Pushing Daisies, the Story of Ned the Pie Maker and Chuck the Living Dead

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Today we are discussing yet another of my all-time favorite supernatural television shows, Pushing Daisies, created by Bryan Fuller, the full-time writer for the Star Trek spin-off Voyager who also wrote all 22 episodes (with co-writers) and created yet another of my favorite supernatural television shows, Dead Like Me.

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Bryan Fuller. Photo by Kristen Dos Santos.

Bryan Fuller is one of my all-time favorite television writers and a remarkably talented man who deserves a post of his own, but we will continue with him later because today we are discussing P for Pushing Daisies!

The Basic Ingredients

Pushing Daisies is a fast-paced comedy-drama that aired on ABC from October 3, 2007 to June 13, 2009, though it is frequently shown in reruns. When discussing this show, emphasis should be placed on fast-paced. I suspect many viewers had trouble with the fast pace when the show first aired as the plot moves quickly, and the actors speak quickly. It is sometimes difficult to follow both the story line and the dialogue. In fact, I always watch Pushing Daisies with Closed Captioning on. Early episodes were the most difficult. However, as the story progressed the writers and actors seemed to find their pacing and the show was a hit, which sadly, we have learned, has little to do with whether or not a show will remain on television, but I’m not surprised by its popularity. It’s a wonderful fantasy/romance with a bit of gore thrown in on occassion for the horror fans.

Lee PaceLee Pace, star of Pushing Daisies at the ET Post-Emmys Party, Walt Disney Concert Hall, Sept. 21, 2008. Photo by watchwithkristen.

Pushing Daisies is the story of a boy, Ned (Lee Pace), and his childhood sweetheart, Charlotte “Chuck” Charles (Anna Friel), who live in a town called Couer d’ Couers, which most likely means “heart of hearts,” (although technically “heart of hearts” is spelled Coeur de Coeurs). This is also the adult story of Ned the Pie Maker and his relationship with Chuck, but I’m getting ahead of myself, which is easy to do as the stories run concurrently. Each episode begins by revealing crumbs of childhood history of one or more characters, generally Ned.

anna-friel-66Anna Friel, costar of Pushing Daisies.

When Ned is a boy of nine years, 27 weeks, six days and three minutes old (we know this because the beginning of each show describes  moments from Ned’s childhood narrated by Jim Dale, who also narrated the Harry Potter audio books that my daughter has listened to a dozen times), Ned discovers he has the ability to touch the dead and bring them back to life. He makes this discovery when his dog, Digby, is hit by a truck. Ned reaches down to touch him and Digby is alive again. Unbeknownst to Ned, when Digby came alive, a squirrel died. Ned still doesn’t realize there are rules, or restrictions attached to his special gift.

When Ned’s mother suddenly dies of an aneurysm while baking a pie for Ned, Ned uses his unique ability to bring her back to life. Mom jumps to her feet, removes a hot pie from the oven, turns, pie in hand, and looks out the window in time to see Chuck’s father fall dead across the street. It is a rather traumatic evening. Ned and his mother visit Chuck and her aunts to express their sorrow, then later that night Ned’s mother kisses him goodnight and falls dead once more. Now Ned is the one receiving comfort. 

This time, though, Ned is terribly uncomfortable in addition to feeling broken-hearted and alone because Ned has a secret. He made the connection and realized that when he revives one living being another one dies. His guilt is understandably overwhelming, but he chooses to remain silent, knowing he has caused the death of his best friend’s father. 

Ned realizes there are three rules to his gift. One, he can touch someone and bring them back to life. Two, if the once-dead being stays alive more than 60 seconds, another living being will die instead. Three, if Ned touches the once-dead revived being a second time, death strikes again…forever. Ned would seem to have the power of God, but gradually discovers he has very little power at all to help those he loves, particularly the one woman in the world he loves more than life itself–Chuck, his childhood friend.

Blend the Ingredients

The show skilfully blends the past and present of the characters with the use of narration by Jim Dale. Each episode begins in the past, moves into the present, introduces a mystery, and through solving the mystery also solves a mystery from the past of one of the characters.

In the shows pilot episode, private investigator Emerson Cod is chasing a criminal when he falls from a building, but instead of dying, the criminal lands on Ned the Pie Maker and comes back to life. Emerson Cod proposes a partnership of solving murder or missing person cases for pay–if the person who died was murdered, Ned can touch the person and keep the person alive for 60 seconds, then Ned and Emerson can ask the dead who committed the murder, or in most cases obtain enough clues to eventually track down the killer and collect a reward.

When Ned brings Chuck back to life, she moves into his apartment. She also offers to work in his restaurant, The Pie Hole. Chuck is understandably curious about Ned’s work and eventually figures out how Ned and Emerson collect clues. She wants to help. At first, Emerson is not pleased. During many episodes he refers to Chuck as the “Dead Girl.”

KristinChenowethKristen Chenoweth. Photo by Angela George.

