Saturday, September 1, 2007

I Love This Show So Much I Want To Take it Behind The Middle School and Get It Pregnant...

Pushing Daisies (ABC, Wednesdays at 8:00): Now here's a show I can get behind. It doesn't premiere for another month (October 3rd) but, trust me, it'll be worth the wait.

So...what's it all about? Well, to be honest, I kind of think that the promo monkeys at ABC have given away a bit too much, so I'll try my very best to be brief. Pushing Daisies is the story of Ned (played by Lee Pace, who was Aaron Tyler on Wonderfalls, if you were one of the eight people that watched it--fun fact: Adam Brody was offered the part but turned it down, possibly so he'd be available to shoot In The Land of Women 2), a humble pie-maker who, as a child, discovers that if touches someone who has died, he can bring them back to life. However, if he ever touches that person again--even if it's 25 years later--that person will die (this time: for good) instantly. Quite a catch, that one. Additionally, he can only bring someone back for less than 60 seconds without throwing everything out of whack. If the victim is kept alive for a minute or longer, the universe takes a life (the pilot is somewhat fuzzy on this front--it seems to be a proximity thing) to restore equilibrium. Ned more or less skates through his adult life, solving murder mysteries (guess how!) and then collecting the reward money with his partner/friend Emerson Cod (Chi McBride). Everything changes (as they say) when Ned discovers that his childhood sweetheart, Chuck (played by Anna Friel, best known for her work in the ongoing Goal! trilogy--I'm not even kidding!--though she's quite good here) was murdered on a cruise ship. Hmmm...that wasn't brief at all!

What's great about it:

1. A Tim-Burton feel. And I Mean Tim Burton the Director of Edward Scissorhands and Batman, not Tim Burton the Director of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Planet of the Apes, and Mars Attacks! It's Supposed to be a Compliment, People. Remember Barry Sonnenfeld? For those of you that just assumed, like I did, that he died out of shame after this four stinker directorial stretch--Wild Wild West, Big Trouble (admittedly, the least shitty film of the lot), Men in Black II, and RV--we were wrong. Who knew? (For fun, check this out for what has to be the most unfortunate screen credit in film history.) Sonnenfeld, who's one of the show's executive producers, directed the pilot, and has sworn up and down that he won't abandon this show post-pilot like he did with The Tick and Notes from the Underbelly. And perhaps he should stick to the small screen, since he actually does a pretty good job aping Burton's vision. Stylistically, the PD pilot reminded me a great deal of Big Fish...except that it didn't suck. Beautiful colors, impressive CGI, and a real dream-like feel. Whether they can maintain this visual flair on a weekly non-pilot budget (i.e. much, much less money) remains to be seen.

2. Quirky without being totally silly...and adorable without being sickly sweet. Note: my confidence in this remaining a long-term positive has dropped precipitously since I discovered that Paul Reubens will have a recurring role on the show (I never really dug Pee Wee's Playhouse). That said, based on the pilot alone, this show manages to be funny (see, in particular, scenes with Ned and Emerson for some witty dialogue) with an admittedly outrageous premise without making an outright mockery of the concept. Even the stuff with Chuck's aunts--I won't spoil--which verges on Grey Gardens territory, ultimately pans out. The same can be said for Ned's relationship with Chuck. It really seems as if they genuinely like each other, like there's that new relationship excitement (but longer relationships have their excitement, too--right, baby?) but without being, you know, twee about the whole thing. While a lot of this has to do with the superior writing and acting, I have to give the narrator, Jim Dale (who has gained a cult following of sorts doing the Harry Potter audiobooks) a great deal of credit. His delivery--and I really wish I could explain this better, but I can't--really ties the show together.

3. It's original. And, given that it's a network program, that's really saying something. As near as I can tell, TV pilot pitches work like this now:

Network Executive: OK, so where does this CSI take place? I'm a bit concerned that we're not pushing this franchise hard enough. We've got good coverage in the Northeast and Southeast, but what about about the Northwest? Seattle! Now that's hot. Phoenix would work...what about Kansas City? We definitely need more of a Midwest presence.

Writer: It's not a CSI project.

NE: That's cool. CIA, FBI, or Law & Order works just as well. Now, how prominent a role will Mandy Pantankin be playing, since I know for a fact that he has some unusual deman--

W: It's not a police procedural at all.

