Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Pushing Daisies: Less pretty, more witty

Spoilers for the third episode of "Pushing Daisies" coming up just as soon as I adjust my boobs while running...

So episode three -- the first one produced after Warner Bros. banned Barry Sonnenfeld from directing and insisted on a tighter budget -- was supposed to be the one where things fell apart, right? No visual razzle-dazzle, no show, right? So why was this one far and away my favorite of the three -- and maybe my favorite hour of network TV so far in this young season?

"The Fun In Funeral" didn't have the saturated color schemes, and the one special effects sequence (the homeopathic drug salesman's explosive decompression nightmare) was both brief and kinda cheesey looking. But whatever was lacking in visual splendor was more than made up for in genuine emotion and dark comedy.

The first two episodes, focused as they were on setting up this strange little universe, didn't really have time for any kind of emotional displays beyond the arch fairy tale kind. But Emerson forcing Chuck and Ned to confront the ramifications of her return from the dead in turn forced the show to confront them, in a way that seemed honest but not angst-ridden. Chuck's guilt over how she had come back to life made her feel more like a person than a twinkly ball of cute wrapped in a pastel dress with matching hat.

It helped that, for the most part, narrator Jim Dale wasn't asked to underline every single feeling one of the actors was trying to display (save the scene where Chuck baked the pie for her aunts). The narrator's great for exposition and dry humor, but whenever he starts explaining stuff we can plainly see on the faces of Lee Pace, Anna Friel and company, it has the opposite effect from what was intended -- it makes those moments less affecting, rather than more.

This episode also felt much funnier than the first two, with more opportunity for Emerson to be blunt and hostile towards Chuck (I particularly liked him forcing her out of the Pie Hole booth) and vice versa ("Kick, Pooh!"), the completely casual reactions of both the funeral director brothers when they came back to life ("Oh, hey Emerson"), throwaway gags like the old man corpse complaining about DNRs, bigger gags like the origin of Wilford Woodruff and his ancestor's Civil War legacy and -- in a moment that I wish could have been made a bit bigger (maybe by placing it at the climax of the sword fight) -- Ned's "I wanted to be a Jedi" line, which simultaneously reminded me of Inigo and Westley switching hands in "The Princess Bride" while making Ned seem like something more than the central cog in this machine of whimsy.

"Daisies" could still easily go off the rails, but if it does, it's not going to be because the "Men in Black" guy wasn't around to do his fancy palette thing.

What did everybody else think?


Alan Sepinwall said...

Oh, one minor complaint: those are some awfully long "minutes," aren't they? Maybe Ned has the power to bend space and time along with his resurrection gifts. I wish Fuller had made the limit two minutes or something, because it's starting to get distracting when so much time has obviously gone by and Ned calls out "30 seconds!"

Anonymous said...

You're dead on about the Princess Bride analog during the Jedi comment.

I also thought that the firefly sequence in the beginning didn't an excellent job of re-repeating the this-is-how-it-works exposition in a visually arresting way (and which, for some reason, had me thinking about the end of The Prestige).

Anonymous said...

That should have read ". . . did an excellent job. . .". Sorry, my internal spell check shuts off at 9.

Anonymous said...

For some reason, the narration reminds me of Edward Everett Horton telling Fractured Fairy Tales on the old "Rocky and Bullwinkle" show. It makes everything a little too zany, so it's difficult to see the characters as actual people we should care about.

afoglia said...

Except for the twin funeral director escaping out the back, I didn't feel any of the "minutes" were noticeably long. I do wish Ned had more time, simply because it would allow for longer interactions. Even a mere minute more would open possibilities.

I'm glad Olive realized that new girl in Ned's life is the same girl who was on the cruise ship. In fact, right before she did, I was wondering if she ever got Chuck's name from her, Ned, or Emerson.

I definitely noticed the lower budget. Less brightly lit, more boring sets most obviously. But when the stories are this good, it doesn't matter.

Anonymous said...

The dialogue was like a bowl of Rice Crispies - snap, crackle, pop.

Good times.

memphish said...

This WAS definitely my favorite hour of TV since the new season began. The dialogue at times was so fast I think I found where the writers from West Wing are now. I think its unique visual elements are still intact if not saturating the screen. Chuck's costuming alone would bring new life to almost anything else on the air. The interactions between Emerson and Chuck are my absolute favorite parts.

