TV discussion

Throwback 10: Pushing Daisies

On the eve of its tenth birthday, Eamon Hennedy looks back at Bryan Fuller's Pushing Daisies...

Cancelled before its time is a phrase that gets bandied about a lot, but when it comes to Pushing Daisies, it is most definitely true.

Debuting in 2007, and in some respects becoming an unfortunate victim of the 2008 WGA Writers Strike, Pushing Daisies’ first season debuted to respectable ratings and critical acclaim, but a shortened first season and a long hiatus meant that by the time Season Two debuted, most audiences who tuned in that first year didn’t come back for their second helping of pie.

Created by Bryan Fuller and boasting Barry Sonnenfeld as executive producer, it’s hard to forget that the mind who brought Hannibal to television screens, as well as Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, had form in delivering a television series so rooted in colour and off-the-wall humour, especially in comparison to the dark worlds with which he has become more famous for recently.

That isn’t to say Pushing Daisies isn’t dark. For its brightly coloured world, fast paced dialogue and penchant for Kristen Chenoweth musical numbers (the latter being something that ALL television shows should have), the series is one with death right at the centre of it, although it’s probably the most fun you will ever have with a television series that spends this much time in mortuaries and funeral homes.

Headed by a cast including Lee Pace, Anna Friel, Chi McBride, Swoozie Kurtz, Ellen Greene, Kristen Chenoweth and narration by Jim Dale, the series comes on like the glorious love child of Tim Burton and Jean Pierre-Jeunet, if only they decided to produce a US crime procedural.

With an imaginative central conceit at its core, the series became one of the funniest about death and murder ever produced on television, with glorious wordplay via dialogue that felt like it was being delivered at a hundred miles per hour, and with an obsession with pies that had not been seen on our screens since Twin Peaks.

In fact, the series slots neatly into that place vacated by Frost/Lynch’s seminal mystery drama by daring to bring a touch of the surreal into homes via television, but whereas Twin Peaks had that disturbing centre at its core, Pushing Daisies always stayed in the light, always with a yellow daisy, or blue sky, to lighten up its world.

At the centre of it all is one of the most brilliantly unconventional love story ever portrayed on television. With a central conceit established that lead character Ned can bring people back from the dead with a simple touch, a touch that can cause them to die again if touched once more, with the added caveat being that someone, somewhere will have to take their place, the series begins with him bringing back his beloved Chuck Charles, and deciding not to touch her again so he can stay with her, which of course means the series is presenting a central relationship where the lead characters cannot be in physical contact with each other.

Brilliantly portrayed by Lee Pace and Anna Friel, the level of charm in their performance is practically off the charts, and along with Chi McBride as Emerson Cod (arguably the greatest character name in television history), they make up for a brilliant trio of investigators throughout the show.

Unfortunately, this level of quirk had a hard time making a go of it in mainstream television and so it is that Pushing Daisies joined the ranks of Firefly in being cancelled way too soon. Talks of revivals, not to mention musicals and comic books continuing the series have come up every once in a while, but then die down, sadly never to come back by the touch of Ned.

As time has moved on, so has everyone else. Fuller and Pace have both gone onto great success post-Pushing Daisies, but in considerably darker worlds. Fuller brought Hannibal and Neil Gaiman’s American Gods to the screen, whilst Pace has won acclaim for his role as the somewhat anti-heroic Joe MacMillan in Halt and Catch Fire, while Friel has continued to go back and forth between the UK and the US, including NBC’s political thriller American Odyssey, itself a world away from Pushing Daisies.

Moving on to darker material makes one wish they would manage to come back for one last roll of the dice with Pushing Daisies. Its imaginative use of colour, words, plot and production design has meant that the series has forever remained unique amongst televisions shows. Whilst darker and more anti-heroic worlds occupy most television shows dominating our viewing habits, it would be nice, if only for one last time, to go back to the glorious world that was The Pie Hole.

Were you a fan of Pushing Daisies? Let us know!

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