Repeat Offenders: Consequences of Emmy Love Affairs

Ah, spring–when a TV watcher’s heart turns to Emmy consideration. Ballots come out on Monday, and since there’s nothing the Baconeers love so much as a good list (you may have noticed), said ballots whet our appetite. As much as we are sometimes frustrated with the Emmys–and oh, how frustrated we get–last year’s had some surprisingly great moments. Remember the murderous comfort food cookoff judge from the greatest Pushing Daisies episode ever? Eric Stonestreet has an Emmy now. How neat is that?  While we might gripe about who was excluded from nominations–wherefore art thou, Community and Friday Night Lights?–Modern Family and Mad Men were deserving winners. Huh. Maybe that adorable Jimmy Fallon-Glee opening just put everything in a more flattering light.

Bryan Cranston gives me pause, though. I love Cranston–I thought he was robbed of an Emmy for his Hal on Malcolm in the Middle, and his performance on Breaking Bad is a genuine tour de force. It’s certainly hard, then, to argue that he shouldn’t have won. At the same time, this was Cranston’s third win in a row, while nominees like Hugh Laurie–who, believe it or not, has never won for House–continue to languish unrewarded. While I’m not ready to ask Cranston to remove himself from contention this year (Breaking Bad‘s broadcast schedule takes care of that), it got me to wondering about how often the Emmys get “stuck” on one winner, and what repercussions that might have beyond the winner.

We looked back at the last 20 years, examining in particular three things: first, the percentage of repeat winners (winning in consecutive years for the same role or show), such as the Cranston example above. Second, we looked at the percentage of multiple winners (winning in non-consecutive years for the same role/show)–two lauded performances trading off wins across several years might block notable others from winning just as much as one repeat victor might. Third, we looked at who the other nominees were during years with repeat or multiple winners. Who is potentially being blocked from an Emmy when the Academy becomes obsessed with a single winner? If, for example, Frasier‘s multiple wins came at the expense of The Nanny, maybe that’s not a problem–maybe it’s justice.

Drama Series: 40% repeat winners; a whopping 75% multiple winners

While Mad Men has won the last three trophies, the most notable repeat winner in this category in the past 20 years was The West Wing. The show usually cited as a close second-place–or robbed, depending on your perspective–was The Sopranos…which won the Best Drama Emmy twice, so maybe things turned out just fine. In the past 13 years, however, only 6 series have won (The Practice, The West Wing, The Sopranos, Lost, 24, and Mad Men). Notable nominees during that time who never won? Six Feet Under, Deadwood, House, Grey’s Anatomy, Boston Legal, Damages, Breaking Bad, and Dexter. While I like some of those shows very much, and while I would have preferred to see some of them win in their nominated year(s) (hi, Deadwood), the repeat winners do look pretty strong.

Maybe the problem is in the nomination process: notable shows that couldn’t break the repeat stranglehold because they were never nominated include Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Wire, Battlestar Galactica, Veronica Mars, and Friday Night Lights, among others. If repeat winners had to skip a year or took themselves out of contention, would genre spoilers sneak into contention?

Comedy Series: 30% repeats and 60% multiple winners

Two non-consecutive wins each for Murphy Brown and Everybody Loves Raymond (Except Me), but four consecutive wins for 30 Rock and five for Frasier (Modern Family‘s win certainly raises the question of whether Christopher Lloyd has the submission process dialed in). Frankly, I personally have more trouble with some poorly chosen one-time winners than these repeaters (Ally McBeal? Really?), but notable nominees who lost to repeaters include Scrubs and The Larry Sanders Show. On the other hand, I can’t feel that bad about Two and a Half Men.

Still, perhaps the problem is–again–in the nominating process, since Frasier and 30 Rock tended to beat the same competition over and over: Pushing Daisies, Gilmore Girls, and, perhaps most notably, The Simpsons were boxed out entirely during these repeat winner years.

Are repeat winners a problem, or just rewards for a job well done? Should the Academy attempt to spread the wealth more? What series do you think were most unfairly denied the gold by repeat winners?

Friday: But you were talking about Bryan Cranston and Hugh Laurie. Does the tendency toward repeat winners hurt individual actors more than series?

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Start the Wake: ABC Begins Burning Off PUSHING DAISIES Tonight

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As I will never, ever forgive ABC for holding a pillow over Pushing Daisies‘ face, I may still be going through the stages of grief. Please don’t try to console me by telling me they’re in a better place now–they’re in the last primetime slot on a Saturday night going into June. That’s not a better place.

