Friday, December 19, 2008

Pushing Daisies, "The Norwegians": Skubbe Do, where are you?

Spoilers for Wednesday night's "Pushing Daisies" -- which may or may not be the last episode to ever air on ABC -- coming up just as soon as I take a DNA swab...

Oh, twee little show, how I'll miss you.

It's still unclear whether ABC's going to run the remaining three episodes (maybe on a Saturday night in January?), just put them on their website, or make people wait for the DVD, but in a way, "The Norwegians" feels like as appropriate an ending point as any for the series' network run. It gave us yet another wacky world with the detectives from the land of Norwegia (including Orlando Jones, and I like that his blackness was never commented on, in the same way that nobody ever asked about Emerson Cod having a white mom), had Olive officially folded into the new Scooby gang as much as is possible without telling her about Ned's powers, finally showed us George Hamilton as Ned's dad (which is the kind of thing I like better as an image than I think I would if I had to watch Hamilton acting in several episodes), and featured possibly Jim Dale's best moment ever when he declared "Oh hell no!!!" at the sight of Olive in a Norwegian uniform.

With the series essentially at an end, I'm still trying to figure out what it is about "Pushing Daisies" that made me love it when I was ambivalent at best about Bryan Fuller's previous two shows. I know that I get paid to explain these differences, but I'm stumped, other than the possibility that the sheer sarcastic genius of Chi McBride (who got to talk 'bout Shaft here) effectively counter-balanced certain aspects that I found too annoying on "Wonderfalls" and "Dead Like Me." For those of you with a greater love for the Fuller ouevre, how would you characterize the differences between "Daisies" and the earlier shows?

29 comments:

Alanna said...

Hmm. I thought Pushing Daisies was far too twee and pleased with itself at first, but it has grown on me. Although I wasn't a huge fan of Dead Like Me or Wonderfalls, I think they were much more accessible to a mainstream audience than PD. While I've wondered if toning down PD's self-conscious quirkiness would have made it a bit more successful, it might've also taken away too much from the show's overall vibe. Either way, I'm still not a huge fan, but I'll be sad to see it go.

Jennifer said...

I'm kind of the opposite, I loved both Dead Like Me and Wonderfalls but found Pushing Daisies to often be too...aggressively cute. I found all the fairy-tale-fantasy elements and invariably fast-talking people involved in the mysteries of the week to be kind of tiresome. I guess I also related better to the the sarcastic heroines of the previous two shows. My favorite character in Pushing Daisies is definitely Emerson, and I kind of feel the way he does about Chuck, and about the Ned and Chuck romance in general...too sunny and sappy.

Anonymous said...

I think part of the difference between Daisies and the previous 2 shows is that the leads on the other shows were sarcastic and pessimistic and the shows themselves much darker. Even when it dealt with death and murder Daisies always managed to be upbeat and the characters were always optimistic.

Btw, not sure if I should put a spoiler warning since this is just my own personal theory (and I doubt I'm the first one to think of it) but I have a feeling that Ned's dad has the same powers. Ned died as a kid and his father took off because he didn't want to accidentally touch Ned again. The man who saved Ned and Olive from the cliff was his father and he was covered head to toe so that he didn't accidentally make contact with Ned!

Bill said...

I can't find the blog post I made about it at the time, but when I saw the pilot for Pushing Daisies, I was convinced the show was going to be intolerable -- and I was a fan of Dead Like Me and Wonderfalls.

One of the problems I've had with Fuller's protagonists is how neutered they are. It's one thing for DLM's George Glass to be an 18 year old virgin, but she wasn't the usual frustrated, saving-for-marriage, or "the time just hasn't been right" sort -- there were times when she acted like she still thought boys had cooties and kissing was grody. WF's protagonist at least had a sexual history of some sort and a love interest that didn't feel tacked on, but -- well, maybe she just reminded me of George in enough other ways that I lump her in. I somehow got the same semi-asexual/semi-infantile vibe from her that I get from George.

So when our Pie Maker was saddled with a love interest he can't touch because of his magic powers, I thought, oh for Christ's sake, here goes Fuller again, bending over backwards to keep the kids from screwing.

