PUSHING DAISIES at the Paley Festival: Yes, It’s You We’re Looking For

Pushing Daisies

If you haven’t been lucky enough to hit the Paley Festival, I have to highly recommend it. Programmed by the wonderful Paley Center for the Media, a repository for television and radio both classic and contemporary, each spring the Paley Festival puts on panels with the creators of current shows and thematic sessions about the state of television. Recent awesomeness has included everything from almost the entire cast of Lost to a Buffy the Vampire Slayer reunion to an evening with prominent creators of drama that included everyone from Tom Fontana and Aaron Sorkin to JJ Abrams and Dick Wolf. This year’s offerings gave us panels on True Blood, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Desperate Housewives, and several others. It’s a two-week celebration of television, and if you believe in TV, you need to go to the Paley.

Baconeers were able to hit a couple of the panels this year (many thanks to Friends o’ Bacon D and B for their hosting!), including Bryan Fuller presenting the last three episodes of Pushing Daisies that ABC has yet to broadcast. The episodes will allegedly be shown on May 30th, so we don’t want to spoil too much, but there were some pie-level-of-deliciousness tidbits to share:

  • in addition to Bryan Fuller–who was adorable and charming and managed to pull off a light-colored suit with aplomb–Chi McBride, Ellen Greene, Barry Sonnenfeld, and several of the writers and crew members attended. When McBride came into the auditorium, he seemed surprised at the size and the enthusiasm of the crowd.
  • Composer Jim Dooley provided a jazz ensemble that entertained the crowd before the episodes were shown (and they were good!).
  • Fuller, McBride, and Greene addressed the crowd before showing the episodes. McBride noted that pitchforks and torches to be used in threatening ABC would be handed out at the door, but then amended that statement to plastic forks and glowsticks.
  • Fuller noted that this was his 10th Paley Festival (with his first–and perhaps several others–being as a spectator/fan). There must have been a Buffy panel that first year, as he said most fervently, “God bless Joss Whedon.” We’d have to agree.
  • When trying to mention people who couldn’t make it, Sonnenfeld remembered Lee Pace and Anna Friel. Greene reminded him of Kristin Chenoweth, to which Sonnenfeld replied, “or, as I always say, ‘Kristin, show us more cleavage.'”
  • Greene became quite emotional, thanking the crowd for trying to save the show. Also, she is smoking hot with red hair.
  • They threw a bunch of t-shirts to the crowd–I am utterly gutted that I didn’t get a “Jews for Cheeses” shirt–and handed out raffle tickets for props, including the bell from “Robbing Hood”, some of Chuck’s Honey for the Homeless, a bee key from “Bzzzzzzzz!”, signed CDs of the soundtrack, Olive’s arm sling (“it touched her boob!”), some champagne and newspapers from the final episode, the MOTHER license plate from “The Norwegians”, and a Pie Hole menu. They were just a really, really generous crew, both literally giving things out and with their gratitude.

As to the episodes themselves:

The first concentrates on a piece of Olive’s history. Let’s just say she gets why Ned creates constructed families.

  • As such, Olive gets to imagine a little more of what might happen if she got her wish and Ned wanted her.
  • And, bless her heart, she finally decides to stop eating other people’s french fries, and I love her at that moment about as much as I know how to love anything.
  • That having been said, I assume a previously used actor is unavailable, leading to some weirdness in the resolution of Olive’s romantic life (or lack thereof).
  • Also, Chenoweth sings again. It is typically awesome..and it’s Lionel Richie’s “Hello”. Really.
  • The episode has something of a silver and gold color scheme and has a scene segue device reminscent of “Oh, Oh, Oh…It’s Magic!”‘s curtains.
  • To my glee, there is a lovely slam on Fuller’s former/current employer as Ned is forced to ask why a person with a superpower would mope about said power and decide not to use it. Amen, Ned.

The second of the final three episodes focuses on isses from Emerson’s past. Let’s just say he gets why Ned creates constructed families.

  • The focus on water and noir detective work means we’ve moved on from Hitchcock to Chinatown.
  • Given that one of the important settings looks like Hoover Dam, it should be no surprise that there are many, many references to a “Dam Ruby.” It doesn’t stop being funny.
  • An important person from Emerson’s past is a big damn con artist. Or big dam con artist.
  • Also, there are Mennonite lawyers.