Still, I suppose we should be grateful we’re getting these last three episodes at all. Tonight’s episode, in which we find out exactly why Olive’s into the whole constructed family thing Ned’s got going on, may have been my favorite of the final three episodes screened at the Paley Festival last month. Focusing on the murder of a department store window designer, it’s perhaps even more visually gorgeous than usual. Olive finds a backbone, bless her wee little pea-picking heart. And it’s your last chance to hear Kristin Chenoweth sing on this magical show. Don’t miss it–10pm Eastern and Pacific, 9pm Central and Mountain, on (Spit! Ptooi!) ABC.

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

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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!

Squee! It’s…

Squee! It’s Audrey Wasilewski tonight on Bones! In addition to having seen Wasilewski on fare as wide-ranging as Big Love, Mad Men, Eli Stone, Pushing Daisies (make a wish!), Gilmore Girls, Wonderfalls, Friends, and The Bernie Mac Show (wow), you’ve almost certainly heard her, as she’s an accomplished voice actor who’s done work on animation and video games alike. Come on–she was even Rosie O’Donnell in Queer Duck. Not to mention that she was Janice Trumbull, the White House staffer unlucky enough to love Star Trek in Josh Lyman’s general vicinity in That West Wing Episode Where Aaron Sorkin Really Ticked Us Off (you don’t even want to know about the Title IX ep. Seriously). Catch the adorable Audrey Wasilewski on FOX tonight at 8 Eastern/Pacific, 7 Central and Mountain.

The Ten Best Television Moments of 2008

I’m one of those grouches who generally doesn’t love New Year’s Eve, spending the evening grousing in a corner about another year slipping away into the ether. In a lot of ways, however, 2008 has been great enough to kick me out of that rut. This year, we saw whales in two different oceans and camped with alligators and saw David Tennant and Patrick Stewart in Hamlet (side note: truly excellent) and touched Paul Revere’s headstone and made awesome Brussels sprouts and actually did workout programs. Heck, one of us even survived a hurricane and a week without power by washing dishes in rainwater while one of us had a chunk of her head removed and lived to tell the tale (should we give out prizes if you guess which was which?). Good year.

A lot of times, it didn’t feel like TV kept up–although we did (and still do) support the WGA in their strike, the repercussions slammed down 2008 TV pretty hard. We can’t say there’s a new show from the fall docket we actually, you know, watch, and that probably has a lot to do with the munched-up development season. We lost a bunch of old TV friends this year, too (shut up, ABC). Upon further reflection, however, we found plenty to celebrate in TV 2008.

This is only our list, of course, made up of shows that we watched. If your top ten list is different, feel free to leave a comment letting us know what we’ve egregiously omitted (or criminally overrated). Fair warning–any video or links may have spoilers.

10. Tina Fey asks whether the vice presidential debate will include a talent portion on Saturday Night Live (October 4 on NBC): It’s probably stretching things to suggest that a comedy show decided the US presidential election, but it’s hard to deny that David Letterman’s jilted outrage and Fey’s spot-on impression of Sarah Palin put the McCain/Palin campaign in an unenviable position: they moved from being candidates to lead a superpower to being punchlines. Fey might have done more to revitalize late-night comedy in a couple of months than she did in years as SNL‘s head writer.

9. Amber shuffles off this mortal coil after trying to do House a solid (“Wilson’s Heart,” May 19 on Fox): House is essentially a procedural, just one set in a hospital and with a really tremendous lead. House will guess the Disease of the Week is vasculitis about ten minutes in and then manufacture a crash cart crisis right before every commercial break. It really stands out, then, when they break that pattern, and they’ve never broken it like they did when they broke Wilson’s heart. Watching doctors who deal with life and death every day shed their professional armor to say goodbye to the colleague they can’t save gave us emotion we rarely see from this crew, and the resulting break-up between Wilson and House drove the fall run of the show. Part of the reason Hugh Laurie is so great on this show is because Robert Sean Leonard raises his game, and Mr. Leonard has never been better than here.

