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Quick Takes: ABC’s Pushing Daisies

Written by: Tony Lazlo, CC2K Staff Writer

ImageI hope Pushing Daisies isn’t another Twin Peaks. (I’ll come back to that later.)

ABC’s quirky, whimsical and intensely sad new drama is the best pilot I’ve caught this season (though I haven’t seen NBC’s Life), and it has the potential to fill the void left by Six Feet Under — a task that Nip/Tuck has never quite pulled off.

Watching the pilot for Pushing Daisies felt like someone had — no bullshit — strapped me into a time machine and taken me back to 1988 when I caught Tim Burton’s classic Beetlejuice for the first time while watching some late-night Showtime. That’s no small feat, because it means that Pushing Daisies creator Brian Fuller and director Barry Sonnenfeld managed to cut through 19 years of growing up, coming of age and all the turmoil and triumph in between — and they did it by crafting a world that explores the outer edge of the afterlife and respects its internal rules.

If you’ve seen any of the commercials for this show, then you know that the hero (Lee Pace, dapper, charming, astonishingly tall) can revive dead people with a touch, and that he uses this power to solve murders and collect rewards. Fortunately, though, that’s not the whole story. Here are the rules governing his power:


1. When he revives a corpse, he has one minute to touch (and thereby re-kill) the revived person (or animal or insect) again, or else a random person in the vicinity will die in their place.
2. Even if the hero decides to let a random person die, the second-touch-equals-death clause remains in effect — he can never touch that person again.

This leads to one of the most heartbreakingly magical scenes since, well, since season one of Six Feet Under: Pace revives his childhood crush (Anna Friel, gamine, twinkly, perfect American accent) to find out who killed her, but before he asks her about her murder, he explains her predicament (she has one minute to live, another touch from him will kill her) and confesses that she was his first kiss.

She responds, “You were my first kiss, too. Want to be my last?”

Wow. I couldn’t find that scene on YouTube, but here’s the opening sequence:

Keep in mind that all of this action unfolds in Barry Sonnenfeld’s signature visual style, with a vaguely 1950s vibe to the design, lots of zooms and close-ups, and a Danny Elfman-esque score that’s heavy on the low strings. (Props to the series’ actual composer, a guy named James Dooley, whose previous credits include a bunch of video games about Navy SEALS and Bachelor Party 2: The Last Temptation.)

But why am I worried that this show might be another Twin Peaks?

Because Peaks was David Lynch’s creation from bow to stern, and even though his influence on it was pervasive enough to keep it interesting in his absence, the series still suffered without him. The best example of this is the two-part series finale — Lynch directed the terrifying second half, while hired gun Tim Hunter moped through the underwhelming first half.

Barry Sonnenfeld is a perfect fit for Pushing Daisies, and I’m worried that if he isn’t around to direct all the episodes, the show might start sucking.

But lest I fall into the fallacy of giving all authorial credit to the director, let’s not forget that this show comes from Brian Fuller, the kook who brought us the short-lived (and well-loved) series Wonderfalls. I checked out the pilot for it, and while it lacks the retro design of Pushing Daisies, it shimmers with the same magically realistic, goofball joy that drives Pushing Daisies. I hope they can keep it up.