Someone else is also not pleased–Ned’s only employee, Olive Snook, played by Kristen Chenoweth who is an amazing actress and I hope to see more of her on television as she has superior acting and singing talent. In fact, she often sings during the episodes. In one of the later episodes, “Comfort Food,” Chenoweth sings the ballad love song “Eternal Flame,” which was written by Susanna Hoffs and made famous by The Bangles in 1988. Chenoweth’s rendition gave me goosebumps. I really cannot say enough about this woman’s talent.

As Emerson, Ned, and Chuck work on solving their first mystery, and Olive tries to soothe her aching heart, Olive eventually works her way into the investigative circle via Emerson Cod who decides he likes the woman he refers to as “Itty Bitty.” We also learn more about the family lives of Ned and Chuck.

As you’ll recall, both of their parents died on the same day–Ned’s mother died, revived, lived long enough to watch Chuck’s father die, then died again when she kissed Ned goodnight. As Ned stood by the grave of his mother he was also watching Chuck, who stood by the grave of her father, and Ned’s heart was filled with guilt, knowing he was responsible for the death of Chuck’s father. Both children now believed that Chuck was an orphan.

Chuck was taken in by her two spinster aunts, Lily Charles (Swoosie Kurtz) and Vivian Charles (Ellen Greene). Lily and Vivian were once popular performers as synchronized swimming mermaids until Vivian was struck blind in one eye and was afraid to go back in the water. The two women gradually acquired a surprising number of personality disorders and remarkable obsession for cheese. It is gradually revealed that Lily is actually Chuck’s mother who was having an affair with Chuck’s father who was engaged to be married to Chuck’s aunt Vivian.

Chuck’s father is later revived and turns out to be a bit of a villain in his treatment of Ned, in spite of his devotion to his daughter. Surprisingly, the characters seem incapable of understanding that Ned’s murderous behavior as a child was purely accidental and continue to hold him responsible for the pain and suffering caused by his deadly touch, which I find rather depressing. I hoped that at some point, someone other than Chuck would acknowledge the fact that Ned was an innocent child with no knowledge of his deadly powers.

Ned and Chuck are not the only ones with secrets to be revealed. As discussed earlier, each show begins with the past, but sometimes they discuss the pasts of Olive Snook and Emerson Cod. Olive Snook actually plays a big role in this show. Numerous episodes focus on her painful dilemma, the fact that she knows the identity of Chuck’s mother and knows that Ned accidentally killed Chuck’s father, but cannot discuss these situations with anyone and eventually locks herself up in a convent to find peace. Emerson Cod’s secret is that he was once in love with a woman who became pregnant and disappeared with their baby daughter. Cod worked as a private investigator for years alongside his mother, but was unable to locate his daughter, so he writes pop-up books in the hopes that his daughter will see them, make the connection and find him instead. Cod finally reveals his painful secret to Ned and Chuck in Season 2, Episode 12, “Water and Power.”

Once Again, Consume the Goods While They’re Hot

Pushing Daisies received more than the usual phrase “critical claim” implies–the show was a raging hit! Pushing Daisies received 17 Primetime Emmy Award nominations and seven wins, including awards for Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series to Barry Sonnenfeld and a well-deserved Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series for Kristen Chenoweth (Olive Snook).  Pushing Daisies, Lee Pace (Ned) and Anna Friel (Chuck Charles) were nominated for Saturn Awards, and the show was nominated for three Golden Globes, as well as numerous other awards.

So, why did it all end? As usual, the demise of this wonderful show had nothing to do with the actors or story. The show ended due to a writer’s strike in Hollywood. There were rumors of a revival, but at the time of this writing, future episodes of Pushing Daisies are still sitting in the pantry, uncooked.

So, What Makes This Show so Tasty?

Many things. There is the hint of magical realism; the unique settings of the crimes–a food show, a teen who runs away to join the circus, a haunted lighthouse, ghosts, Chuck’s father who is disguised in a way that reminds us of The Invisible Man, a cook-off (of course), a magic show, a Chinese Restaurant/gambling scam, and a nunnery with allusions to The Sound of Music and absolutely hysterically funny references to pop songs.

The show is about dead people. It is gruesome, but not horror. There is very little of the dark elements in this show that one might expect in a horror series. It is light, bright, colorful fun. I think my favorite part of this show is the way Ned looks at Chuck, with so much love and longing. He is dreamy. I wish they would revive the show. Four years have passed, but that’s not too long for a revival. I even read a rumor about a comic book. How could they possibly translate the stunning beauty of Anna Friel and Kristen Chenoweth into comic characters?

The Facts

The facts are these: I have never seen a television show that displays as much creativity and imagination and the realization that this show will never air again is more than heartbreaking. In my mind, it is television crime to offer such talent and perfection to viewers for ten short weeks then rob us of our pleasure. I feel as if someone broke into my home and stole my most prized possession–those few moments in my day when I can smile, laugh, and feel the thrill of  knowing there is still talent and originality in Hollywood. I am beyond disappointed, I am heartbroken.

Source:

  • Pushing Daisies. Creator Bryan Fuller. Perf. Lee Pace, Anna Friel, Chi McBride, Kristen Chenoweth. Jinks/Cohen Company, Living Dead Guy Productions, Warner Bros. Television. Running Time: 43 min. 

