Getting to the point: Pushing Daisies the best new series of the season, and another idiosyncratic triumph for Bryan Fuller—last producing the cancelled Wonderfalls. The following are notes and observations from the first two episodes of what's already become a wonderful, compelling, and downright magical show.
- Only a Bryan Fuller show would open with a dog getting plowed by an 18-wheeler and make it lighthearted. Oh, Fuller, how I've missed you.
- And if that weren't enough, the heroine winds up being named Chuck. Her given name is Charlotte Charles, but her real name, the one that gets at the essence of her, is Chuck. This is Fuller's m.o.: Give the girl a guy's name to match her quirky personality. Wonderfalls had Jaye, and Dead Like Me had George. Fuller wants every part of his female leads to be different, making their masculine names both a springboard into creating an offbeat character and also the ultimate summation of same.
- Also, she's played by Anna Friel, who is seriously cute.
- Pushing Daisies is going to draw comparisons to Tim Burton's work for its visuals, particularly the explosive colors of Burton's Big Fish, but to do so is to short-change Pushing Daisies and confine it to too narrow a space. It's not as if Burton created the idea of hyperstylized worlds where the costumes and set design all seemed vaguely defiant of real-world physics; off the top of my head, Dr. Seuss cooked up some pretty trippy stuff in the same vein. Burton was merely channeling a spirit of fantasy, even of whimsy, and it's that original vibe of fairy-tale glimmer and storybook oddities that Pushing Daisies works to create.
- Plus there's the fact that Pushing Daisies has a perfect story engine: Ned (Lee Pace), who can touch dead things to revive them and touch them again to kill them again, resurrects Chuck, his childhood sweetheart. So now he's in love with her, and she's quickly falling in love with him, and they can't touch. This leads to all kinds of fantastic physical chemistry, as well as Ned's ingenious method in the second episode of death-proofing his car by putting a reinforced glass wall between the driver and passenger seats and even installing in it a small hole with attached glove. So now he can drive and hold Chuck's gloved hand without worrying about permanently ending her existence.
- I just want the show to last a year. I set modest goals when it comes to shows that are so clearly not destined to be mainstream hits but that still grab hold of me. Just a year. That'd be nice.
- I asked my roommate what he thought of the show, and he replied, "It's sweet, and I want to hug it." This is not altogether an unusual thing for him to say, since beneath his coarse exterior is a quiet man who just wants to get a kitty and name it Garbage. But it's also a sign of the show's infectious glee that my roommate is more than willing to go along on Fuller's wide-eyed ride, despite the fact that he is not, ~as far as I know, a professional TV critic or a member of the cadre of writers who usually glom onto shows as defiantly special as this one and whose breathless search for superlatives tends to leave mainstream viewers cold, and indifferent, and wondering if Two and a Half Men is a repeat.
- It's somehow amazingly appropriate that the show's lofty, fantastic narration is spoken by Jim Dale, who also reads the audio versions of the Harry Potter series in their U.S. releases.
- I guess what I'm saying is: The show's good, but not (just) good in that way that seems to go right for people who are training themselves to look for something new and different in a pile of network-produced crap. My roommate, in another display of prescience that could just mean we've been living together for too long, looked at me and said, "It's the only good show this year." And he's right. As I sank into my couch and let the dark, sad, sweet fairy tale of Pushing Daisies wash over me, I felt that sense of calm rediscovery that always comes with finding another one of Those Shows. They're the ones that aren't just fun or popular, but instead manage to tap into something weird and secret and achingly hopeful in all of us.
- The second episode also fulfilled the promise of the first and kept right on plugging ahead with the show's unabashed, heartfelt quirkiness: Watching Olive (Kristen Chenoweth) sing "Hopelessly Devoted" while dancing with a dog, or the moment when Ned and Chuck kissed through clear plastic body bags (long story), it was clear that the show is proudly unconventional but also thoroughly romantic.
- But you can't always get there the same way. I'm sure that, if one of the nets had cooked up a show this fall about a teenage girl who doubles as a private investigator, it wouldn't work. Same goes for a witty, offbeat comedy about a divided family of foolish eccentrics, or a show about nerds and burnouts in high school, or a western in space. The shows that mean the most to us seem to rise above their circumstance to all strive for that same emotional sweet spot in all of us, and just as Pushing Daisies hopes to channel not just some facsimile of someone else's quirky style but the preexisting aura of creativity that inspired it in the first place, so too is the series capable of being more than a show about a guy who can bring the dead back to life for a minute. It's about life, and all the pain and promise that come with it. Fuller's heart has never been so proudly displayed on his sleeve as the moment at the end of the first episode when Ned (Lee Pace) and Chuck, forbidden by Ned's deadly power to touch but nevertheless falling in love, clasp their hands behind their backs and pretend to be holding each other.
airs Wednesday nights at 8 pm on ABC.