Pushing Daisies – “Comfort Food”

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“Comfort Food”

December 3rd, 2008

When I was watching this week’s special Monday episode of Privileged, it struck me that what I like about the show is how comfortable it feels: its storylines were rote, but the execution was such that it all felt like part of a longstanding relationship despite the show only being ten episodes old. And, I got the same feeling watching tonight’s aptly titled “Comfort Food,” the eighth episode of Pushing Daisies’ second season.

It will also be one of the last: ABC only has plans to air two more episodes, a rather frustrating reality when I consider that this is a show that is not complacent in its comfort. The episode’s central mystery, a charming and cameo-filled zany cook-off scenario, was in line with the series’ tradition, but it also featured a chance for Ned and Olive to interact on an individual level. Meanwhile, Chuck’s storyline took her character in a whole new direction, while giving her and Emerson a chance to interact in a new way as well.

What we got was, as a result, was an episode that reminds us what we will lose when Pushing Daisies leaves our television: an enormously pretty, extremely entertaining, and wonderfully whimsical world. And even if it’s not redesigning the world, I don’t want to lose my weekly visit to this world.

What worked about this episode was that it was about two of the show’s central ideas: baking pies and bringing people back to life. It didn’t get any more complicated: while the recurring storyline of Dwight Dixon obviously played a role in the episode, it was as a solution to one of the storylines as opposed to the preoccupation. This gave the episode the kind of light feeling that the show often has, while still obviously advancing the plot and giving us some new direction

There was no new direction in the Cook-Off subplot, which was just pure confection and, in some ways, a callback to past events. Ned and Olive being isolated from everyone else was an interesting choice, but Kristin Chenoweth and Lee Pace looked so darn charming in their various pie hats and their outfits. It’s the kind of thing that only works on this show: the idea of a show existing where there is a Waffle Nazi, a brought-to-life Colonel of Fried Chicken, and a murderous organizer out for revenge for his crippling obesity is almost too good to be true.

Well, there is one show: the much-talked about (within TV criticism circles, anyways) crossover with one of Fuller’s past creations, Wonderfalls, was this week. That show, which ran on FOX for only four episodes a number of years ago, featured Lee Pace and gave us a lot of the same kind of whimsical humour we saw at play here. Amongst them was, indeed, Mary Ann Marie Beedle, of the Muffin Buffalo, a trailer park resident who loved to bake. The transference from one show to another is no accident: she feels right at home in her ridiculous bonnet scheming in order to win the prize and keep her precious Buffalo alive.

Throw in Patrick Fischler as the Waffle Nazi (the guy is everywhere these days), and the bright colours that spread around the bake-off ring, and you have the kind of story that Pushing Daisies does well. I was watching the show with a friend who doesn’t watch it on a regular basis, and he immediately noticed how pretty it was (he also noticed Chenoweth’s, um, assets, but that’s another story); the setting really suited it well, and also offered a lot of diversity. While episodes like the Beekeeping episode had plenty of whimsy, they felt very one-note and never moved on – here, I thought that the various characters fit this universe very well, and the idea that Olive fit right in with her competitive spirit was a good turn.

It was good because it really gave Olive a greater purpose: sure, it is becoming a bit of a cliche for her to break into song to indicate that the show is giving her something to do, but she was great as Ned’s assistant, and I liked the dynamic of her not knowing he can wake up the dead and being awfully confused at how he was getting so much information from a corpse. I don’t know where they’re going rekindling Olive and Ned’s relationship thing, but it’s charming for the time being and made for a nice lighter side of this story.

Where I think it might be going, though, is giving Ned an alternative for the point where he finds out that his one true love bamboozled him and kept her father alive. Yes, in the end she gets a free pass from the show’s ethical standards: she would have been shot and killed had she not done it, Ned probably as well, so there’s no irreperable harm physically. But, emotionally, this is a bitter pill to swallow: while it was the same thing Ned did to her, fully knowing the consequences, for her to trick him into letting it happen is a different story. Ned is ultimately the one whose touch of life can lead to the touch of death, and I think that knowing his power was abused in that light isn’t going to help their relationship (which is apparently getting closer, considering the newfangled plastic sheet/arm holder that allows them to sleep in the same bed together).

