure). However, the dialogue took a bit of a hit.
Mainly, it felt like the writer (Peter Ocko, late of Daisies creator Bryan Fuller’s Dead Like Me) was trying to ape Fuller’s distinctive style to keep the flow from the pilot. It worked at points: some of the exchanges are pretty fantastic, to be honest. However, other times it all felt forced and attempting to reach whimsy it couldn’t attain. I have no idea how the rest of the writing staff, previewed here by Maclean’s Jaime J. Weinmann, will be able to pull it off.
The Verdict…of sorts
There’s no verdict here: Pushing Daisies the Procedural is certainly not clearly defined within this single episode. It comes to a worthwhile conclusion, and certainly kept my interest (And made me laugh out loud while caring about the characters, so that’s a plus) for its running time. I still remain concerned about the path for Olive as a character, and for the procedural elements, but for the most part I think there’s a charming and high quality television series worth making alive again forever.
The real Sophomore Test is tomorrow night, when we see how much of America stuck around for week two.