Orphan Black, Starring Tatiana Maslany

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Welcome to Supernatural Television’s A to Z Bloggers Challenge! Oh yes, I am behind, and I probably will not catch up before they finish, but I will finish! Thank you for reading my posts. I appreciate your comments and I’ve enjoyed the conversation and comments.

Tonight we are watching Orphan Black, an intriguing sci fi show that premiered at Wondercon. (Wondercon is a yearly comic book, science fiction and motion picture convention held in California.) Orphan Black, developed at the Canadian Film Centre by Graeme Manson was produced by Temple Street Productions and distributed internationally by BBC Worldwide. The ten episode American premiere was on March 30, 2013, and I was watching. I think it’s great.

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Tatiana Maslany stars in Orphan Black. Image by Geo Swan.

The show stars Tatiana Maslany who I recognized immediately. She also played Kit on the Canadian television series Heartland, one of my favorite shows, and I was impressed by Maslany’s performance from her first appearance on that show. I was intrigued when I saw her name connected with Orphan Black, and even more intrigued when I continued to read the list of actors on this show–Maslany stars as Sarah Manning, Elizabeth Childs, Alison Hendrix, Katja Obinger, Cosima, and Helena.

Yes, you read the list correctly. Sarah Manning’s identity is the basis of the plot. Sarah Manning discovers she was cloned. Or perhaps Sarah is a clone. Like all great mysteries, the show begins with more questions than answers.

“Natural Selection”

The premiere episode is “Natural Selection.” From the moment she leaves the train certain clues fall into place. We know that Sarah hasn’t seen her daughter in a year because she stops to make a phone call at the train station and ask to speak to the child. Whoever she speaks to on the phone is crying and refuses access to the child and hangs up on Sarah. Sarah tries to find more coins, then gives up. She picks up her bags and starts to walk through the station then notices a well-dressed woman in front of her has dropped her purse and is removing her shoes. The woman turns to face her. She looks like Sarah’s twin.

The special effects here are fantastic–it is a truly eerie scene. The woman is crying–her makeup is smudged around her eyes. She is clearly distraught. The next train is coming toward the two women and Sarah–and the viewers–realize what the woman intends to do. Sarah rushes forward to stop the woman, but she throws herself onto the tracks in front of the train. Sarah, stunned, keeps walking toward her. The train conductor jumps off the train and stops Sarah, waving her back, then looks beneath the train at the woman’s body.  From the start this show has great tension and nonstop action.

A New Identity

Sarah takes the woman’s clothing, shoes and purse and heads for a local bar where she meets up with Felix (Jordan Gavaris) who spent time with her in a foster home.  Felix examines the identification of Elizabeth Childs and admits the resemblance is uncanny. Sarah mentions her daughter, Kira (Skylar Wexler), and Felix reminds her that she abandoned the child with Mrs. S (Maria Doyle Kennedy) and disappeared for ten months. There is no mention of where Sarah was for the ten months.

Sarah decides to take on Elizabeth’s identity. At Elizabeth’s apartment, she tries on her clothes and searches through her possessions to learn more about her, then she drives Elizabeth’s car to the bank to access her money. She makes arrangements to withdraw $75,000 from the woman’s savings account the next day then finds multiple identification cards in a safe deposit box.

When Sarah leaves the bank she is grabbed by a man who practically shoves her into a car, angry that she is running late for an appointment. The man is her partner, Art (Kevin Hanchard), calls her Beth, and eventually expresses his surprise that she hasn’t referred to him as “dip-shit.” Art drives her to the police station and Sarah makes another discovery, but this one is not as pleasant. Elizabeth is a police officer under suspension for shooting an unarmed person, Margaret Chen.

Before the hearing, she tries to excuse herself to go to the restroom and nearly gives herself away because she walks off in the wrong direction. Her supervisor points her in the right direction and she waits for an officer in the restroom to leave, then drinks soap, which she vomits all over the table before the hearing can begin.

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Jordan Gavaris plays Felix in Orphan Black 

In the mean time, Felix is at the morgue identifying the body of Elizabeth Childs as Sarah. He does this for two reasons. First, he is trying to convince Sarah’s obnoxious boyfriend, Vic (Michael Mando), that she is dead. He is also trying to help Sarah become Elizabeth Childs. Felix takes Vic to the morgue to prove to him that Sarah has committed suicide and Vic is distraught. Felix convinces Vic that his obnoxious, abusive ways caused Sarah to kill herself. Jordan Garvaris is outstanding in his role as Felix, very impressive.

Pieces of a Life

Felix and Sarah meet, trying to piece together the life of Elizabeth Childs. Felix notices the birth dates on the identification papers found in the safe deposit box are all within a month of each other. Sarah doesn’t see a connection. She is still trying to find a way to see her child and Felix reminds her that she disappeared for ten months. Sarah insists she’s trying to fix it, and Felix comes back with a great line. “Talk to the angels, Sarah,” he says. “You’re already dead.” He has made a great point–how can she see Kira when she has now become Elizabeth Childs?