And I still have a lot of trouble buying Ned, in a lot of ways -- does he have no exes? had he been pining for Chuck enough to spurn other women but not enough to, you know, google her? the show invests so much in Young Ned and yet The Pie Maker seems to have no history. Chuck seems like a real person. Emerson and Olive seem like very broadly drawn real people. Ned does not. Ned is a television character, an origin story grown in a petri dish until an adult resulted, with little apparent interest in or history with the world beyond his plot devices.

And yet I love the show.

Somehow ... somehow the cutesiness of the plastic wrap and the longing looks and the grabbing of Emerson's hands ... somehow I don't just tolerate it to a greater degree that I tolerated the antisexuality of the other Fuller shows ... somehow I actually like it.

It took me a few episodes. In fact, through most of the first season I kept saying "sure, I like it FOR NOW, but I bet I'm gonna get sick of it soon." But I never got sick of it. I didn't even like it less.

I don't know if I can put my finger on what Fuller is doing differently this time. Emerson Cod certainly helps, but his shows have always had an abrasive or less-twee character of some sort in the cast, and Wonderfalls starred one. The cast helps, but neither DLM nor WF lacked for acting talent. I think there's a good balance between the episode-long plot and the ongoing character plots, and real movement in those ongoing plots, not just feints and promises. I think that's so satisfying because it's something so many shows do wrong, Fuller's or anyone else's.

Toby said...

Jim Dale's exclamation was my favorite bit in the episode, but a close second was the “Mobile Investigative Lab Facility” being called "Mother", considering the acronym.

Cheeky monkeys!

After the George Hamilton reveal, it made sense that there was no way it could have been Chuck's father on that clifftop. Charles Charles would have let Ned & Olive fall to their deaths, thinking that it was the best way to keep him and his daughter safe.

As it was, I really thought for a moment that Olive would fall to her death and that Ned would revive her to be like Chuck - thus learning the hard way all the secrets she wanted to know.

Nicole Marie said...

I felt the show has really found it's stride, and I'm so sad that it's being canceled now. I wouldn't have even noticed it it had been canceled after the writer's strike, but it feels like each episode keeps getting better and better this season. Isn't there any way that ABC might change its mind?

I caught Private Practice after Pushing Daisies the other night, and I can't believe that horrid dreck is getting another season and a Grey's Anatomy push and this awesome, awesome show is just going off the air quietly, and everyone just seems to accept it with a sighed "oh well, it was too quirky to ever be successful."

sanford said...

Anonymous said Ned died as a kid. Was that part of his theory. If Ned's father had that power, it would have been a big secret. Besides I think we see Ned touch his son when he leaves him at the school. Maybe some one can verify that.

Why would Ned's father leave his second family?

It is really too bad that she show is not going to be on another season to answer some questions instead of just leave us hanging.

Dave said...

So sad to see it go...such a great show and so different from anything else out there.

AndyW said...

This episode, despite some wonderful moments (MILF), felt pretty rushed. Don't know if that was a post-cancellation editing decision.

I'm kind of torn on "Daisies" overall. It's not that I don't (didn't) love it, it's just that the concept was clearly running its course pretty quickly (see also: Dexter).

I wish they could have finished out a real season this year and then called it quits.

I still think the concept (and maybe Fuller in general) would fit so much better on HBO or Showtime, with short-run seasons, more adventurous audiences and reasonable ratings expectations.

Eric said...

One thing I noticed watching this episode, is that PD seems to be the Anti-Lost. It never feels like they're just making it up as they go along, but that every crazy twist. turn and wrinkle feels like an organic part of the whole. (Compare this to Dirty Sexy Money where the writers seem to have forgotten that Brian already had a wife and children.)

I'll miss Pushing Daisies, but I never expected it to go past 4 episodes, so the rest have just been gravy.

Anonymous said...

Didn't watch Wonderfalls (blinked and it was gone)(and I was more of a Joan of Arcadia fan). Caught Dead like Me on SciFi reruns and loved it. Overall much more dark and existential then PD.
Love Pushing Daisies for its brightness and wittiness, its a storybook for adults, perhaps even a Pop-Up book for adults. Consistently brings the funny and the droll.
This show will live on on DVD, and future generations will wonder "Why did they cancel such a great show?"

Puff

Marty said...