8. Shawn asks his (appalled) father for a pair of his underwear in an auto shop classroom on Psych (Murder?…Anyone?…Anyone?…Bueller?,” July 25 on USA): Maybe Psych is more fun for those of us old enough to remember all the pop culture gags the show tosses out at lightning speed. No episode had more of those gags than the one centering around Shawn and Gus’ 13-year (yes, you read that right) high school reunion, which was a cornucopia of 80s teen movie jokes. Having a reference to Abe Froman, Sausage King of Chicago, or ending the show with the Breakfast Club fist in the air is nice, but what really put us over the edge was Shawn bonding with Henry in a dark auto shop classroom…and then asking for his underwear in a Sixteen Candles homage so funny it makes us want to break into a chorus of “If You Were Here.” We wonder if Shawn’s long-lost mother will claim that she paid a buck to see Henry’s underwear at the dance.

7. Desmond finally finds Penny–or is it the other way around?–on Lost (“The Constant,” February 28 on ABC): I’m neither the biggest Lost fan around nor the biggest romantic, and even I got all teary at the end of this one. After an episode of bouncing dangerously through time and space revisiting his own past and salting in potential clues about physics and relativity, Desmond faces the same fate as others who have messed with the island: death by nosebleed and seizure. How is he able to avoid such a sorry end? He has a constant in time and space. Penny’s looking for him, too. In one quick scene, Lost gains more emotional momentum and satisfaction from an oft-referenced but rarely seen character than it does from many of its regulars.

6. Jason Lezak’s come-from-behind relay leg keeps Michael Phelps’–and NBC’s–Olympic dreams alive (4X100m freestyle relay, August 11 on NBC): The Beijing Olympics left a big footprint on the television landscape this year, and no athlete was more of a Sasquatch than 8-time-gold medalist Michael Phelps. We were able to learn more about his diet, his mother, and his dog, however, because his 32-year-old teammate, Jason Lezak, hunted down recent world record holder Alain Bernard of France to keep Phelps’ record hopes alive. Lezak made up half a body length in 25 meters and merely swam the fastest relay split in history. It wasn’t an implausible comeback–it was an impossible comback. And it was almost more fun to watch Phelps scream his teammate to victory just like we were than it was to watch Phelps swim.

5. Crews and Reese find unhappy surprises in trunks scattered across LA in the season opener of Life (“Find Your Happy Place,” September 29 on NBC): Other detective shows focus on how ugly the world can be. Life is different because it focuses instead on how unsettling the world can be. A nearly dialogue-free opening with our heroes helplessly opening trunk after trunk containing dead bodies underscores why the conspiracy hiding who framed Charlie Crews is so important. In a world so unsettling, we need Charlie Crews (and Dani Reese) to find the bad guys and keep us safe…but Charlie isn’t even able to protect himself, not even with a Zen attitude and a lot of fruit. The typically brilliant musical choice accompanying the scene–Gram Rabbit’s “Devil’s Playground” –says it all: the mean streets aren’t so cheap as to just murder you. They’ll play with you first. Better hope Charlie is there to help.

4. Chuck hears her mother talk about giving birth to her on Pushing Daisies (“Oh Oh Oh…It’s Magic!,” October 29 on ABC): Lonely Tourist Charlotte Charles can occasionally be a little grating (did you see that? Did you see how I slipped that little cheese pun in there? Hello?) in her insistence that everyone be as fascinated by their origins as she is. Still, given that her boyfriend accidentally killed her father with his magic finger and she’s only recently discovered that the aunt who raised her is actually her mother, Chuck’s obsession with her family tree is understandable. The end of this episode, with ever-patient third-wheel Olive wearing a wire and asking Aunt/Mother Lily an eavesdropping Chuck’s questions, gave us a window into how much these bits of information mean. We can’t put too fine a point on it: Chuck, who was told her mother died giving birth to her, is able to hear her mother say she knew her baby was an angel. It would have softened us toward Chuck’s perspective, but we were too busy crying our little hearts out with her. (And did Olive retreating to fantasy love while singing “Eternal Flame” make us cry, too? Maybe. A little. Hush, you.)