NE: [baffled look, frown] Oh. [beat] Well, how about star vehicle for one of the many talented actors we have in our stables: Tim Daly...or Jeff Goldblum...or Taye Diggs...or Geena Davis...or Rob Lowe...or Brad Garrett? Most of them don't really want to be on TV, but we can work around that. I have it on a good authority that Daly would is dying to play the President. Like, he's reading The Federalist Papers for research serious. Do you think you could write that show for us? He could solve crimes in his spare time! Cool, eh? Or a mob boss--either is acceptable.

W: What? No! Aren't Diggs and Daly on Private Practice anyway?

NE: [looks around, whispers] It's not going to work out.

NE: OK, we can still make this work. Is it based on a commercial? That's very hot now. People can relate to that. We've got this show in development that's based on spam. Spam! Can you believe it? It's about a Nigerian prince who sends letters to average Americans asking for money. Each episode is 85 seconds long. It's going to be huge! Huge!!

W: [shakes head]

NE: What about a game show? I lovvvvve game shows. The more it's like a rival network's show, the better. That way, they do all the hard work, and then we swoop in and shamelessly cash in. Not bad, eh? We've got So You Believe Yourself to Be Savvier Than A 4th Grader? in the pipe, with that Larry the Cable Guy hosting. I shit you not. You should see Rupert Murdoch--he's fuming!! And Foxworthy? Oh, man! He says he's going to burn down our building...

W: [shakes head]

NE: [perplexed] What about something about an undead detective...or a living detective that sees dead people?

W: No!

NE: ...a curmudgeonly police chief with unorthodox methods that always gets results? Geena would flip for that one.

W: Seriously, what is wrong with you? Are you on something?
NE: [shrugs shoulders, holds fingers close together] A little bit.

So when something truly interesting (and undeniably novel) comes along, well, it's kind of shocking. Did ABC lose a bet or something?

Two nagging concerns:

1. Kristen Chenoweth needs to be fired. OK, too harsh. Seriously though, her character (the improbably named Olive Snook) kind of drags the show down a bit...and only partly because she's, distractingly, 14 (I swear, I looked this up) inches shorter than Ned (aka the guy she's none too subtly pining for). Someone get this poor girl a step-ladder! I mean, it's bad enough that we have Chenoweth (and Sorkin's jealousy-addled mind) to blame for the truly atrocious Harriet Hayes character on Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (for the uninitiated, and God I envy you if you are, it's a poorly kept secret that Harriet was based on Chenoweth, show creator Aaron Sorkin's then ex-girlfriend--with whom he has apparently since reconciled--if you're not familiar with Harriet Hayes, picture a more unrelenting version of Jerry Falwell, but with breasts, and you're on the right track), but must we be subjected to her mindless pie-related chatter here?

Truth be told, I thought she was pretty good on The West Wing (especially when she shared the screen with the late--and incomparable--John Spencer), so it could just be that the character and not the actress needs tweaking. Too soon to tell.

2. I'm not entirely convinced that this high quality is sustainable for an entire season (or longer). Rob McKenzie, the National Post's TV guy, put it rather succinctly:
But this isn't a pilot for a TV series so much as a hermetic tale that needs no addition. It's so good that I don't want to watch further episodes, on the premise that it can only go downhill.
Spot on. Also: I'm not sure how they're going to advance the story. To wit: since Ned can solve all potential murder mysteries in under a minute (literally), it can't really be a straight detective show. And since Ned and Chuck can't consummate their relationship (can they?) it can't really be a love story (can it?). The will-they-or-won't-they formula surely can't really apply if the former leads to the instant death of one of the principles. I just hope they haven't written themselves into a corner. Maybe--and I really hope I'm right here---the answer is that it'll be a truly unconventional love story that will blow us all away. At any rate, if any show has a chance to do that this year, this is the one.

It's sweet, smart, and thoroughly entertaining, which, I'll admit, all but dooms it to cancellation. Until then, though: enjoy.


Anonymous said...

Adam Brody? That would've been HORRIBLE. I never watched Wonderfalls, but from the one episode of Pushing Daisies I caught, Pace can act circles around Brody. He could probably still act circles around Brody even if he was blindfolded and had both arms tied behind his back. Besides, I thought it was said that the role was originally written for Lee Pace?

