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I am currently working on a comedy mystery novel set in a world somewhat like ours. I can draw with either my right or my left hand, and I love to paint. I administer the blog for The Original Tree Worshippers of Rock County--rocksherlockotw.blogspot.com--a Sherlockian group I co-founded that meets in Janesville, Wisconsin, and am a founding member of The Cherry Street Irregulars, writers who gather (in groups of two or more) with laptops to create, critique, and support one another.
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2010/08/28

Pushing Daisies Blossoms

Series Review by Resa Haile

Pushing Daisies premiered in the fall 2007 television season to critical buzz and moderately-good ratings. The writers’ strike caused the series’ first season to be very short, and the second season had only thirteen episodes shot before cancellation. It is available on DVD.

Artwork by Resa Haile
This series was different from anything else on television. Narrated by Jim Dale, frequent Broadway star and well known as the reader of the Harry Potter audio books in the U.S. (On a side note, he also starred in the all-but-forgotten Digby The Biggest Dog in the World, and Digby is the name of the dog on Pushing Daisies as well.) The narration allows the audience to know when the regular characters are saying what they mean—and when they aren’t. It also provides wry commentary and gives the audience backstory and additional information.

Narrator: At that moment, the Piemaker felt a mixture of happiness and trepidation.

Ned (the Piemaker): Why is it always a mixture?

Pushing Daisies is the story of Ned, also known as the Piemaker, who has a special gift, or, possibly, curse. Ned has the ability to raise the dead with his touch.

There are certain rules that go along with Ned’s ability. If he touches the resurrected again, that touch is permanent death. If he doesn’t touch the resurrected again within one minute, the price of another death is extracted.

When Ned was a boy, he brought his mother back to life, causing the death of the next-door neighbor, father of Charlotte “Chuck” Charles, the girl he loved. (Some fans of the show have theorized Ned’s last name is Edwards, so that he would be Edward Edwards, a nice match-up with Charlotte Charles.) Of course, since Ned hadn’t yet figured out any of these rules, his mother was soon gone again as well. The dog Ned had as a child is still with him, but Ned can’t pet him. This leads to some funny scenes with Ned remote-petting Digby and other such devices.

Ned (Lee Pace) learns that his touch has a huge effect on the flavor of fruit (I can’t help but wonder if fruit or plants are dying mysteriously somewhere nearby) and becomes a maker of pies. Eventually, he opens a shop called “The Pie Hole,” which is shaped like a pie. He lives in an apartment above, and his waitress, Olive Snook (Broadway baby Kristen Chenoweth, whose wicked singing skills are sometimes put to good use in the series), lives in the apartment next to his. She nurses a crush on Ned, although he tries to avoid touching people.

Private eye Emerson Cod (Chi McBride) discovers Ned’s secret and uses him to revive murder victims in order to solve the crimes. Although the interrogations include a lot of dialogue, I did time one, and the victim was returned to the state of death in under the minute required.

One such victim, however, turns out to be Ned’s childhood love, Chuck (Anna Friel), and he cannot bring himself to touch her the second time. She becomes part of the investigation of her own murder, and part of the detective team, which later grows to include Olive.

A suspect with a heightened olfactory sense refers to Chuck, poetically, as a “girl smelling of honey and death.” Chuck wears unusual but often charming outfits that sometimes hearken back to 1930s movie heroines and sometimes channel Audrey Hepburn by way of Emma Peel. Everybody gets into the act when kooky and colourful undercover costumes are called for.

Chuck must keep her re-life a secret from her aunts (played by Swoosie Kurtz, with eye patch, and Ellen Greene, of Little Shop of Horrors fame, who also gets to sing), who raised her. Ned and Chuck love each other, but can never touch, thus solving the television quandary of keeping a couple from getting together without making one or both of the people involved seem like total jerks.

Chuck and Ned are probably more together than most television couples who can touch, making creative use of plastic wrap and beekeeping outfits. Some of the cases include a dim sum restaurant that runs illegal gambling using food instead of cards for its poker game, the murder of a bigamist, a disappearing act with a killer ending, and pop-up books (Emerson Cod ends up taking a break from his hobby of knitting to create one).

Emerson’s sarcasm makes a nice counterpoint to the sweetness of Chuck and Ned, and, if I sometimes find myself wishing Olive’s love for Ned could be requited, there seem to be several possible secondary candidates to win her heart. Besides, her burgeoning friendship with Chuck is entertaining.

The show is a brightly-colored film noir screwball comedy whodunit fable, with beautiful fairy tale set design and smart, witty writing and acting. The final episode tries too hard to pull all of the loose ends together, making me want to delete the last few minutes and write my own ending, but the series is wonderful overall.

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