3. The TARDIS tows the Earth home on Doctor Who (“Journey’s End,” July 5 on BBC One; August 1 on Sci Fi): Doctor Who‘s season finales can be…a bit messy, and this one was no exception. Several old buddies didn’t really do much plot-wise but get in the way (really, what were the odds Martha Jones was going to use the Osterhagen Key?), but they needed to be there for one purpose: they needed to be there so we could see the TARDIS fully staffed, flown the ways TARDISes are meant to be flown. For one glorious moment, the TARDIS is viewed in all of its potential, with all of its might–it’s towing a planet. And it can because it’s piloted by a family, restoring to the Doctor so much of what he’s lost. Yes, the end of Donna’s story minutes later is crushing, but it hurts so good because everything was singing so beautifully such a short time before. From this point forward, every time we see the Doctor running around the TARDIS’ console and hitting things with sledgehammers, we’ll miss this moment, and something so indelible in a show that is so much about how things change is special.

2. David Simon and Co. say goodbye to Baltimore to close the series finale of The Wire (“-30-,” March 9 on HBO): One of television’s greatest achievements, The Wire revisited over and over again the idea that unless institutions change, the same patterns of poverty and corruption will keep destroying people’s lives. Perhaps the most amazing thing, however, was that in the midst of that soul-deadening truth, both the show and the viewers found characters to love, the most notable of which was Baltimore itself. The series-closing montage showed us not only where each of our beloved characters ended up (sweet merciful crap, how did he become police commisioner?!? The circle really is unbroken), but also the beauty and pain of the city they loved in so many different ways. I’ll never love a dining room table as much as I did in this moment of watching television.

1. Barack Obama’s acceptance speech (November 4 on various networks): Regardless of your political leanings, the sight of as many as a quarter of a million people crowding into Grant Park to hear the newly elected US president was a spectacle made for television. At the same time, the sight of sheets of bulletproof glass separating said newly elected president from the people he will represent is the kind of thing politicians used to be able to hide before the advent of television. Can you imagine FDR keeping his health issues a secret if there had been 24-hour news channels in his day? The thing that makes television different from other medium is the shared nature of the experience–millions of people might see the same film, but they don’t do it all at the same time. Obama’s acceptance speech, so rousing that researchers are using it to try to study emotional elevation, would likely have affected people anyway, but the exponential expansion of that elevation that comes from sharing it with millions of other people comes thanks to television. And the inability to hide things less elevating, things that still need fixing, is in many ways thanks to the real-time, moving pictures television is able to provide. There’s some talk that web-based communication will supplant this function, but I’m not sure texts can ever create elevation the same way watching history unfold can. Even in a television year that may not have been historic itself, this kind of participatory history gives us something to celebrate about television.

PUSHING DAISIES “The Norwegians”: But Isn’t Stockholm in Sweden?

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We’ve devoted considerable attention (read: whinerpantsering) to the mystery of why the delightful Pushing Daisies has not been successful at capturing enough hearts to stay alive. “The Norwegians” may help provide some answers. While I adored it–how could I not? It addressed a key character issue that sticks in my craw and had a higher-than-average number of sly jokes–it felt like an hour of television that might seem impenetrable to someone who just stumbled over the show on a Wednesday night.

This hypothetical newbie might have gotten the giggles over a Mobile Investigative Lab Facility nicknamed Mother (wow). She might have laughed even harder at Shaft references or a Titanic-esque sketch of a lost love or a DNA match making a Norwegian flag or at a subterfuge suggesting that miscreants with blue and yellow truncheons stole Mother or at the male lead Norwegian detective having a surname like Olsdattir. But she also might reasonably ask why the rival detectives are Norwegian. Loyal Daisies enthusiasts know the answer is “because it’s funny,” but someone watching the show for the first time might not as easily decipher what has deep meaning and what is merely a juicy joke.

Our new viewer almost certainly wouldn’t feel the full pain that plays out in the synchronized swimming sisters’ relationship, especially whenVivian has to tell Lily Charlotte’s body has been “stolen from her grave.” She wouldn’t understand why Olive is suddenly much more content with impending death when Ned admits he wouldn’t say he’s never felt attraction for her, or why Olive’s frustration over being excluded from secrets is more than overdue. She wouldn’t feel the full weight of how touching it is that cynical, arrogant Emerson feels responsible for involving everyone in danger. Heck, she might not even have a full appreciation for the juciest joke in the episode, Jim Dale’s narrator intoning “Oh, HELL no” when we think Olive might be a traitor. All of these tidbits combine to make the whole greater than the sum of its parts, so if a newer viewer can’t get the parts in the first place, that might cause problems. Why can’t five million of us watching every week be enough? The Tudors finale got fewer than a million viewers; Dexter‘s got 1.5 million. True Blood allegedly gets 6 million viewers when you count DVR delay and On Demand viewing, and it stinks on ice. Dear pay cable networks: here’s a show that might not grow brand new viewers for itself right now, but it might bring a chunk of devoted new subscribers your way.

