In Retrospect: Pushing Daisies
By Ally Stuart (@allyxstuart)
At this very moment, it’s been seven years, eight months, and three days since the airing of the finale of ABC’s Pushing Daisies.
The facts were these: Ned (Lee Pace), a pie-maker by trade, originally of the town of Couer d’Couers, was born with the ability to wake the dead with a single touch. To supplement the income of his restaurant, The Pie Hole, he uses this ability to assist private detective Emerson Cod (Chi McBride) in solving murders. Ned touches the victim, he and Emerson question that person regarding who murdered them, Ned touches the victim a second time to return that person to finality of death, and he and Emerson split whatever reward money there is to be had.
Their system works, until the murder victim in question is Ned’s childhood beloved, Charlotte “Chuck” Charles (Anna Friel), who Ned revives in the pilot episode, fittingly titled “Pie-lette”. Unable to bring himself to touch Chuck again, Ned lets the repercussion free sixty-second window allowed by his gift to pass. Chuck stays alive, with the wicked funeral director dying abruptly to return life and death to balance, and Ned is left with a lot of explaining to do.
Intrepid waitress Olive Snook (Kristin Chenoweth), former jockey, employee of the Pie Hole, and neighbour to Ned, rounds out the core four and provides Ned’s darling dog, Digby (formerly dead and returned to life by Ned’s first life-giving touch), with the physical affection that Ned, sadly, cannot.
The core four and their stories, secrets, and ambitions are one of the things that serves to make the short-lived series so endearing. Ned, charming and awkward at the same time, is a habitual keeper of secrets, a trait which causes ongoing conflict within the series, especially during the first season as he wrestles with his guilt over having unknowingly traded his mother’s life for that of Chuck’s father. Chuck, a vivacious whirlwind of a woman, barrels head first into her second life, while simultaneously chafing against the constraints of that life, namely not being able to reveal to her beloved aunts, Lily and Vivian (Swoosie Kurtz and Ellen Greene) that she is, in fact, alive again. Emerson, a curmudgeonly closet knitter with questionable morals, is also the writer of a children’s book, aimed to draw his own daughter back to him. Olive, burdened first with her secret love of Ned, then with Chuck’s secrets (‘faking her own death’ and using Olive to deliver anti-depressant ladened pies to her aunts), never truly allows her burdens to dim her light and joie de vivre. The characters’ eccentricities make them, and Pushing Daisies, easy to love.
Also easy to love is the cast of supporting characters, anchored by Chuck’s aunts, Lily and Vivien. They, along with the soft-handed, long suffering Coroner (Sy Richardson), taxidermist Randy Mann (David Arquette), traveling salesman Alfredo Aldarisio (Raúl Esparza), canine aficionado Simone Hundin (Christine Adams), and the scent-sational Oscar Vibenius (Paul Reubens) flesh out the world of Pushing Daisies and enrich the lives of the core four, helping to make the Pie Hole and Couer d’Couers feel like real, albeit magical and a little strange, places.
The mysteries solved by Ned, Emerson, and Chuck also bring with them a cavalcade of wonderful guest stars, such as Joel McHale, Molly Shannon, Jayma Mays, and Orlando Jones. Each episodic mystery itself is wickedly delightful, with the macabre nature of the cases (a man eaten by a dog, the face of a honey company murdered by a swarm of bees, a candy maker drowned in their own store’s product) tempered by Pushing Daisies’ cheerful score, super-saturated color palette, and the upbeat, stream-of-consciousness voiceover provided by the Narrator (Jim Dale).
For me, personally, it was that whimsical combination of the score, the bright colors, and the narration that had me hooked from the moment I first started the “Pie-lette”. I fell in love with the gorgeous world of Pushing Daisies before I fell in love with the characters and their stories. The show had me, right from the opening shot of Couer d’Couers’ field of daisies, and the beauty of it all together (the stories, the characters, the visuals, and the score) are what keep me coming back to re-watch over and over again.
Every element of Pushing Daisies works simultaneously to create a beautiful world that, despite being filled with murder most foul, invites viewers in and engages them fully, leaving them wanting a another ‘helping’ of the pie-maker and his cohorts (pie joke completely intended).
Speaking of pies, it would be amiss not to acknowledge the mouth-watering works of art that the Pushing Daisies prop department created to stock the shelves of the Pie Hole. Whether heaped with fruit or topped with a perfectly golden-brown crust, each of the pies displayed is a thing of wonder. As a baker myself, I’ll admit to paying homage to the pies of Pushing Daisies more than once, but doubt that I can be blamed for trying to emulate such beautiful, buttery, baked goodness. Pear and gruyère, oh my!
Brevity may be the soul of wit, but in Pushing Daisies’ case, the brief length of the series’ is little more than tragedy. Totalling twenty-two episodes, it was one of many that ended before its time. Thankfully, much like Ned’s life-returning touch, home media allows viewers to revive the beauty of Pushing Daisies long after it’s untimely demise.