The irony is fantastic. She has found a woman who resembles her physically in every way, but whose life is completely opposite of her own. She takes on the woman’s identity, and her own life becomes fragmented. In a way, she has become two people, living the life of two people. It is impossible for her to stop being Sarah completely because she still has a child and her foster brother, Felix. On the other hand, she’s already gone too far in taking on the identity of Elizabeth Childs. She is living the life of two women, one who is dead, and one who everyone believes is dead. This has all happened with 24 hours, so quickly that Sarah hasn’t even had time to rest, think, plan. She is also receiving non-stop calls from an anonymous number on Elizabeth’s cellphone.

As if matters couldn’t get worse, Child’s boyfriend, Paul (Dylan Bruce) who was out of town, comes home early to show her support during the hearing. He is surprised to see her at home and asks too many questions about the hearing, so she finally silences him by having sex with him on the kitchen counter–there is a lot of graphic sex, violence, and drug use in this show.

A Funeral

Vic decides Sarah needs a funeral and visits Felix to make arrangements. He needs closure. Felix likes the idea of a wake and promises to make arrangements. Sarah/Beth asks to borrow Paul’s car because she can’t find her keys and he looks confused, reaches into a box and hands them to her. Elizabeth drove a very nice car. However, as Sarah gets into the car we see Al watching her from across the street–either Al is not on the level or he does not trust Sarah/Beth.

Sarah returns to the bank to pick up the $75,000 in cash. She stops by Felix’s apartment and finds notices for the wake. While she’s  inside, Al breaks into the trunk of her car and finds the money.

Sarah shows up at the wake, watching from a distance. Felix is speaking to her on the phone, which is a bit unbelievable. He was her foster brother and the other members of the mourning party would certainly have noticed him chatting, smiling and laughing on the phone. Sarah reveals that her plan is to start over with Kira, Felix and the money.

A Clue

Vic finally asks Felix to shut up. Felix tells Sarah he has to get off the phone and suddenly Sarah notices Mrs. S driving up to the wake with her daughter, Kira. She is stunned. She walks back to her car, crying, trying to figure out what to do when another woman climbs into her back seat asking “Beth” why she hasn’t responded to her calls. She had red hair and speaks with an accent. She introduces herself as Katya and tells Sarah she brought the samples, the suitcase for Beth’s friend. She continues to introduce herself. Sarah says, “Yes, I get it, you’re German, I’ve seen your birth certificate.”

The woman is coughing up blood. She begs to see Beth’s “scientist friend.” Sarah tells the woman she cannot help her and gets back into her car. The woman opens the back door and climbs into the car behind her. Sarah tells her to leave. Katya tells Sarah that Beth’s partner, Al, is following her. Sarah tells her again to leave and she says, “Just one. I’m a few. No family, too. Who am I?” Sarah is stunned and is staring at Katya when someone shoots Katya in the forehead through the front windshield. Sarah ducks down and tries to drive with her head down. Elizabeth’s phone is ringing. She answers the phone, and the episode closes.

The Future of the Orphans

In the next episode, “Instinct,” Sarah of course will be forced to continue the charade, pretending to be Elizabeth Childs, but now she is also trying to stay alive as it is obvious someone is trying to kill her and the other women whose identities were in the safe deposit box as it becomes increasingly clear that one or all of the remaining women are clones. Obviously, eventually, Sarah will question whether or not she is real.

I believe this show will do well. I am impressed by the acting, writing, and plot, though the graphic sex is a bit much for me at times. I am interested to see if it will be picked up for another season.

Source:

  • “Natural Selection.” Orphan Black. Writer: Graeme Manson. Dir. John Fawcett. Perf. Tatiana Maslany, Dylan Bruce, Jordan Gavaris, Kevin Hanchard. BBC America. Running Time: 60 min.

Ghost Whisperer

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Welcome to day seven of the A to Z Bloggers Challenge. This evening we will take a look at a young woman with a rather unique ability. To a horse whisperer, the ability to speak with horses is a wonderfully rewarding gift, but for a ghost whisperer, I suspect you could consider this ability more of a curse. Sure, she gets to meet new people, but they’re generally not in the best of moods!

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 Jennifer Love Hewitt, star of Ghost Whisperer. Photo by Tom Sorensen.

Poor Jennifer Love Hewitt. If she isn’t being chased by an anonymous slasher killer (I Know What You Did Last Summer), she is followed through her home and popular antiques store by anonymous ghosts! Jennifer Love Hewitt stars as Melinda Gordon in Ghost Whisperer, a woman who had the ability to see and speak to ghosts. She tries desperately to live a normal life with her new husband, and run a successful business (Same as it Never was Antiques–great name!), but the ghosts always seem to get in the way.

Due to her supernatural abilities to communicate with ghosts, Gordon feels a responsibility to these earth-bound spirits, a moral obligation to help them solve whatever unresolved issue is keeping them tied to this earthly plain so they can walk into the light. In some ways, Ghost Whisperer is a mystery. In order to assist the ghosts, Gordon must first investigate the reasons why the spirit is bound to the earth. Generally, the clues come to her in a rather violent manner–ghosts can be noisy, obnoxious creatures when they’re trying to get your attention!