Choose Your Chenoweth

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I guess there really can be too much of a good thing. At 8pm Eastern and Pacific tonight, you can catch the incandescent Kristin Chenoweth as Olive Snook, the best thing about the brilliant Pushing Daisies. This may be the last episode of Pushing Daisies we ever get on broadcast TV (an additional couple of eps have been filmed and would show up on an eventual DVD release), so of course you’ll want to tune in…

…unless, of couse, you need a little Christmas right this very minute. If that’s your circumstance, you may want to catch dazzling Broadway and recording star Kristin Chenoweth on TNT’s Christmas in Washington. Which is, of course, also on at 8pm Eastern and Pacific. I’d go into an extended rant here about how this is a perfect example of networks not understanding their own schedules, but TNT is wisely rebroadcasting Christmas in Washington several more times, including multiple showings tonight. (And, frankly, if you’re in flyover country, it’s all going to work out for you anyway–check local listings.)  Our recommendation, then, is to catch Chenoweth dealing with rival Norwegian detectives (led by Orlando Jones!) on Daisies at 8 and then to switch over to TNT, careful to avoid host Dr. Phil, to catch Chenoweth perfoming the geeeeoooooorgeeeeeeous, Eastern-tinged version of “What Child Is This?” from her new Christmas album. Apparently other people will be performing (Julianne Hough and Darius Rucker, for example, in case you want oddly country-fried Christmases), but it’s hard to believe they’ll be able to hold a candle to Chenoweth.

Of course, none of this provides a solution as to how to see A Muppet Christmas: Letters to Santa (Jesse L. Martin! In a letter carrier outfit! Probably singing!), which airs at exactly the same time–insert that above-mentioned rant about scheduling here and try to think of Kristin Chenoweth rather than Jay Leno.

PUSHING DAISIES “The Legend of Merle McQuoddy”: Cod and Snook, Inc.

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The opening moments of this week’s Pushing Daisies seemed a little disappointing at first–after last week’s dramatic set-up, Ned’s hasty willingness to forgive Chuck for keeping her reanimated father alive and lying about it seemed like it was going to deflate some perfectly good tension too quickly. Charles Charles’ desire to make Chuck choose between pie and cake, however, neatly reinjected that tension back into the story. The mid-episode fight about the role of Daddy Deadest–which has been a long time coming for our lovebirds–underscores the ultimate reason why this show is getting cancelled: it isn’t stagnant. Characters change; the story moves forward. This show was always meant for cable, I guess, where shows can get away with such arcs and a few million viewers. Dear FX or AMC: Don’t you need to fill another slot? I know of a show that already has all the development done…

In addition to their forward movement, the characters are so well-drawn that any combination of them can rip us up. Last week we had Ned and Olive at the Comfort Food Cook-off consoling Vivan while Emerson helped Chuck bury Dwight Dixon and avoid aunt/mother Lily. This week focused on Ned and Chuck’s relationship, appropriately swiveling the aunts back into their orbit, while Emerson took on Olive as a junior PI-in-training. The mystery of the week was relatively forgettable (even with the wonderful Mary Kay Place on board), but its outcome–Emerson and Olive bonding–was priceless. From tiny Kristin Chenoweth trying to chest-bump not-tiny Chi McBride to Emerson’s tender declaration that “Itty Bitty” has taught him to love a rainy day again, we’re champing at the bit (of Olive’s desceased mount) for the spinoff. By day, they solve crimes. By night, they make pies. And sing.

Other delights: Rankin-Bass style claymation of the adventures Young Chuck and her father plan. Real estate agents who are shocked to find “The Secret” doesn’t work. Barbershop quartets (joined by Olive) selling a lighthouse-based day spa by singing “Candle on the Water”, capping off multiple references to Jim Dale-vehicle Pete’s Dragon. Remind me again why this show is being cancelled? Surely ABC could sell enough raincoats embossed with pie, fish, and olives to keep the show afloat.