I actually thought Goal was cute, nothing spectacular, but cute. That said, is that really what Anna Friel is best known for? Not her time on Broadway in the play Closer? Not her Lesbian character from the Brit soap Brookside? Not the fact that she dated George Clooney and is currently with David Thewlis of Harry Potter fame (with whom she shares a daughter)?

Also, re Kristen Chenoweth being 14 inches shorter than Lee Pace: Friel is only about 2 inches taller than her.

Kyle Wasko said...

1. I dunno, I've always enjoyed Brody's work, but he seems too young for this particular part. It would make sense that PD was written with Pace in mind, since creator Bryan Fuller worked with him on Wonderfalls, but I hadn't heard that/couldn't find that tidbit anywhere.

2. I've only seen the first Goal! (including the exclamation point is, I'm told, mandatory) and it was alright. We've got the second one but haven't watched it yet. Would've been a cooler franchise if Diego Luna hadn't left.

3. Good call re: Friel in general. My fiancee informed me weeks ago that Friel was, indeed, quite famous (Brookside lesbian kiss, etc.), a fact that I promptly ignored. My bad. Alice in Closer, eh? Intriguing...

4. As for the height thing, I have to resort to a basketball analogy: Friel may only be 5'1", but she plays much taller. (Also, she's less annoying than Chenoweth.)

Anyway...what did you think of the pilot?

RT Murphy said...

Great review. I particularly love the massive derail into a rant about how dim NEs tend to be.

The show's premise actually sounds like one of the side stories from Gaiman's Sandman. That in mind it's hard to see where something like this could go in a few seasons.

Do other people have powers? Does he figure why he gets to do this? Does he have different groups after him for his ability? Can he stay sane while effectively playing God?

It sounds like it might be a bit silly, but I've liked sillier; Dresden Files and Dead Like Me come to mind. I might just check it out.

Anonymous said...

1. I just can't help but find Brody obnoxious. I was really into the first season of the OC (mostly for him) but as the show progressed and I watched him in more and more things, he got on my nerves very quickly.

I can't remember where I read that Ned was written for Pace, I think it was an interview given around the time of San Diego Comic Con.

2. I haven't seen the third Goal! movie, so I can't comment on that. But the first two were cute. Not the greatest movies ever, but cute. The second one was slightly better, I think.

3. I heard she did really well in Closer. Her performance made Jack Nicholson declare he wouldn't rest until he could sleep with her, anyway. Of course, he'd sleep with pretty much anything.

4. but she plays much taller.
It's probably because she wears these massive heels. On and off screen. I will agree about Chenoweth being annoying. She's kind of cute, but I've never been a huge fan. I don't understand the obsessive love she recieves.

As for the pilot? I adored it. I found the entire storybook fantasy presentation to be, in a way, comforting. There's something about it that makes me want to curl up in bed with the show and a glass of milk. It does seem too outside the box for a network television show. I'm afraid it'll be canceled rather quickly.

And to RT Murphy, I heard this show was originally intended as an offshoot of Dead Like Me!

RT Murphy said...


Maybe I will have to check this out after all.

Mark P said...

You wrote...

"Everything changes (as they say) when Ned discovers that his childhood sweetheart, Chuck (played by Anna Friel, best known for her work in the ongoing Goal! trilogy--I'm not even kidding!--though she's quite good here). Hmmm...that wasn't brief at all!"

You got going in that bracket about Anna Friel and didn't finish the rest of the sentence. The sentence sans bracket is "Everything changes (as they say) when Ned discovers that his childhood sweetheart, Chuck. Hmmm...that wasn't brief at all."

What does he discover about Chuck? Her mannish name? That she is eight feet tall?

Kyle Wasko said...

Corrected. Sorry about that.

Mark P said...

I, for one, welcome our new Pushing Daises overlords. Saw the pilot last night and loved it. I can see what you're worried about re: the show writing itself into a corner, but this is the sort of concept I'd like to believe Fuller wouldn't pitch unless he had loads of solid ideas for episodes. Hell, no network would touch this unless he had loads of solid ideas.

This is one of those little details that amuses only me, but I was tickled that the one aunt was played by Ellen Greene, best known for her role in Little Shop of Horrors. I was obsessed with that movie as a child, even to the point of having the poster up on my bedroom wall when I was, like, six.

So good recommendation, Kyle. And, just so you know, I've finally broken down and started watching How I Met Your Mother. They had me at 'our 21st president, Chester A. Arthur' in the premiere.