Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Pilot Me: Pushing Daisies

I’ve often noticed that when the Emmy’s come around and the crew of TV shows are asked to make their submissions for their “best” work, they almost always decide on the pilot episodes. Is it because the pilots are the beginning, and beginnings are always the best places to start? The whole point behind “Pilot Me” isn’t about that, I always wonder why shows end up going awry after their pilots – even if it’s an unfair question. Television shows are fluid, and they’re constantly open to change. It’s interesting to see where the changes take the show, and how they hold up when viewed against their pilots; hence, this feature.

I’m probably showing my ace too early by starting off with what I believe to be one of the greatest pilots from one of the greatest television shows, but I have to admit that when The Mad Hatter named this as one of his favourite pilots I just had to start off with it. I don’t know, with the amount of people that love this show I always wonder why it got cancelled in the first place, but I’m digressing. 
I have to admit, with just five seconds of screen-time Pushing Daisies sets up that age old dichotomy that represents its entire show, but in such an innovative way – life and death. 
 I just love watching the camera move up from gritty brownness to the picturesque fields of Couer d’Couers, as if the producers are thinking – this is what death is like, but our perspective is so much brighter.

Structure is an essential part of Pushing Daisies, it opens with a childhood Ned wherein we learn a significant lesson via our austere British narrator (voiced by Jim Dale). It’s the longest opening sequence of the series tenure because there’s so much information to give the audience before it becomes so confusing. Fuller’s way of introducing us to this magical world of Couer d’Couers (I love saying writing that) – forget the unnaturally peppy art direction, which is one of the dozens of great technical marvels about this show – dialogue-wise Pushing Daisies is marked by its quickness. That entire sequence lasts for all of five minute as we move from Digby’s death and subsequent resurrection, childhood Chuck, Ned’s mother’s death and resurrection, Chuck’s father’s death, Ned’s mother’s death and that fateful first kiss. Sounds like a plethora of information? 

It is – and yet, Pushing Daisies never feels like overwrought with it. We’ve already met two – permanent – deaths and we manage to feel their gravity even as the pilot retains its buoyancy. It’s easy to see why this took home the Emmy for Best Director.
I love that first shot of Ned, there. Lee Pace is so perfect here because he’s so understated – as a comedian and an actor. He has that constant air of befuddlement where things seem to happen to him, and not because of him which makes him such a perfect protagonist for a show where he has the power to raise people from the dead.  And my beloved Chenoweth – I hate to get all fanboyish at the beginning of the feature, so I’ll curtail any garrulous discussion of Olive Snook’s brilliance, although – as an aside – I always wonder why her hair went from long in the pilot to short in subsequent episodes. 
In terms of development, though, Olive is set up as an ideal character for comedic relief in the pilot, and as the series develops she to have those consistent comedic beats while having her past explored to fine results (like the brilliant episode “Girth”).
This sets Olive up, in the pilot especially, as a great opposite for Chuck. I love this random sequence between the two with Olive’s unknowingly sentient question.
“Does he touch you?”
Chuck is probably the show’s most perplexing character, which is no judgement on Anna Friel who is such a welcome departure from the basest of comedic heroines without being the stereotypical quirky that we’ve come to identify with either Zoey Deschanel or on the other side of the spectrum Rachel McAdams. Of course, Anna’s on television here – but regardless. 
Still, I’m digressing. I often wonder about Chuck’s response to Ned’s oddity. Is it a character trait of a similarly odd girl growing up with similarly odd aunts (Swoosie Kurtz and Ellen Green so hilarious for the duration of the shows’ tenure on ABC), or is it that being “dead” make us more accepting of these “oddities” in life. It’s perplexing either way – but, it’s hardly a deal breaker. 

 The concept of romantic love is such an important part of Pushing Daisies, and it always manages to take on that fantastical nature without becoming mawkish, even though it’s propelled by silly stuff like him opening her coffin – twice. 
It’s interesting to watch how Fuller and Company kept trying to weave the Aunts into the earlier episodes. 
 Before Olive’s happenstance meeting with them, it was always a question of how you’d get them working in context of the show. I’ll always maintain that the strength of any show depends on a fine array of supporting players, and Pushing Daisies had that in spades and the pilot does a great job of introducing us without overwhelming. Easily one of the best pilots I’ve seen.
(I had to point out how the title card for the show - see above - is shaped in the form of a pie-slice. Little things like that contribute to my love for this show.) 
Did you ever take a gander at Pushing Daisies Pilot - "Pielette"?


Fritz said...

My favorite TV show ever! Every episode is perfection for me! :-)

Robert said...

Believe it or not, I have not seen a single episode of this show! I've been hearing a lot of love for it lately, so I'm going to have to check it out. Awwwww.

Luke said...

Wow - how crazy is this?! I JUST watched this last night! I've decided I really should delve into this one at last. It's so stylish and unique and whimsical - that's probably why the ratings tanked. We Americans apparently can only handle procedurals and crime dramas in incessant amounts... :(

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

fitz that's such a nice tidbit of info to hear. and YES, every episode is like perfection? any favourites?

robert PLEASE check it out, i am 100% that you will love it.

luke isn't it amazing? it's just picturesque, AND with kristin chenoweth - how could i resist? how could anyone? (damn you, america!)