Pushing Daisies – “The Norwegians”

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“The Norwegians”

December 17th, 2008

If there is a word that best describes Pushing Daisies, it is potential – it is the kind of show where you can imagine where they can take these characters, what kind of fantastical scenarios they can place them in. A world in which there is a crack team of Norwegian investigators who have too few murders to investigate and migrate to Papin county in order to take advantage of its high murder rate is the kind of creativity that the show thrives on, and it feels at this point that it is in an almost endless supply.

So as the show marches towards the halfway point in its generously offered second season, what we get is an episode where they’re starting to dig into some of the show’s bigger questions and more complicated relationships in a way that almost feels like the show is ramping up to some sort of a conclusion. But since that can’t possibly be…what’s that? Wait, are you serious? Really? Canceled, you say? How dare they!

In all seriousness, with this lame attempt at kidding aside, this episode is that Catch-22 of the canceled drama that pretty well knew it was going to be canceled when it entered into this stretch of episodes. Fuller has smartly designed his conclusion to serve two purposes: bringing to the surface underlying tensions and events of import for our characters and, more importantly, reminding us how broad and wonderful this universe is. The trick was to make episodes like “The Norwegians,” a tightly constructed episode featuring murder without mystery, a father with a surprise identity, and a healthy combination of both dramatic gravitas of the moment and comic timing that feels like it will never go away.

Unfortunately, ABC saw through both of those particular facts – perhaps someone staged a fake Pushing Daisies to throw them off the scent of sweet televised success.

I don’t know if there’s been an episode of Pushing Daisies that has dealt with this many complicated emotional moments: we got Olive discovering that Ned once did look at her like he looks at Chuck, we got Ned and Chuck holding hands through a reluctant Emerson, we got Emerson’s emotional conversation with Vivian, Vivian and Lily’s shared sadness over Chuck’s grave proving empty, and just about everything else in the episode. This was the kind of episode that operated on that level, presenting an almost entirely serialized story that brings to a close to story of Dwight Dixon and ushers in, instead, the story of Mr. Piemaker.

I don’t have too much to say about the episode specifically, as today has been a very long day and I am jonesing for some real rest and relaxation time in the day or so ahead, but this one just felt “right” to me. The dialogue seemed sharper, and the emotional crux of the story felt like it had the proper uptick in tension from recent weeks. The Norwegians were as entertaining as they sounded in concept (with their “MOTHER,” with its MILF tag on the back, how could they not be?), and the entire thing played out in a way that took the machinations of the storyline (the putting to bed of Dwight Dixon) and turned them into something quite compelling.

It was, of course, compelling for the usual reasons, although in particular the episode demonstrated the more dramatic side of the show’s performers. Say what you will about the oft times sporadic use of Lily and Vivian, but Kurtz and Greene absolutely killed what was really a small part of this episode and this storyline in a way that made me feel a lot more for Vivian, in particular, than I think I would have without such a great performance. Similarly, Chi McBride continues to demonstrate why he deserved so much more attention during awards season for his wonderful turn as Emerson Cod – his moments with Vivian were the most unorthodox in the episode, and I thought he really nailed them.

It is, though, quite frustrating to see the show in such good shape just as it heads towards its end. From what Fuller has said, we’re going to be getting into Emerson’s daughter soon enough (which, considering the above note on McBride, will be great), and the entrance of Ned’s Father (George Hamilton, which should be fun casting to watch) certainly ratchets up that particular tension. It all really reminds us that, for all of its week to week wonderment and its dizzying dialogue, this show has also developed a real knack for developing longer term storylines.

As R.A. Porter noted over at Dreamloom, there is a great sense of growth here, particular in terms of relationships: Emerson wouldn’t have helped Ned and Chuck like this in the beginning, just like he would never stoop to putting on a fake grin and bringing “Itty Bitty” back into the fold. That’s a new side to the character that’s really gradually emerged, and I’m glad to be able to see it really flourish…and sad that its emergence will be cut short before its time.

Cultural Observations

  • Orlando Jones, Ivana Milcevic and Michael Weaver brought some real fun out of the Norwegians, who had a really enjoyable demeanor overall. I’d say that Milcevic has had quite the 2008 when it comes to guest star roles: she was memorable as the woman in Black during House’s head visions in “House’s Head,” and then popped up on Chuck recently as well.
  • I’d have to go through the episode again to get them all, but the entire thing was full (chock full, even) of a number of great plays on words. One of the more simple but effective, I thought, was evoking the Stockholm Syndrome with the Norwegians who, we learn later, have a logical hatred of the Swedes. Also, Olive saying “Norwegia” and her Norwegian accent? Sheer amazement.

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