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. 

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