Most people dream of finding the love of their life: they exchange affectionate letters, arrange romantic dinners, and prepare gifts of chocolate and flowers, all in the hopes that when they kick the bucket, they’ll have someone by their side. But what about love after said bucket-kicking? Pushing Daisies, which premiered on October 3, explores this obscure topic, and is a refreshing, unusual take on the conventions of death and true love.
The ridiculously cute Lee Pace (Wonderfalls, The Good Shepherd), is Ned, a pie maker in his late 20s with a special gift: the ability to bring the dead back to life with a single touch. If he touches them a second time, they die again. Forever. And if they stay alive again for more than a minute, someone else in the vicinity has to die. Ned supplements his income by solving murder cases with Emerson Cod, a private investigator, and collecting the reward.
Pace portrays Ned adorably, guiding him through a quirky, Gilmore Girls-esque script with just the right amount of stutters and puppy-dog facial expressions. Sharing incredible chemistry with Chi McBride (The Nine, I, Robot), who plays the stuffy and business-like Emerson, the two bounce off each other like balls on a court, trading fast-paced remarks and witticisms.
When a young woman is discovered dead on a cruise ship, Ned and Emerson visit her body at a funeral home, only to realize that she is Chuck, Ned’s childhood sweetheart. Ned revives her, and ignoring the one-minute rule, keeps her alive. And as elated as they are to be reunited, they can never touch each other again.
And despite all the sadness of impossible love, Ned and Chuck find ways around not having any physical contact. The creative use of saran wrap, plastic bags, and rubber gloves provide for plenty of warm, fuzzy “aww” moments that counteract the undercurrent of sadness and dark humor in the show. Portrayed by Anna Friel (Goal!, A Midsummer Night’s Dream), Chuck, although charming and bighearted, comes off as a bit contrived and unrealistic. She is unique, intelligent and assertive, the type of female character that was once rarely seen, but now is quickly turning into a stereotype. As sublime as Ned and Chuck are together, I can’t help hoping that Chuck will accidentally fall off a cliff, or be eaten by a giant badger, so that I will no longer have to look at her beautiful, perfect face, or learn more about her annoyingly flawless and well-rounded personality.
But besides Friel’s Chuck, Pushing Daisies’ cast is still superb, with the supporting characters fleshing out a glittering fairy tale world. Kristin Chenoweth, of Broadway’s famed Wicked, plays Olive Snook, a miniscule pie waitress in pursuit of Ned’s heart, who wonders constantly about the mysterious appearance of Chuck. Coincidentally, Olive befriends Chuck’s aunts, Lily and Vivian Charles, portrayed by the award-winning Swoosie Kurtz and Ellen Greene, respectively. This separate storyline leaves viewers on their toes, as the sassy Lily, the shy Vivian, and the perky Olive navigate throughout their lives, while somehow not ever finding out the truth about Chuck’s death.
And that’s not to mention the way the show looks. The sets are like the rest of the show; vivid, full of life, and completely surreal. Ned’s restaurant, The Pie Hole, is decorated in full kitschy diner couture, with green-and-white checked floors and a glowing red neon sign. Randomly placed knick-knacks throughout Lily and Vivian’s house reflect the oddball nature of the two aunts, and their fondness for fine cheeses and birds. The actor’s costumes also fit their characters to a tee. The laid-back Ned sports jeans and Converse sneakers, Emerson wears hand-knitted sweater vests, Lily and Vivian are hilariously out-of-date fashionistas. And where did Chuck find all those fabulously floaty dresses?
Overall, Pushing Daisies is the most original program to premiere on television in several years, and its first season is already off to a fantastic start. Talented actors propel the engaging story through a color-saturated fantasy world. Entertaining dialogue and situations appear every few minutes, promising that this will be the best new show this season (Those interested can watch full episodes at ABC.com). Kicking the bucket has never looked like so much fun.