The final–WAH!–episode focuses on issues from the aunts’ past. Ned’s got nothing on them.

  • Synchronized swimming + sharks + Wendie Malick + Nora Dunn + Wilson Cruz=why doesn’t America love this show?!?
  • the Darling Mermaid Darlings’ detective entourage has a bright orange and lime green color scheme, and it is so wrong it’s right. And the Burburry mermaid tail garment bags make a reappearance.
  • There is closure. It’s about 90 seconds long and will leave you longing for more–because it’s beautiful–but it’s there. The episode initially cut to black on a cliffhanger–a doozy of a cliffhanger, actually–but Fuller and Co. rallied to give us an ending, a real one. Perhaps it’s unsurprising, given how visual this show was, but the visual return to previous cases/episodes was what really got to me. Fuller described a fairly desperate attempt to provide that closure and how people from every corner of the production sacrificed to provide it. Effects houses providing $90,000 visual effects shots for $8,000? I don’t care how short the closure it or how much more you wish you knew–these people gave us a gift.
  • And speaking of endings: I haven’t scoured every corner of the internet–I try to avoid most spoilers to begin with–but even I have tripped over alleged spoilers that have created massive consternation in the fanbase. And…they’re wrong. They’re just not true. Might Fuller go to those places in the comic books he’s hoping to do? Maybe. But the stuff I’ve seen screaming over? Just not true. Gift.

Can’t wait for May 30th to see them again!

PUSHING DAISIES “Bzzzzzzzzz!”: Flibbertigibbit Is a Title of Respect

While Pushing Daisies may have garnered 12 Emmy nominations, it may also have been one of the shows most hurt by last year’s writer’s strike. A story that is not only quirky but that is built on a dense and complicated–if entirely charming–mythology, Daisies didn’t really have the luxury of disappearing from our screens for an extended period and emerging unscathed. Built around a murder committed by bees, the season premiere sagged for the first third as the convoluted set-up–piemaker gifted with the touch of life; nature’s balance requires life for life; piemaker’s mom/Chuck’s dad/Chuck’s mom/homeopathic mood enhancers…you get the idea–was spelled out for viewers who might have forgotten it over the 10 months since we had a new episode.

Luckily, both the basics of the show (the glorious visuals; the warmth and connections between lonely people) and the new twists (moving Olive to a new setting; moving Chuck out of Ned’s apartment) are strong, and the rest of the episode shone. There might always be a corpse, but this isn’t CSI–this show is about both overcoming and incorporating grief to build yourself into something new. The identity of the killer hiding in a whacked-out version of Bert’s Bees isn’t the real story here–the point is Ned realizing how his home expanding is about making something new; it’s Aunt Vivian being able to get on a bus for the first time (having gotten over her feeling that public transportation is too intimate). The disconcerting thing about procedurals is that their obsession with death makes life seem so disposable. Pushing Daisies reminds us over and over through its obsession with death that life is glorious. While the mystery wasn’t terribly difficult to figure out, the way Ned and Chuck’s relationship is growing and maturing reflects what the show is really about.

As charming as Ned and Chuck might be, Kristin Chenoweth and Chi McBride are really the stars of this show. Chuck and Ned’s sweet romance might become entirely too sticky if not cut with the lemony comedic bite Olive and Emerson bring to the pie. We’re eaten up with curiosity wondering what secret tragedy has severed Emerson’s daughter from his life and where the story will take Olive and her new animal friend, Pigby. Pigby. If Chenoweth and Swoosie Kurtz in teal nun’s habits don’t make you laugh, I don’t think we’ll find anything that will.

Last year, we started keeping track of all the Hitchcock references Daisies was throwing at us. While I’m not sure I caught any of those tonight, having Chenoweth spin and sing in the Alps and make direct references to Sound of Music lyrics is almost as funny as having Ned pop up at Betty’s Bees as a temp from Happy Time, the temp agency in creator Bryan Fuller‘s previous brilliant and underappreciated medidtation on death, Dead Like Me. None of those, however, can top the prettiest, most color-saturated show on television stashing the incandescent Chenoweth in a nunnery straight out of Black Narcissus–I nearly fell off the couch when they revealed that long shot of the abbey, the well, and the gates.

