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!

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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?

The 10 Best Musical Moments in Television of 2007

I am apparently extra-susceptible to being emotionally bludgeoned by well-placed music in my TV. Seeing me get a little teary-eyed over a musical montage, Susannah’s munchkin recently asked her mother in disbelief, “You’re not crying over this, are you?” as if to confirm only a crazy person would get misty over music. Maybe she’s right, but this tendency means that focusing on musical moments was the perfect approach to my year-end Top 10 list. Since ten is a small number, and since I kind of like being emotionally bludgeoned by my TV, I’d love to hear your nominees as well.

2007’s Top Musical Moments in Television:

10. “Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want” in “Extras: The Extra Special Series Finale” (aired December 16 on HBO)

I’ve heard some criticism of this choice, generally centered on the “obviousness” of choosing a Smiths tune associated with screen angst. I’d argue that this is missing the point (which seemed to happen a lot with people wanting Extras to be The Office). While the song is playing, we see Maggie retreating from Andy’s cruelty by locking herself in her own car and Andy awakening to his situation…but rather than going to Maggie, getting the fired extra rehired, or making a sweeping statement declaring his freedom from celebrity, he bulls his way into the Ivy and literally begs his agent to give him what he wants (fame, money, and artistic integrity, all at once) this time. It’s ugly and embarrassing and painful and all of the things that elevate Gervais and Merchant above the typical comedy.

9. “Frodo (Don’t Wear the Ring)” in The Flight of the Conchords‘ “The Actor” (aired August 26 on HBO)

It’s awfully hard to choose from the Conchords’ panoply of musical genius—you could just as easily go with “Business Time” (“Tuesday night is the night we go and visit your mother, but Wednesday night is the night that we make love”), “Humans Are Dead” (“Binary solo!”), or “Hip-Hopoptamus vs. The Rhymnoceros” (“Ain’t no party like my nana’s tea party”). But the brilliance of having poor Murray’s low-budget video shoot feature Conchord Bret McKenzie, who actually appeared in The Lord of the Rings, as a hapless Frodo while uber-fan Mel proves she can speak Elvish is simply too much to contend with. Hurray—you made it!

8. “The Chairman’s Waltz” on So You Think You Can Dance’s final 16 episode (aired June 27 on Fox)

Even reality shows that require some talent or skill—Project Runway, American Idol, or, in this case, So You Think You Can Dance—are often cheesefests that get by on a lot of glue and glitter. Wade Robson taking a lovely John Williams waltz from Memoirs of a Geisha and creating a love story between a hummingbird and a flower, however, shows that every once in a while the cheese can be blown aside like the parting of the Red Sea while something that’s actually mesmerizing rises from below.

7. “Shambala” in Lost‘s “Tricia Tanaka is Dead” and “The Man Behind the Curtain” (aired February 28 and May 9, respectively, on ABC)

I admit to being increasingly frustrated with Lost, to the point where I enjoy hearing Lindelof and Cuse explain what’s wrong with the show more than I like the show itself. (Shut it, Jack.) The use of “Shambala,” however, highlights the ways their twisted labyrinth can work beautifully: the song represents one of the few moments of victorious joy our castaways have been allowed, as Hurley finally triumphs over his “curse” by getting a decrepit VW van (with requisite Three Dog Night 8-track, of course) running. Everyone is so lucky! Everyone is so kind! It also represents one of the creepier moments of the season a few months later as the song’s reappearance during young Ben’s flashback van ride with his father clues us in to imminent fate of said father. Everyone is not so kind on the road to Shambala, Ben.

6. “Pictures of Matchstick Men” in Life‘s “A Civil War” (aired November 7 on NBC)

Solving the murder of two Persian kids in a convenience store becomes even more urgent when it becomes apparent a third kid has disappeared and may still be at risk. What seems initially to be a typical procedural about racism becomes a complicated and sad story about a mother losing her grip on her son and taking love from all the wrong places. Life isn’t a typical procedural, and using the Camper Van Beethoven cover of “Pictures of Matchstick Men” underscores that, as the fiddles start sawing right when we swivel from the son permanently slipping away from the mother straight to the realization that Reese’s father is probably a very, very bad guy. “Your face just won’t leave me alone,” indeed.