Melissa Gordon

Melinda Gordon lives in a fictional city called Grandview, which is in New York. Melinda’s work with ghosts involves a variety of tasks. Generally, though, she must pass on a message to someone who is still living, thus resolving the unresolved issue that keeps the ghost hanging around.

An example of the “message” is “Life on the Line,” one of my favorite episodes, and one of the saddest episodes. (Of course, when you’re dealing with the dead, all episodes are sad.) Melinda’s assistant, Delia (Camryn Manheim), is trying to buy a new home, but she keeps receiving a 911 call about a boy who was run over by a lawn mower. Melinda connects with the ghost of a boy named Josh who clearly is trying to bring his family back together after the tragic loss of their youngest son.

The message involves a lie, and this is the mystery Melinda must solve. After a great deal of investigative work she ends up at the hospital with the family. Devin, the older son, has been injured. The family is all there, and Melinda tells them that Josh wants them to stop fighting over “the lie.” This creates some confusion among the family members until it is revealed that the father took responsibility for the death of Josh. In reality, Josh insisted on riding on the tractor mower with his older brother and was rough-housing when he fell and was run over by the mower. Devin feels responsible for the accident and emotionally devastated by the fact that his father took responsibility for the accident. Josh feels that he has destroyed his family by causing his own death and cannot move on. Josh and Devin’s parents finally tell their sons they love them both, that the accident was just an accident and no one’s fault, and Melinda helps Josh move into the light.

The inability of the ghosts to move on is not due to some sin they committed, but their own guilt or fear of judgment. Melinda helps them clear their conscience. She plays both investigator and psychologist in this show.

Melinda’s Family, Friends, and Assistants

Thankfully, Melinda Gordon does not live or work alone. I would think the stress of day to day hauntings would drive her insane without a little help from her family and friends! She is married to Jim Clancy (David Conrad), an paramedic/firefighter who eventually becomes a doctor, and her son, Aiden Lucas (Connor Gibbs). Melinda’s relationship with her husband takes a strange turn in 2009, and personally, I suspect this may have had something to do with the show’s cancellation. Jim is killed while on duty and rather than “stepping into the light,” he steps into the body of a dying man, Sam. Melinda quickly figures out that Sam is her husband, but Sam is doubtful. The audience sees Sam as David Conrad, so they have no doubt that Jim has taken over Sam’s body. When Sam finally realizes that he is Jim, at the end of the season, the couple also learns that they are pregnant with a son, and their son eventually has even stronger supernatural abilities than his mother. It was an interesting creative risk, but I thought it was too much of a stretch and didn’t like the Jim/Sam switch.

In the early seasons she has a close friend and assistant, Andrea Marino, played by Aisha Taylor. Marino is Melinda’s best friend and helps her run the antique store. At the end of the first season, Andrea is tragically killed, but her death is referred to often throughout the run of the show.

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Camryn Manheim plays Delia Banks in Ghost Whisperer. Photo by David Shankbone. 

Melinda then meets Delia Banks (Camryn Manheim), who is one of my favorite characters. Banks is trying, unsuccessfully, to make a living as a real estate agent to support herself and her son, Ned (Tyler Patrick Jones for seasons 2-3, then Christopher Sanders) and eventually works with Melinda in the antique store. Ned, her son, catches on to Melinda’s gift fairly quickly, though Banks takes a long time to realize that Melinda communicates with ghosts. When she first learns that Melinda is struggling with something supernatural, she suggests Melinda might need a psychologist, but she eventually accepts the fact that Melinda is gifted.

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Jay Mohr plays Professor Rick Payne in Ghost Whisperer.

Melinda also works closely with a Professor Rick Payne, played by Jay Mohr. Payne works at Rockland University and assists Melinda in the investigative part of her work, as well as trying to figure out what the ghost wants her to do. Payne is literally a pain at first. He is obnoxious and irritating at times and begins the show by mocking Melinda’s claim that she can communicate with spirits, but his character gradually becomes more comforting and friendly. He leaves in the fourth season for the Himalayas.

The Beginning and End of the Ghost Whisperer

The Ghost Whisperer pilot aired on CBS from September 23, 2005. Jennifer Love Hewitt was one of the producers. The show was based on the work of clairvoyant and spiritual medium James Van Praagh. The individual stores were inspired by the work of television personality Mary Ann Winkowski who also has paranormal experiences. The show was cancelled on May 18, 2010 after five seasons.

I believe Ghost Whisperer was cancelled for two reasons. First, I think the death of Melinda’s husband and his entry into Sam’s body was too far-fetched for many viewers, including me. I also believe the show ran out of stories–how many times can you create a unique plot with the same basic outline? Someone dies, they remain on earth due to unfinished business, and Melinda helps them walk into the light. Eventually, the episodes begin to resemble each other and lose their originality.

