The new fall season hasn’t even started, but I already know what the best new show of the year is: Pushing Daisies. In fact, it’s quite possibly the best new show of the last two years. I managed to catch a screening at Comic-con this summer, and it was love at first sight, just like in the storybooks.
Pushing Daisies is eccentric, funny, heartbreaking, absurdly sweet, and exquisitely unique. It’s like Stranger Than Fiction by way of Tim Burton, crossed with Dead Like Me. Which isn’t terribly surprising, considering that it’s created by Bryan Fuller, the man who helped bring us Wonderfalls and Dead Like Me.
As we learned at the Q&A after the screening, the show grew out of an idea Fuller had for an arc on Dead Like Me that he never got a chance to execute. (And, by the way, if you haven’t seen Dead Like Me, please go immediately to your Netflix queue and add both seasons, because it is a brilliant show that was undeservedly overlooked). Also exec producing is Barry Sonnenfeld (of Men in Black and The Addams Family fame), who directs several episodes (including the pilot) and lends some of his distinctively quirky flair to this modern-day fairy tale.
The series stars Lee Pace (whom a few of you might remember from Wonderfalls) as Ned, a reclusive pie maker with the ability to bring people back from the dead with a touch. That is until he touches them a second time, whereupon they return irrevocably to the Great Beyond. Ned finds himself in a bit of a pickle when he resurrects his long lost childhood sweetheart, Chuck, (played by Anna Friel, a newcomer to American audiences) whom he can never touch—ever—or else she’ll die for good this time.
With his rambly awkwardness and deadpan wit, Pace embodies perfectly the buttoned-up pathos of Ned. It’s a wonderful complement to Friel, who positively lights up every scene with a warm, offbeat personality that’s delightfully reminiscent of Karen Allen in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Friel and Pace have immediate, sizzling chemistry on screen, and as any fan of Jane Austen can tell you, there’s something undeniably sexy about a courtship carried on without touching.
But there’s more to this show than UST (although there is plenty of that to go around). The pitch-perfect ensemble includes Kristin Chenoweth as a lusty waitress pining for Ned, Ellen Greene and Swoosie Kurtz as Chuck’s decidedly odd, cheese-loving aunts, and Chi McBride as an acerbic private investigator who teams up with Ned to solve murders.
I’ve heard a couple of reviewers complain that the show is too precious for it’s own good, but I couldn’t agree less. The whimsy is finely balanced by an undercurrent of dark humor that’s dry as vermouth. And Jim Dale’s arch narration lends humor and substance while subtly reminding you that this is a story rooted firmly in the realm of the fantastical. Best of all, Bryan Fuller’s writing infuses the dialogue with an intellectual sparkle that prevents the show from devolving into twee.
If the series can sustain its peculiar premise beyond the pilot and into a reliable murder-of-the-week format, ABC will have a real winner on its hands. The suits seem to know it, too, based on the ad dollars they’ve sunk into promoting this offbeat little show. Let’s just hope the rest of America tunes in to find out for themselves.