Without as doubt, Chi McBride is the counter-balance to the show going over the cutesy edge (aunt Lily, too). Any time we got too close to that edge, you could always count on an "Oh, hell no" or a shotgun to the nose. The back and forth flow was just right. I will miss this show tremendouly, it was a great escape from a real world that is far less cutesy.

I don't know about anyone else, but "wake and bake" meant something completely different for me in college. Combined with the Jim Dale "OH, HELL NO!" and the MILF mobile, this episode had me rolling with laughter! Ned's confession to Olive was just sweet enough, too.

Kristin said...

I like the 'twee-ness' of PD because my kids love this show...any sexual references go right over their heads. They just love the crazy-silly dead bodies and the scenes, like several weeks ago, when Ned had to navigate a room full of stuffed and mounted animals.

The over-the-top quality comes across as something child-like, but yet the themes and dialogue are very adult, if you happen to be mature enough to get it.

I've loved this show since the very first episode. And I will also admit I love the sarcasm of Emerson much more than the romance of Ned/Chuck. But without the romance part, the greatness of Emerson would be greatly diminished. Olive is also a favorite.

I hope they show the last three episodes in January. Give us some closure ABC, please!

Elena said...

I think I liked it at first for the visual richness, the hybrid real/fantasy sets and color. And I adore Jim Dale. I'm one of those who listened to all the Harry Potter books instead of reading them, and Jim Dale has such a gift of inhabiting the characters of the HP world. So I enjoy hearing him again. Beyond that, I have liked that they continued to find small conflicts between Ned and Chuck, Cod is a wonder--loved during this episode when he growled about the "proxy handholding", and Olive is super cute. I'll miss this show a lot. Hope ABC does give us the remaining shows in Jan.

Kelly said...

While I don't disagree with Bill that grown up Ned is probably the least "real" feeling character of the whole bunch, I do have to point out that there has been mention of Ned's previous relationships. Most specifically, the whole "tragic error of making love on a bear skin rug" one. Hee!

Bill said...

You're right, Kelly -- that's what I get for repeating a complaint I've been making for a while, without stopping to wonder if it's still strictly accurate. Ned still doesn't *feel* like someone who's been in other relationships, but they have at least been mentioned, and if the show were going to be on the air longer, that could be a good sign. They'd run out of childhood for Young Ned eventually.

kruse said...

I came here to read the posts on "Mad Men", and I see these guys wearing my flag on the front page.

Now I need to download this episode of a show I've never seen before to see what it's all about.

By the way, "Skubbe Do" means something like "Push Toilet" in Norwegian. Not sure I want to know what that is.

Scooby-doobie-doo, I'll read what I came here for in the first place now ;-)

Keep up the good work, Alan. Like your reviews.

tracey said...

Hmn... well, I've watched all three of them, liked two of them in completely different ways and hated a third.

I watched exactly one episode of WF, but couldn't suspend my disbelief for it. I know that the talking tchatchkes were supposed to be magic, but what we were seeing was so obviously, classically schizophrenia, with typical behaviors like turning up the radio to drown out the voices that no one else can hear, that I simply couldn't get past that and enjoy the show. My brain kept screaming, "you know, they've got meds for this." My friends and I referred to that show as "Touched by a Tchatchke."

Loved Dead Like Me, though. I liked the whole concept of an 18 year old girl who is completely wasting her life, who then finds that her life is over, and finally starts to learn how to live. Loved the way each of the characters deals with their afterlife in different ways, and the little character insights that popped out here and there (the blonde who slept with everyone in Hollywood, but her dying thought was wondering why no one ever loved her; the meter maid who was murdered by her roommate to steal her idea for legwarmers). Hated George's mother: yeah, I know it's real that grieving people cope in terrible ways, and do awful things to their families, but I don't want to watch it on TV.

I love the fairy tale vibe of Pushing Daisies, counterbalanced by Cod's snarkiness. I admit, though, I was getting a bit tired of Ned as the series went along. He's just ... he's so whiny; even when he's in a good mood, he looks like he's going to cry at any moment, and that was getting a bit tiresome. Love Olive and Emerson, and I think somebody had a great idea last week, suggesting a spinoff detective show with just the two of them!