Sources:

  • Dos Santos, Kristen. “Who Got Jennifer Love Hewitt Pregnant?” EOnline News. Retrieved April 9, 2013.
  • Ghost Whisperer. Dir. Kim Moses. Creator: John Gray. Perf. Jennifer Love Hewitt, David Conrad, Jay Mohr, Camryn Manheim. Sander/Moses Productions, CBS Paramount Network Television, ABC Studios. Running Time: 44 min.

 

 

 

 

Eureka, Oregon: City of Science

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Welcome to day five of the A to Z Blogger Challenge where E stand for Eureka!

I fell in love with Eureka from the very first episode. (Or maybe I developed a crush on its star, Colin Ferguson. It’s difficult to say.) The idea of a town filled with great thinkers all conducting secret experiments is tremendously appealing to me. Yes, there are minor issues with jealousy, competition, and the usual personality conflicts, but for the most part, the characters on this show work together to either keep the town a safe, fun place, or they work together on secret scientific projects. I would find either one of these positions interesting.

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Colin Ferguson stars as Sheriff Jack Carter in Eureka.

The residents of Eureka are, for the most part, some of the most intelligent people on the planet. The scientists work for a corporation called Global Dynamics, and they are responsible for all significant technological discoveries and inventions since the corporation was formed.

Eureka is actually a mix of mystery and science fiction. One would think that with this many great minds the city would run super-smooth. This is not the case. In fact, in every episode of Eureka there is a serious accident, or intentional misuse of the technology that is created by the town’s residents, and Eureka’s sheriff, Jack Carter (Colin Ferguson), is called upon to solve these mysteries with the help of his deputy, the lovely Erica Cerra (Jo Lupo), a former U.S. Army Ranger (as I recall, she was with the Special Forces in the Pilot show) who is a bit quirky and obsessed with firearms.

There is generally two stories occurring concurrently on this show. The first is the accident and the second is the larger story that is revealed during the course of the investigation of the accident.

The Pilot

It was actually the Pilot of this show that sucked me in to watching the series. The plot of this initial show, in my opinion, is both creative and intriguing.

The first episode aired on July 18, 2006. The show begins with U.S. Marshal Jack Carter driving down an isolated road surrounded by dense forest land. Carter is transporting a prisoner, who also happens to be his delinquent daughter, Zoe Carter, played by Jordan Hinson. Carter is involved in an accident and he and his daughter end up in the nearby town of Eureka. Once there, he is immediately involved in his first investigation–a case involving a tachyon accelerator, which is causing space and time anomalies to occur in the town. Strange things happen, including the disappearance of an entire herd of cows. Carter is confused and concerned, particularly for the safety of his troubled daughter.

The “Love Interest”

As Carter continues his investigation he suddenly find himself kidnapped by Jim Taggart, played by the talented Matt Frewer. Taggert is the Biological Containment Specialist for Global Dynamics, and the town’s veterinarian (remember the missing cows?) Carter then meets Allison Blake, a medical doctor for the Department of Defense who is also working at Global Dynamics. Blake introduces Carter to the concept behind the city of Eureka.

The creation of Eureka was commissioned by President Harry S. Truman with the assistance of Albert Einstein and other advisers. The commission was for a secret residential development hidden in the remote areas of the Pacific Northwest. The intention of the project was to serve and protect America’s greatest intellectual resources–its scientists.

Salli_Richardson

Salli Richardson-Whitfield, who plays Allison Blake, the attractive doctor on Eureka. 

The tachyon accelerator is found, but the man who built it dies trying to stop it, so the U.S. military quarantines Eureka–Carter is stuck in Eureka along with his teenage daughter. Unfortunately, there is still a possibility that the accelerator will go off again, so Eureka’s deputy, Jo Lupo, helps Carter escape from Global Dynamics. During his time at Global Dynamics, Carter met Kevin Blake (played by Meshach Peters in the first three seasons and Trevor Jackson in the fourth), the autistic son of Allison Blake, and believes Kevin can solve the problem with the accelerator.

Carter is right–Kevin is able to shut down the accelerator before another collision occurs using his exceptional knowledge of quantum physics. Kevin saves Eureka, and possibly the entire planet. All is well, and Carter is free to leave with his daughter, but first he is offered a new job as the sheriff of Eureka. The former sheriff is retiring, and Carter has developed a romantic attraction for Allison Blake, so he accepts the job, much to the chagrin of Jo Lupo who wanted the promotion, and his daughter, Zoe, who is not the least bit thrilled by the thought of living in a small town.

Secondary Characters

Although he is featured in the pilot, Dr. Taggert (Matt Frewer) is actually a secondary character. Although he is Eureka’s Biological Containment Specialist he is seen most often in his role as a veterinarian. He is also a stubborn Australian who doesn’t seem to like the people of Eureka, mainly because they don’t seem to appreciate the unique wildlife in the area. On the other hand, he also has a love/hate relationship with the town’s stray dog, Lowjack, who he claims is “evil,” but is often seen sharing affectionate moments with the animal.