5. “Dayman/Nightman” in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia‘s “Sweet Dee’s Dating a Retarded Person” (aired October 11 on FX)

Having convinced golddigging Dee that her white rapper boyfriend is developmentally disabled, the rest of the Philadelphia crew decide they should be able to achieve musical stardom as well. Mac, Frank, and Charlie create their own band, but are unable to choose a name from among Electric Dream Machine, Pecan Sandies, and Chemical Toilet—you have to admit, they all have their strengths. Mac and Frank are alarmed when Charlie’s ode to the mysterious world of the night takes a turn to, er, darker places (Mac: “But it sounds like a song where a man breaks into your house and rapes you.”) Banned from Pecan Toilet—or something—Charlie huffs paint for several hours before a fellow refugee from Chemical Sandies—or something—finds him and they create an anthem celebrating the master of karate—and friendship!—for everyone. You…kind of have to see it, but it’s possibly the the hardest I laughed at television this year.

4. “Devil Town” in Friday Night Lights‘ “State” (aired April 11 on NBC)

A reprise back to the second episode of the series, where Austin legend Daniel Johnston’s “Devil Town” (good luck finding the Tony Lucca cover they use on the show) perfectly underscored the empty, mundane, football-related activities these shallow kids and their shallow parents put such an incredible amount of weight on. Fast-forward to the season finale, where the same song is playing during the parade celebrating the Dillon Panthers’ state championship. As the camera catches each of the characters we’ve suffered with and cheered for throughout the year, highlighting the ways the empty, mundane, football-related activities make these people a town, “turns out I was a vampire myself in the devil town” takes on quite a different meaning. If Lisa tries to tell you that when she showed me this scene on her laptop in a motel room I had to go cry in the bathroom, don’t believe her (although it may be perfectly true).

3. “Renegade” in Supernatural‘s “Nightshifter” (aired January 25 on the CW)

The Supernatural gang tends to favor rawk songs that match the sibling demon hunters’ kickass Chevy Impala (HA!), and this is no exception. The brothers track down a shapeshifter who steals the bodies of bank tellers or jewelry store workers, the better to gain access to safes and vaults and the like, only to be stuck in what appears from the outside to be a hostage situation. Making matters worse, a federal agent who has the wrong idea about the Winchesters’ exploits shows up with the intent of bringing the boys in, dead or alive. A tidy twist provides an escape, leading us to a closing scene in the Impala. Dean: “We are so screwed.” Styx: “Oh, Mama, I’m in fear for my life from the loooong arm of the laaaaaaw.” I laughed for five full minutes. Ben Edlund is not to be messed with.

2. “Abide with Me” in Doctor Who’s “Gridlock” (aired April 14 on BBC One and July 20 on Sci Fi)

Since I start muttering unkind asides about fellow drivers’ ancestry after being stuck in heavy traffic for 15 minutes, it’s hard for me to imagine a 20-year-old traffic jam, like the one in New Earth’s undercity, not descending into cannibalism, graffiti, and dogs and cats living together (humans and cats, on the other hand, is an entirely different story). Perhaps it’s the Daily Contemplation, with every car singing hymns together, that keeps the peace. This hymning explains why the city, newly freed by the Doctor and friends, is singing a gorgeous version of “Abide with Me” as Martha demands to know why the Doctor is alone. I admit the song is meaningful to me anyway, but the fact that Agyeman and Tennant absolutely knock it out of the park as the Doctor describes the home he’ll never see again will break even people who have never heard the hymn before. I defy you to watch the Doctor’s 900-year stare as he describes the Gallifreyan sky that no longer exists and then keep making fun of me for being a television weeper.

1. “Morning Has Broken” in Pushing Daisies‘ “Smell of Success” (aired November 20 on ABC)

So I’ve got a thing for the hymns. So sue me. But Aunt Vivian (the fantastic Ellen Greene) persuading her sister that it’s brave to choose to be happy, embracing the cleansing rain and praising its new fall, is perhaps the gentlest, loveliest moment on television this year. We’ve written here before about how Pushing Daisies is all about how even a world that is drenched in death is one that can provide hope and family and love, and that message is never more apparent than in the moment Lily and Vivian choose hope–and each other–and get back in the water. It encapsulates that first moment after great grief when we first feel something joyful again, when we can first express praise for elation. Leave it to a show so much about pie to point out that those moments are all the sweeter after we’ve swallowed the bitter down.