We know in an instant that Pushing Daisies is going to be an unusual show. The first image we see is of an endless field of bright yellow flowers capped by an impossibly blue sky. A narrator with a deep, storyteller voice tells us that the little boy and his dog running through the flowers are Ned and Digby, along with their ages, down to the minute.
Digby is dramatically run down by a truck, but when Ned touches him, more with curiosity than sadness, the dog jumps up fully alive. Ned, we are told, has the ability to bring dead things back to life. Now pay attention. His mom is struck dead by on the kitchen floor by an aneurysm. Ned brings her back to life. Exactly one minute later, the man across the street drops dead. The dead guy’s daughter is Chuck, the apple of Ned’s eye. When Ned hugs his mom good night, she dies. Again. It’s a complicated gift, and if you missed this first three minutes, I doubt you would make much sense out of the show later on. One touch brings someone back to life, a second kills them. If the person is kept alive for more than one minute, someone nearby dies is his stead.
Fast forward to present day. Ned (the adorable Lee Pace) owns a pie shop. Emerson Cod (Chi McBride), a customer and a private investigator, has recruited Ned to help him investigate murders. It’s a big—and refreshing—leap from the normal cop-with-an-unusual-partner show. Kristen Chenoweth plays the pixie-like waitress Olive, who has a thing for Ned.
Soon, we see Ned and Emerson in action, as Ned sets his watch alarm for one minute and wakes a dead guy to find out how he got that way. Bam, the mystery is solved, and the audience has a sense of how the show will go.
Things become more complicated, however, when the next murder victim turns out to be Chuck (Anna Friel, kind of a British Zooey Deschanel–that’s a good thing), Ned’s childhood crush. He wakes her; she’s spunky, she’s charming, and reveals that the two of them were each other’s first kiss. Awww… Ned can’t bring himself to re-kill her, so after a minute, she is stuck between life and death for good. What really sucks is Ned has found the love of his life and he can’t touch her. Great dramatic tension, if difficult to believe.
The rest of the pilot (titled “Pie-lette”) involves solving Chuck’s murder, and protecting her aunts, Vivian and Lillian, from the killer. The aunt’s back story is that they are former synchronized swimming stars until one lost an eye, and now they are agoraphobics with a penchant for cheese.
To love this show requires buying fully into the premise. You have to treat it like the beautiful storybook that it is and not over-think reality. The characters talk at Gilmore Girls speed, and plays on words fly back and forth like ping-pong balls. Every detail matters. There is a sort of 1950s aesthetic in both the language and the look. Color in this show is a character in itself. Everywhere there are brighter-than-life hues, from the bulbous cherry red lamps in the pie shop to Olive’s floral print wallpaper and matching pajamas.
As with creator Bryan Fuller’s other shows, Dead Like Me and Wonderfalls, not enough people apparently got it. It was, however, nominated for several Emmys, winning for Directing, Editing, Music Composition (2008), Art Direction, Make-up, Costumes, and Best Supporting Actress—Kristen Chenoweth (2009). Honestly, it was one of those impossible to sustain premises, much like in the aforementioned shows, that couldn’t work forever. But the Pie-lette is delicious.