PUSHING DAISIES “Comfort Food”: It’s Justice O’Clock

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I almost wish Pushing Daisies weren’t so brilliant this week. In the face of an episode where Chuck makes a huge mistake Ned might not be able to forgive at the same time he’s reviving Olive’s eternal flame (oh, Olive), we have to wonder where they would have taken this storyline before circling back to plastic hugging contraptions. Bitter tang, bitter viewer–it’s a story. Because, much as was the case with the boarding school pie-speakeasy in the teaser, Ned’s party with forkfuls of immediate gratification has stopped, and I worry they don’t have enough time left to fully explore that.

This is particularly painful when considering the best episode since Season 1’s “Sweet Smell of Success.” Chuck has admittedly been getting on my nerves with her self-centered insistence that everyone else in her tiny circle should feel about family and life the way she does, but her selfish choice to keep her father alive in this episode is presented in such a way that, in the middle of a terrible decision, it makes her sympathetic again. Her chat with Daddy Deadest about what death feels like and how much more vibrant revivified life feels reminds us that there are some things about her no one else can possibly understand, adding to her isolation even from the person she loves the most. It’s hard to imagine, though, that Ned will be able to let her betrayal go lightly, so the clock is striking justice o’clock for Lonely Tourist Charlotte Charles.

All of this heavy stuff (and heavy stiff) is perfectly counterbalanced, however, with the Best in Belly Comfort Food Cook-Off. Seeing Beth Grant reprise her role as WonderfallsMuffin Buffalo proprietess is delightful enough, but seeing her hip-check Olive in slow motion with muffins flying is almost too much goodness to ingest. (It’s even more fun that episode writer Doug Petrie, previously a writer and executive producer on Buffy, labels her The Pastry Slayer.) There is a character called the Waffle Nazi (who speaks not German, but “English mit a German accent”), sweetly delivered threats to strangle people with blue ribbons, and promises of hobbits on jetpacks. Kristin Chenoweth remains the best thing on TV, rollicking back and forth between declaring that the thing no one ever tells you about cooking with the dark side is that the food is reeeeaaallllly good to radiating with one look that her feelings for Ned have been percolating under the surface with as much force as Emerson’s Bolivia Jura coffee grounds. She has a knack for just the right touch to elevate a scene from fun to delightful, like balancing a pie on her shoulder while racing it to the judges’ table on a scooter or biting her lip when Ned notes that she could be his investigative assistant. (The costume department also has a knack for dressing her to show off her, er, assets.)

And maybe that’s why, even in an episode that does so much to rehabilitate Chuck and reshape her relationship with Ned, I’m starting to believe that Pushing Daisies is really Olive Snook’s story. I would never, ever have believed that capping a television show with a (beautifully orchestrated) Bangles song would make me weepy, but getting to see Olive finally win one, only to have Ned offer the hand that will pull her back into the depths of unrequited love, rips my heart out. We saw a few episodes ago that, when faced with potential death, Olive found forgiveness in her heart and wished love, success, and pie on everyone. While Charles Charles found death to be like gliding, and Chuck didn’t feel much of anything at all, I hope when Olive actually goes, death will feel like winning the Best in Belly Comfort Food Cook-Off, taking Ned’s hand, having sparkles explode all around her, and having a heart so full it breaks open and music spills out into the world.

PUSHING DAISIES “Robbing Hood”: I Like Your Moxie, Sassafras

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“Robbing Hood” may not have been top-shelf pie, what with the overarching Dwight Dixon story crushing a lesser Mystery of the Week. Since Susannah and I were sitting on the couch knitting after a day of holiday-induced stress baking as Emerson’s mechanical yarn swift wound, however, we’re going to give it a pass. While we acknowledge the gifts we were knitting may end up unwanted, we don’t really consider ourselves frustrated grannies.

Ned’s amusing encounter with a roomful of hunting trophies (cleverly staged so Ned has antlers in the opening shot and an off-stage roar caps the joke) makes us wonder what else he can’t touch. We’ve seen him revive rotten fruit and subsequently choke on his own pie, but what other rules govern his power? Do items have to be essentially in their original form, even if horribly mangled? Or does Ned have to avoid leather shoes and cotton T-shirts?

We can’t concentrate on such deep questions–or even what might be in Charles Charles’ grave, the cruelest cliff we’ve hung on since late-season Doctor Who–for very long when Olive is marching around with a pig doing a Zsa Zsa Gabor impression and Aunt Lily is talking about Tinkerbell’s tiny buttcheeks. Even when an episode isn’t firing on all cylinders, we like their moxie.