I do hope they show the remaining episodes, because I think George Hamilton is a trip (still remember him fondly from Love at First Bite and Zorro the Gay Blade).

Re Ned's father touching him: Yes, sorry to disappoint you, but Ned's father does indeed touch him while saying goodbye. In the magic show episode, they show Ned's father saying goodbye at the boarding school, brushing the hair out of his eyes and patting his head, and his bare hand clearly comes in contact with Ned's face.

Norgard said...

And I still have a lot of trouble buying Ned, in a lot of ways -- does he have no exes? had he been pining for Chuck enough to spurn other women but not enough to, you know, google her? the show invests so much in Young Ned and yet The Pie Maker seems to have no history. Chuck seems like a real person. Emerson and Olive seem like very broadly drawn real people. Ned does not. Ned is a television character, an origin story grown in a petri dish until an adult resulted, with little apparent interest in or history with the world beyond his plot devices.

I think the Pie Maker stands in the grand tradition of Bryan Fuller's lead characters, who are all wasting their lives away until outside forces compel them to get out of their rut. Early in his life Ned experienced serious emotional trauma -- first the guilt over killing Chuck's father, then the abandonment by his parents -- and has, as a result, become emotionally stunted. Him still pining over Chuck after twenty-odd years is a safety mechanism: it frees him from having to even consider seriously engaging in a relationship with other women, and at the same time he knows he'll never act on his feelings because he killed her father. I have no problem believing that between school life and the present, there literally is nothing to tell: Ned bakes pies, walks his dog and does little else, and would probably have continued to do so till the end of his days if Chuck's murder hadn't forced him to act.

Where I think the show went wrong this season -- and which is why I feel a bit ambivalent about it where I loved Wonderfalls -- is that they didn't treat Ned and Chuck's relationship with the gravitas it needed. I don't think the subject matter is inherently less dark than it was on Wonderfalls -- we're talking about a relationship between two emotionally somewhat retarded (in the literal sense) people, after all -- but it was often played for laughs and nothing else.

Number Five said...

I thought of Wonderfalls as an enjoyable but flawed show and haven't yet seen Dead Like Me.

On the broadest level, it is hard to explain the difference. The tone and pacing Fuller's shows rely on is so hard to achieve that it's dancing on the edge of a knife. So it doesn't take a lot to slip. I do admire that even after Wonderfalls died an ugly death on Fox, for his next series Fuller 1) didn't compromise his vision but went even more gonzo with Pushing Daisies and 2) added counterbalances such as Emerson and darker material, from the murders to the nature of Ned's power, including its separation of him and Chuck.

That points to the fact that Pushing Daisies had a better premise to work with. On the one hand, the darker elements balanced the fanciful ones. On the other hand, the fairy tale approach (versus being set in the real world) made it easier to accept and enjoy the twee-ness.

The writing on both shows is great, but the even faster pace of Pushing Daisies prevented dialogue from getting too cutesy and self-absorbed the way it tended to on Wonderfalls. When Pushing Daisies has a weak line or two, it quickly gets buried by the next rejoinder or exchange.

I think the cast made a big difference. Caroline Dhavernas was very good but could be abrasive, and the supporting cast was mixed. Pushing Daisies has one of the best casts on television. They're also more balanced; Dhavernas had to carry more of the load but on Pushing Daisies Lee Pace shares time, emphasis, etc pretty equally with the other three main characters.

I would also say the direction and production design (and let's face it, having a much bigger budget) helped by again going for broke with regard to colors, locations, use of CGI, camera moves, etc. Barry Sonnenfeld deserves a lot of credit for this even if he wasn't as involved after the first few episodes; the style of the pilot has stayed with the show.

Whew, after all that, I just want to say I've been slightly disappointed by the way they've handled the emotional impact of Chuck's father coming back and leaving, but I enjoyed this week's episode, am very grateful to have gotten such a fantastic show, and am hoping we'll get to see the last episodes soon.

daveawayfromhome said...

"I think the Pie Maker stands in the grand tradition of Bryan Fuller's lead characters, who are all wasting their lives away until outside forces compel them to get out of their rut."

