Pushing Daisies – “Oh Oh Oh…It’s Magic”

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“Oh Oh Oh…It’s Magic”

November 19th, 2008

With production on the thirteenth episode of its second season completed last week, Pushing Daisies has officially completed all episodes ordered by ABC. This is an alarming fact that hasn’t been lost on fans of the series, and they’re (justifiably) hoping that tonight’s episode brings a solid ratings bump and a chance for a third season (or, even, the order of more episodes for the Spring). As someone who is very much a fan of this series, I count myself amongst them: my fingers are crossed for tomorrow moning. Call it a cliche, but we’re hoping for a little bit of magic.

“Oh Oh Oh…It’s Magic” is actually a really interesting study for the show, and poses a question to this particular critical eye: is it the fanciful locations and atmospheric qualities that give Pushing Daisies its magical quality, or is it the characters who populate this world who have such pure and human emotions that magic spontaneously erupts when they’re on screen? While Fred Willard’s guest appearance as an illusionist (“The Great Herrmann”) and the world of magic offer some points of interest, the season has had better locations (in particular, the monastery and the circus exploded off the screen in ways that the claustrophobic stage just doesn’t).

Instead, this first episode back from a three week hiatus finds the show leaning on its characters, finding its emotion in their humour (Emerson and Olive) as well as their own tragic pasts (Ned and Chuck’s parent troubles). While there have been some who have called this one of the show’s best episodes yet, I felt somewhat more lukewarm about it. Until it kicks into gear in the third act, where the emotions finally overflow into a very exciting and meaningful conclusion, it was what Pushing Daisies always is: a show that finds magic in procedural mystery, and one that we hope continues to do so for a long time to come.

I think what turns me off about this episode (And, to be honest, parts of “Dim Sum, Lose Some”) is the claustrophobic sense of scale that is often employed by the show. While I know that budgets need to be controlled, and that this episode’s real interest was in its characters, there are times when I feel like we’re never given time to breathe. This isn’t to say that the sets were bad, or that the episode’s setting wasn’t within the show’s wheelhouse, but something about it didn’t feel as visually appealing as some of the show’s other episodes.

It made up for it, however, in terms of our magic specific jokes, especially those from Emerson and “The Great Herrmann” (“My foot will disappear up your-,” the CEMENTIA pun, etc.) Amrie over at MyTakeOnTV has an interview with Fred Willard about the role, and it’s clear that he got to have a lot of fun with it. Headlining at the Conjurer’s Castle, Hermmann is a surrogate father for Ned’s half-brothers, and therefore a point of contention in Ned’s own navigation of his father’s departure (and his acid reflux-causing magic flashbacks). That someone is planning to kill him didn’t really offer anything to the storyline, to be honest: his death is more a device to make Ned consider his half-brothers and what happened to them in a new light, and to realize that he would have to take on the responsibility that the Great Herrmann had (although, of course, setting some boundaries early on for his own sake).

But there’s just something that didn’t click for me, and I don’t know what it is. Chuck had her great storyline of crank calling Lily trying to get her to admit to being a mother (including some great accent work by British-born Anna Friel), Emerson had plenty of great magic-related one-liners, Olive was placed into mortal danger and had that great moment where she looked over her shoulder for a reciprocal moment of cuteness and found Emerson instead of Chuck, and we even got more Digby than we’ve had in a while (and who was especially charming when in between the twins as they were talking to Ned about their father). What’s not to like about an episode that does all of this, you ask? Well, I can’t tell you, because I don’t have the answer either.

The one thing that really fell together for me was the final act, but getting to that point didn’t feel particularly novel to me. Mr. Dixon’s arrival to find Lily and Vivian felt natural enough, but the pocket watch excuse was in and of itself quite contrived in order to reach the quite compelling final scene as we realize that he is going to dig up Chuck’s grave and find no one inside. While Olive’s great pose after our perpetrator (whose name I don’t even know) was flung down below the stage, were exciting, and I thought that how it was achieved (and the foreshadowing with the magnet) was quite clever, I guess it felt like it was so lacking in meaning compared to the actual storyline with Ned and his brothers that I never really felt it.

And perhaps I felt the same about the moment when Chuck finally gets to hear the story of her birth, an absolutely stunning scene as Ned gives her what she’s always wanted, and they meet each other through their car barrier and have a highly emotional moment of love without being able to touch one another. This is the show’s emotional calling card, and isolated from the rest of the episode it was decidedly memorable. However, something about the rest of it just never clicked with me: it was clever, there were some great one-liners, but I never felt that it was there conceptually.

This being said, I’m fully aware that this is not the concensus, and I’m willing to chalk this one up to being exhausted when I watched the episode last night; please, enlighten me on its genius, I hope I will come around eventually.

Cultural Observations

  • My one absolutely gleeful moment was when the phrase “Sorry about your Next Best Thing Magic Dad” was uttered; it was such a brilliant obsernation, and I’m hoping someday that someone will give me a magic card with that phrase on it.
  • My other favourite moment was probably Emerson’s entire interactions with Herrmann – these were the two that really worked well together, especially Emerson’s half-assed volunteering. I also greatly enjoyed Hermmann’s “I’m not made of hugs” rebuffing of Olive’s attempt at human contact. You know, the more I think about individual moments the more I thought of this episode as a whole.
  • It didn’t make a lot of sense for Olive to be in a lot of this episode, but it was great to have her and Chuck be the chorus of excitement and belief in magic while Ned has his “Father-related bodily fluids isues” and Emerson gets to be his cantankerous self. I think I wanted the balance to be found between the personal tragedies and this kind of playful banter, and it was a bit out of whack in this episode.
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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Pushing Daisies – “Oh Oh Oh…It’s Magic”

  1. My only real problem with the episode was that I found the MoW to be a bit boring. But, as it set up a lot of great character moments, (and gave us Fred Willard,) I didn’t mind.

    I find that the PD writers are good at tugging heartstrings, good at developing real relationships between all the characters – even Olive and Emerson have a real dynamic – and good at the long arcs. They’re inconsistent with the weekly mysteries, however.

    I think you’re ignoring the inherent importance of the pocket watches. At least that’s how I read your review. Dwight needs that watch, and presumably Ned’s dad’s as well, for some nefarious purpose. That’s almost definitely going to be massaged in as the reason Ned and the twins’ dad abandoned them – to keep moving and not get caught by Dwight.

    More of my thoughts in my review.

  2. Hmm, Mr. Porter, you’re likely right that I’m ignoring that part of the Dwight storyline. I think that I am following the show’s own pacing, knowing that the payoff for that storyline is upcoming and not reading too much into this week’s slow build. I definitely agree that it is going to head into that territory in future episodes, but I felt this one worked best when it was capturing the very in-the-moment emotions of the leads.

  3. Pingback: Pushing Daisies - “Robbing Hood” « Cultural Learnings

  4. “I’m not made of hugs” is going to be my new line IRL. I can already think of about seven people I’d like to say it to.

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