I don’t think the show would ever actively attempt to separate these two, but this certainly presents a pretty large wrinkle to wrap up in only five episodes. I thought the storyline did some good for Chuck, who Anna Friel brought a lot of life to this week. Her visions of the deceased Dwight guilting her, and her short period of time spent with her father, were all played with the right level of emotion. While we got a very sassy type of Chuck last week, and in most weeks, returning to a more emotional state for the character feels natural at this stage. I’m not entirely sure where they intend to take the storyline (Her father can’t stay alive forever, after all), but it serves as an interesting complication for the future.

Even it, though, felt whimsical: we had Lily with the shotgun (always entertaining), plus Emerson’s great quips (his refusal to be in cahoots (“that was a peck of cahoots!”) being my favourite). The show is always good at balancing those various elements, and it was in good form here: we even got Vivian’s sadness at Dwight’s passing worked into the episode. I liked last week’s episode, but this week showed both the ability to be light on its feet (Olive’s great episode-ending dash to the competition table) and to introduce the show’s dramatic pathos. So, a thumbs up from me on this one.

One thing, before I get into some bullet points: we never did get any more information on what Dwight was looking for, and I don’t think his death will mean we don’t get any – Chuck’s father seemed to indicate that there was need for some type of insurance policy, and I hope we do return to that in the future (and that it sheds some light on some of this episode’s key questions, such as Ned’s power).

Cultural Observations

  • I’ve noted in the past that I’m no foodie, so the food itself wasn’t the appeal here: the episode felt more like food come to life, whether it’s in hat form (Olive’s awesome little cap) or through the various stands that littered the floor of the convention.
  • I don’t know about anyone else, but I was compltely grossed out when the Colonel ate himself – that hardly seemed necessary in my eyes, but I guess it’s a visual that will stick with us.
  • The conclusion, with Olive stealing the scooter and beating Beedle to the finish line, reminded me of the race for Supper on The Simpsons, so I half expected Olive to jump out and just start running. Still, it was a really fun final scene, and Olive’s victory was well-earned (if it was, also, cheating).
  • The mystery wasn’t really even a mystery: with so much misdirection, the plot was a classic Scooby-Doo scenario that was pretty easily called by mid-episode if not on first introduction.
  • I am going to have my own binge eating session when this show leaves my TV for good…or I might indulge in some “rogue impulse baking” like Ned.
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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Pushing Daisies – “Comfort Food”

  1. Heh. Seven episodes this season before a musical number. I’ve been dying waiting for someone to bust out a tune.

    A great episode, one of the cleanest ones they’ve done, even if it was atypical in that it separated Ned from everyone else so much. What struck me, however, was how much laziness there really was in the writing – and how the show stands up just fine despite it. There’s the mystery you noted, and let’s not forget no one bothered to let us know the killer used to be skinny until the reveal. It’s not a mystery if you don’t give us clues to solve it. But worse was the wave of the wand regarding why Dwight didn’t shoot long before the grave was dug up.

    If he followed Chuck, he would have had plenty of time to shoot her and Ned before they reached the coffin.

  2. I know what you mean with the musical numbers – I still have “Birdhouse in my Soul” stuck in my head. And “Morning Has Broken.” It’s a sickness.

    As for the Dwight question, the better question is why he had the gun at all: if his goal was to get the pocket watch, wouldn’t it be a lot less messy for him to just dig up the body after they left? Sure, it’s more manual labour, but killing someone seemed pretty unnecessary to his end goal unless I was really missing something. Ignoring that, though, you’re quite right – waiting only made sense for story purposes.

  3. narfna

    Gah! Why did they cancel it!?

    And I know we already covered this on Twitter, but icky yucky gross unnaturalness that Colonel crispy guy — he made feel bad tingles.

  4. Pingback: The 2008 Television Time Capsule: Pushing Daisies - “Comfort Food” « Cultural Learnings

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