Norgard's summary is pretty good, though I would've said "supernatural" rather than "outside". Funny though, I would have chosen Chuck to be the traditional Fuller lead. Maybe both Ned and Chuck are. However, unlike DLM or WF, neither character seems to have grown much over the course of the shows (George had grown especially, going from a withdrawn defeatist to a self-confident and fearless young woman over the course of 26 shows).

Another trait of Fuller's seems to be a tendency for closing circles. Thus, Dwight's death when he himself was intending to murder makes sense, and Ned's father had to return. With Fuller's stories, theres a sense that there's some sort of Cosmic Plan, and over the course of the season (or the individual show) various story details fit nicely together to reveal that plan (or hint at it).
It's for this reason that I'd say that Ned's fatherdoes not have Ned's power also - it's too convenient, and leaves Ned as just a guy with a weird ability, rather than a man with a Purpose.

So, bright colors and the twee attitudes notwithstanding, I think that PD is not so much different from his first shows.

Also, I havent watched Heroes since the first season, but it sounds like these elements (which I believe were there also, at least the Cosmic Circle stuff, anyway) may no longer exist in the show - could this be part of what Heroes has lacked, lately, that feeling of some sort of unseen Plan in the works?

Master Prudent said...

Another note on the differences: PD has so many characters accept impossible things; is so fairy tale like, that you know it's not set in the world as we know it. Both Wonderfalls and Dead Like Me required a little more suspension of disbelief because they had incredible and/or supernatural happenings taking place in the real world.

ap said...

Why are people always falling off cliffs and buildings on this show? Just the other episode the lighthouse keeper's son was hanging off the lighthouse. At the beginning of this season Chuck was dangling off the nunnery's bell tower, and I feel like there's been at least one other "dangling" incident. People need to stay away from balconies!

kruse said...

I thought the lead detective's name was more funny than him being black.

Magnus Olsdatter.

Olsdatter is a patronym, still in use in Iceland. That would make him the daughter of Ol.

SKUBBE DU? (Do You Hustle?) We Do
Norwegian Investigative Services phone # KL5-0145

Anonymous said...

I have never seen Dead Like Me, but am a huge fan of Wonderfalls. I admit though, I wasn't a complete fan of Wonderfalls until several episodes in and the unaired episodes on DVD sold me on it 100%. I watched Pushing Daisies for a while, but never really could get into it. I found the narration too story-bookish and I never liked the character of Chuck. I enjoyed the Olive character and Chuck's aunts, but the main couple just wasn't there for me and the show overall never clicked. It is sad though that a unique quirky show like PD has gotten the axe.

dez said...

(Compare this to Dirty Sexy Money where the writers seem to have forgotten that Brian already had a wife and children.)


Or that Jeremy has a twin.

I never saw DLM, but I didn't care all that much for WF. I gave WF a few tries and couldn't get into it, so it was easy to drop once I knew it was doomed.

PD, OTOH, grabbed me from the start and has been a real joy to watch. I especially loved in this last ep when Ned admitted he'd thought of Olive "in that way" before (the sheer happiness on her face made me feel all warm and fuzzy). I'm going to miss visiting this world and these people every week, and as others have wished, I also hope that ABC shows the last few eps to give us fans some closure.

Bitsy said...

I honestly think that in comparison to Dead Like Me and Wonderfalls, this was Fuller's best series. I loved Dead Like Me at first, but the departure of Rebecca Gayheart and the arrival of a more annoying version of her character marked the beginning of a slow decline in quality (example--Mason getting slapped over and over again in the CD store while trying to get laid). Wonderfalls was a pretty good show, even though the comedy often came off as cartoonish and immature. Pushing Daisies was heartfelt, and yes pretty sugar-sweet, but mostly avoided the failings of his other shows.

neglectarino said...

I liked Wonderfalls, but I agree with the PP who observed it was darker and taking place in the "real" world, required more suspension of disbelief than PD's complete little world-unto-itself.

What sold me on PD from the very beginning was the narration. It had the feel of well-loved books from my youth. I found it a delightful, whimsical, and charming touch.

It was a show that "read" like a book.

daveawayfromhome said...

I wonder if the tone of PD was a response to someone asking Fuller if his next show could be "less snarky", and (if he's as snarky as his two leads in DLM and WF) Fuller going, "you want less snarky? I'll give you less snarky", and so going to the twee extreme he does on PD.