Dr. Henry Deacon (Joe Morton) is one of the town’s scientists and the town mechanic. His assistance is often required in the bigger plot situation that always arises after the initial mystery is solved, mainly because he is very familiar with the inner workings of Global Dynamics.

Grace Monroe (Tembi Locke) is, of course, another scientist. She is also the wife of Henry Deacon in an alternate timeline that was created when the Eureka Five time traveled to 1947, which is a very creative detail in my opinion.

Dr. Nathan Stark (Ed Quinn) is another one of Eureka’s top scientists, but he is a thorn in the side of Sheriff Jack Carter, possibly because he has an on (and off) relationship with Allison Blake, who has Carter behaving like a school boy with a crush. According to an interview with Ed Quinn by Melissa Hank, Stark is modeled after a Marvel Comics Character.

Dr. Douglas Fargo (Neil Grayston), another scientist who is not treated very well by his coworkers. He is a bit of a disaster, constantly dealing with on-the-job accidents. The actor, Grayston, is also the voice of the computer that runs Sheriff Jack Carter’s home, S.A.R.A.H. (Self-actuated Residential Automated Habitat). The home is more of a bunker, but becomes a character (or S.A.R.A.H. becomes a character) in a few of the episodes.

Series Details

Eureka premiered on the Sci-Fi Channel on July 18, 2006. It’s final show was on July 16, 2012. The show, created by Andrew Cosby and Jaime Paglia, and produced by Universal Media Studios, had a slow start, but eventually became a success for the network with an average of 3.2 million viewers. Eureka was nominated for the 2007 Emmy Award for Outstanding Visual Effects for a Series, but I believe it should have won the award, and for many years. It did win a Leo Award for Best Visual Effects in a Dramatic Series. Eureka is still shown in the UK where it is called A Town Called Eureka. 

Sources: 

  • Eureka. Creators: Andrew Cosby, Jaime Paglia. Perf. Colin Ferguson, Jo Lupo, Salli Richardson-Whitfield, Jordan Hinson. NBC Universal Television. Running Time: 60 min.
  • Hank, Melissa. “Sci-Fi Made Sexy on Eureka: An Interview with Ed Quinn.” Retrieved April 6, 2013. 

 

 

 

Dead Like Me: The Story of a Teenage Grim Reaper

 

MandyPatinkin_1_13_12

Mandy Patinkin on January 13, 2012, outside the Ethel Barrymore Theatre on January 13, 2012. Image by Bearian.

 

“Let’s go for a ride,” the voice says from a black screen. It is the voice of Ellen Muth, who in her early 20s gave one of the most convincing performances of a bored, somewhat lazy and uninspired young woman that I have ever seen on television.

The picture on the screen changes from black to a view of Earth from space. “My name is George Lass,” Muth explains. “I’m 18 -years-old and I am down there. Somewhere. And I’m going to tell you a story. Not my story, that’s later. This is just a story. Ready?

“Once upon a time, or more specifically, at the dawn of time, God, lower case g, was getting busy with creation as the kids these days are saying.” The view on the screen changes to that of an adorable and oddly expressive orange frog, which the narrator refers to as Toad. Toad later becomes George’s pet in the show.

George continues her story. “He gave Toad a clay jar and said, ‘be careful with this, it’s got death inside. ‘ Pleased as punch and oblivious to the fact that he was about to become God’s fall guy on the whole death issue, Toad promised to guard the jar. Then one day, Toad met Frog. ‘Let me hold the jar,’ Frog said. With a nod to Nancy Reagan’s pearl of wisdom, Toad ‘just said no.’ But Frog was determined, and after much wining, Frog just gave in. ‘You can hold it, but only for a second,’ he said. In his excitement, Frog began to hop around and juggle the Death jar from one foot to the other. Frog was an ass. ‘Stop!’ Toad cried out, but it was too late. Frog dropped the jar and it shattered to the ground. When it broke open, Death got out, and ever since all living things have to die.  Makes you wonder how much better the world would be if Frog stuck to hawking beer. So there you have it. The mystery of death finally revealed. We all die. Some of us sooner than later.”

This fine monologue is the introduction to Dead Like Me, one of the wittiest, most sarcastic fantasy/drama/horror supernatural television serials I’ve ever seen. The introduction is not the story behind the show, it is the reason for the show. The story is actually about many things. It is a story about death, and life, love, suffering, family, guilt, and most of all regret because in this show George Lass, Ellen Muth’s character, becomes an employee of the escapee from the clay jar: Death. Yes, it’s true. Just as Michael Landon was once America’s favorite teenage werewolf, Ellen Muth’s character, George Lass, is a teenage grim reaper.

 

Ellen Muth, star of Dead Like Me

Who Knew Grim Reapers Could be so Charming?

“Why am I so hooked on Dead Like Me? The writing.  Unlike classic supernatural television shows, contemporary shows generally have a staff list that takes two pages. Dead Like Me fits in this category, and yet, I have never seen an episode I didn’t like. It’s morbid, borders on the horror line, and one would think it would be a bit depressing, but it’s generally hysterically funny due to the non-stop one-liners of the narrator, George Lass (Muth).  The show also stars Mandy Patinkin as Rube Sofer, Lass’s supervisor.  I cannot imagine anyone else who could play this part. He is outstanding, and yet another reason why I love this show.