There’s no other show on television that’s so gorgeous (hexagon-tiled floors at a honey-products company), so well thought-out to every last detail (bee-magnet Chuck dressed in florals), or so clever (Black Narcissus! Are you kidding me?), but there are a lot of shows getting better ratings. Susannah begged you the other day to tune into Life, reminding you of the tragic fates of other quality shows that reward attention and devotion. After seeing Wednesday’s ratings, I’m coming on bended knee to beg you to give Pushing Daisies a chance. Give yourself a chance to fall in love with a lonely piemaker and a dead girl and a knitting PI and a waitress who is a gun loaded with truth buckshot–and with the idea that love really can conquer death. You won’t be disappointed.

Emmys with a Side of Bacon

Susannah and I have been kicking back at the Emmys for a good long time now. We’ve wept. We’ve wailed. We’ve gnashed our teeth. Personally, I’ve worn sackcloth and ashes, but that’s just my general fashion aesthetic.

Part of the issue is that we can’t put our finger on what the problem is–something’s wrong (really, Academy–Entourage? Really?), but what is it? We’re inclined to blame the Emmy categories–is Pushing Daisies really the same kind of beast as Two and a Half Men? Should Dirty Sexy Money–or Boston Legal, for that matter–really be considered a drama? We’re embarrassed to admit, however, that every new categorization scheme we tried went exactly nowhere.

We considered doing away with “Drama” and “Comedy” and going instead with “Half-hour”/”Hour” or “Single-camera”/”Multi-camera”, both of which are already used in the technical and animated categories. In today’s television landscape, however, that left us with a couple of strong contenders and a couple we could argue about in the half-hour or mutli-camera categories while overloading the hour/single-camera even more than the current drama category already is. We toyed with the idea of honoring more actors by creating lead, supporting, and ensemble categories. These might allow for, say, Hugh Laurie (lead), Robert Sean Leonard (supporting), and Omar Epps (ensemble) or Steve Carell (lead), Rainn Wilson (supporting), and Ed Helms (ensemble) to be nominated for the same show, or for the large ensemble casts of, say, Lost or Friday Night Lights to be considered separately from shows that focus on true leads, like House or Life. The details necessary to make that work, however (“if the character appears on-screen for less than 30% of the broadcast…”), both felt arbitrary and were, frankly, nearly impossible to hammer out. We played with the possibility that there just aren’t enough slots available to honor all of the great performances out there, so we tried adding and dividing up categories differently–“Classic Sitcom”! “Workplace Drama”! “Speculative Fiction”! “Human Interest (read: Soap Opera”)! Each of those seemed just as arbitrary as “Comedy” and “Drama,” though–is Grey’s Anatomy a workplace drama or a human interest show? You could argue either category for Mad Men. We were stumped.

And then it occurred to us: maybe the categories are the problem–and maybe that means there shouldn’t be any categories at all. This was a strangely liberating idea. We kept the sex split, both because it seems less arbitrary than the above and because we feared our lists would be swamped with male roles otherwise (try filling out the female comedy roles under the traditional categories–brutal). We limited ourselves to people on the official Emmy ballot, which meant excluding favorites because of production-based eligibility problems (goodbye, British-based Doctor Who crew), because of genre (sorry, Venture Brothers–we’ll catch you next time), and because they simply didn’t appear on the ballot for reasons beyond our understanding (who dropped the ball on submitting Dan Byrd from Aliens in America?). We began with a list of 40 actors of each sex, then narrowed the list to 30 and ranked them. By assigning points to those rankings, we were able to compare and combine our lists to create a category-less Bacon Emmys. After complaining that there just weren’t enough spots to honor all of the excellent performances out there, we were pretty surprised to find that in the end we shared 21 ranked male actors and 21 ranked female actors–with one tie in the Lead Actor in a Drama category leading to 21 official male Emmy nominees in the “major” acting categories this year, that means our numbers are pretty much right on the real numbers. Some other patterns surprised us, too:

Male actors (in alphabetical order):

  • Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock
  • Steve Carell, The Office
  • Kyle Chandler, Friday Night Lights
  • Gaius Charles, Friday Night Lights
  • Henry Ian Cusick, Lost
  • Glenn Fitzgerald, Dirty Sexy Money
  • Neil Patrick Harris, How I Met Your Mother
  • Ed Helms, The Office
  • Michael Hogan, Battlestar Galactica
  • Hugh Laurie, House
  • Robert Sean Leonard, House
  • Zachary Levi, Chuck
  • Damian Lewis, Life
  • Zeljko Ivanek, Damages
  • Jack McBrayer, 30 Rock
  • Chi McBride, Pushing Daisies
  • Lee Pace, Pushing Daisies
  • Wendell Pierce, The Wire
  • Andre Royo, The Wire
  • Michael K. Williams, The Wire
  • Ray Wise, Reaper

Female actors (in alphabetical order):

  • Julie Benz, Dexter
  • Connie Britton, Friday Night Lights
  • Rose Byrne, Damages
  • Kristin Chenoweth, Pushing Daisies
  • Glenn Close, Damages
  • Tina Fey, 30 Rock
  • Anna Friel, Pushing Daisies
  • Ellen Greene, Pushing Daisies
  • Christina Hendricks, Mad Men
  • Holly Hunter, Saving Grace
  • January Jones, Mad Men
  • Angela Kinsey, The Office
  • Swoosie Kurtz, Pushing Daisies
  • Mary McDonnell, Battlestar Galactica
  • Elizabeth Mitchell, Lost
  • Adrianne Palicki, Friday Night Lights
  • Amy Pietz, Aliens in America
  • Jamie Pressley, My Name Is Earl
  • Sarah Shahi, Life
  • Sonja Sohn, The Wire
  • Natalie Zea, Dirty Sexy Money

For the record, Susannah’s top two ranked actors I didn’t list were Lost‘s Michael Emerson and FNL‘s Jesse Plemmons, while my top ranked she didn’t list were Breaking Bad‘s Bryan Cranston and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia‘s Charlie Day. For the women, her top two ranked picks I didn’t list were The Riches‘ Minnie Driver and Lost‘s Evangeline Lily, while my top picks she didn’t list were Tricia Helfer of Battlestar Galactica and Sunny‘s Kaitlin Olson.

These 42 actors represent 17 shows, which isn’t as many as the real nominees (24 shows). So maybe the Emmys do a better job of spreading the wealth than we would. On the other hand, they spread that wealth by nominating Charlie Sheen and Mariska Hargitay, and…yeah, we’re not going to apologize for not spreading the wealth quite that far. In fact, TV Bacon and the Academy agree on slightly fewer than 25% of the nominees (ten out of 41/42). It’s a supporting-heavy list, although that’s slightly skewed by self-submissions we’d place elsewhere (in what universe is Connie Britton supporting?)–that may reflect the current popularity of the ensemble shows we had such a hard time categorizing. It’s a very, very white list, especially for the women. Thank goodness for The Wire–if we remove their four candidates, 35 out of 38 of the remaining nominees are white. We’re still doing a little better than the real Emmys, who, including The Wire (from which they chose zero nominees), had four minority nominees out of 41 total. While we’ve both had America Ferrera and Edward James Olmos on our lists in the past, even including them wouldn’t hide the whitewash that is American television in 2008.

Perhaps most interesting, however, is that after all our complaining about the traditional categories–and we’re still plenty irked about several exclusions among the real nominees–it wouldn’t take us long to declare winners in each of those. Adding together our rankings to create a “winner,” we’d have to go exactly four names down our list of female actors to fill the four traditional categories, as our top four were Connie Britton (supporting actress in a drama), Glenn Close (lead actress in a drama), Kristin Chenoweth (supporting actress in a comedy), and Anna Friel (lead actress in a comedy). The pattern for the men isn’t nearly so clear, since we’d have to go five whole places down our list to declare winners in the four traditional categories: Andre Royo (supporting actor in a drama), Lee Pace (lead actor in a comedy), Alec Baldwin (lead actor in a comedy), Kyle Chandler (lead actor in a drama), and Jack McBrayer (supporting actor in a comedy). If we’d hewn even more strictly to the Emmy rules and judged a single episode the actors submitted, Baldwin’s tour de force journey through 70s sitcoms might well have pushed him over the top. So after all our complaining and rearranging–are the categories really the problem after all?

What do you think? How would you have rearranged the Emmy categories? Who do you think was robbed? Are you coming after me with pitchforks because it was my list that kept John Krasinski out? Will the Emmys ever get it right?