George comes from a typical Seattle family. She fights with her mother, Joy (Cynthia Stevenson); ignores her younger sister, Reggie, (Britt McKillip); rarely speaks to her once adored father, Clancy Lass, (Greg Kean). George is a dropout of Seattle college and on the day of her death, her mother rudely wakes her from a deep sleep by sliding open the curtains and pulling clothing from the closet to drop upon the bed. She then tells her it’s time to get a life. It’s time (oh gasp in horror unambitious young woman!) to get a job. George applies for a job at Happy Time Temporary Services, and like most young women, believes she deserves more than she’s earned, insisting she is qualified for a position as an executive secretary. She is hired as a file clerk. She remains with Happy Time for most of the show, and when she leaves, briefly, she realizes that Happy Time has become a part of her new dead-life and returns to Happy Time in the following episode.

As she leaves the building a man greets her by name and tells her she’s going to be late. She looks at him strangely, then turns away. He touches her hair. She hears a sound. She turns to see a toilet seat from the MIR Space Station crashing to earth. Before she has a chance to move, she is dead. Killed by a toilet seat. The ultimate irony for a disillusioned young woman who believes her life is crap. For the remainder of the show’s shockingly short run (2003-2004, two seasons), George, along with her coworkers, discovers there is a life after death. She is required to have a job, a home, pay for her own food, and basically survive, in spite of the fact that she is dead. Eventually, she even makes friends and kisses her first boyfriend.

George works with a crew of grim reapers, including Callum Blue as Mason, a sex-starved addict with a heart of gold; Jasmine Guy as Roxy Harvey, a cop with a bad attitude; Betty Rohmer (Rebecca Gayheart), a cheerful beauty who is eventually replaced by self-centered slutty actress Daisy Adair (Laura Harris). Although they are often at odds with each other, eventually the team bonds they become family, and watching the show end is a painful, like saying goodbye at a funeral.

There are two other minor characters who become major by the end of the show. One is George’s boss, Delores Herbig, “her big brown eyes,” played by Christine Willes. Delores is a child of the sixties who outwardly appears to be a middle-aged frump, but has a wild secret past that she often shares with George. The office receptionist is Crystal, also known as Jane Smith, a woman with a very secret past who spends most of her time staring, spying, and occasionally helping George. Crystal is played by Crystal Dahl.

Birth and Death of the Grim Reapers

Dead Like Me was filmed in Vancouver, British Columbia for The Showtime Network. It is the creation of dedicated Star Trek fan Bryan Fuller, whose career dream was to write for the show. He eventually wrote episodes for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and was a full-time staff writer for its spin-off, Voyager.

Fuller came up with the concept for Dead Like Me as sort of a creative comic relief.  He then created the supernatural television comedy/drama/fantasy series Pushing Daisies, which aired from 2007 to 2009. Pushing Daisies is charming, funny, and resembles the work of Roald Dahl, who is believed to be one of the world’ greatest children’s authors. Fuller and Dahl share a quirky sense of humor that is addicting. Dahl also wrote episodes for supernatural television anthologies, such as Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

Dead Like Me was cancelled after the second season, yet another victim of Hollywood politics. The show’s ratings were never released, but according to an article in “http://tvbythenumbers.zap2it.com/2011/01/10/californication-has-its-best-premiere-no-shame-in-shameless-ratings-episodes/77988/”>TV by the NumbersShameless. “Dead Like Me” was nominated for two Prime Time Emmys.

Sadly, according to Fuller, Dead Like Me began to self-destruct almost as quickly as it was releasedFuller left the show after the first season due to conflicts, which he claimed included a “lack of professionalism“ on the part of the network. Rebecca Gayheart also left after the fifth episode, but her replacement, Laura Harris, gracefully took her place and the ongoing sexual tension between her character and Callum Blue’s character added a nice touch to the overall plot.

MGM announced they were developing sequels and films based on Dead Like Me in 2007. The first sequel was released in 2009. The story takes place five years after the end of the show. Laura Harris (Daisy) was replaced by Sarah Wynter and Rube does not appear in this film version, but is replaced by Henry Ian Cusick who plays Cameron Kane. Unfortunately, the show debuted exclusively on SuperChannel in Canada on January 16, 2009, and I haven’t seen it, though I’m looking for a copy.

It will truly be a pleasure to discuss my favorite episodes in future articles on this website. I believe this show is a supernatural television masterpiece.

Resources:

  • Dead Like Me. First aired June 27, 2003. Creator: Bryan Fuller. Players: Ellen Muth, Mandy Patinkin, Callum Blue. DLM Productions; John Masius Productions; MGM Television. Running Time: 60 min. 
  • Pushing Daisies. First aired 2007. Creator: Bryan Fuller. Players: Lee Pace, Anna Friel, Chi McBride. Jinks/Cohen Company, Living Dead Guy Productions, Warner Bros. Television. Running Time: 43 min.