Bobman said...

I'm glad you mentioned the super-long 60-seconds. I most noticed it when they were talking to the funeral director : they had time to both apologize to him and havea whole mini-conversation, then he got stuck in the casket and there were still "30 seconds". Silly.

But the rest of the show is so original and clever I can overlook it, it's just distracting.

Jesse said...

I do notice the extra-long "minutes", but the way they are used is good enough that they don't really bother me. What does bother me is the constant recitations of age down to the minutes. It was fine in the first episode, but it wore thin real quick.

Other than that, great episode.

Anonymous said...

In an episode filled with great moments, Kristin Chenowith's pie delivery (and yes, her boob-adjusting retreat)was probably my favorite, especially her panicky look skyward as if anticipating -- what? A swarm of crows?

"Harriet Hayes" is finally making sense to me.

Anonymous said...

Considering that Ned can only bring people back to life for one minute, the recitation of ages down to the minute makes sense and thus doesn't bother me. In fact, I kind of like it.

Great ep, especially with them giving Emerson such funny stuff. I also liked that the brothers just assumed Emerson was going to the same place they were in the afterlife.

K J Gillenwater said...

Whee! I just love this show. It gets better every week. Chi McBride is hilarious with his facial expressions and wry line delivery. Perfect casting.

I hardly noticed any kind of shift when it came to sets or overall quality. The colors were just as brilliant...there just seemed to be less stuff going on outside the sets like the Pie Hole, funeral home, and the aunt's residence. But the story really didn't call for a lot of new sets or locations.

And the Chinese guy running southeast perhaps because of heatstroke...too funny.

This show needs to last forever.

Rand said...

Alan, about your long "minutes" remark, it reminds me of Star Trek: The Next Generation, where a character would announce "1 minute to ship destruction" and then 10 minutes later "30 seconds to ship destruction," and then the show gives the crew another 15 minutes to find a solution to the dilemma

Anonymous said...

I'd like to get a stopwatch on some of these minutes. I think people sometimes underestimate how long 60 seconds can feel.

There has to be a short timeframe for the revivals, or else the scenes would lose a great deal of their tension, and I think even 2 minutes would probably be too long to maintain the necessary edge.

K J Gillenwater said...

Are we really going to be spending the season talking about how long a minute actually is? Who cares? How does this affect your enjoyment of the show?

It's a cute, original, entertaining, wonderful show. Enjoy it!

Toby O'B said...

Forgive me, Kristin! I've got something to add to the sense of time discussion.

I remember seeing a TV show about Time in which they showed that scene from the original 'The Producers' in which Zero Mostel timed Gene Wilder to see if he could get to the point in one minute.

As the scene played out, a clock showed the actual passage of time in the corner of the screen. And Zero was way off the mark, way too fast with his version of a minute. Still, it felt like a minute had passed and yet there was so much time left over.

On the other hand, just getting Schatz up on his feet and convincing him to head out the back door would have taken more than a minute.

And I never would have revived him until I was absolutely certain that Emerson was outside with the car.

Didn't ruin my enjoyment of the show, but it was something that niggled at me anyway.

Anonymous said...

In episode time, the first brother's revival in the funeral home, from first touch to second touch took approximately 1:36 of episode time. A minute is up exactly when Chuck pulls the watch off his chest, so Chi McBride can run all he wants, he should have been too late.

So the minutes are long.

Anonymous said...

Maybe in the show's universe the Minute was reevaluated along with the kilogram. Time does change its properties under certain conditions, but mostly conditions relating to motion.

If atmospheric conditions could significantly alter the force of gravity, that would in turn effect the relative passage of time, but for time to slow down I imagine it would have to increase gravity, and an extra 36 seconds on the minute would require a major increase.

Then again the function of certain timepieces could be altered by a reduction in atmosphere, but they would have to be of somewhat convoluted design.

How's that for over-analysis.

Anonymous said...

For the record, if I only had one minute to talk to Lee Pace, I'd want that minute to last as long as possible.

Anonymous said...

I was pleasantly surprised the show went ahead and revealed to Chuck the dilemma of the pie-maker's power. Holding that for too long would have created some contrivances but I pleased the got it out of the way and the characters can confront the consequences. However, I am hoping that this show develops some longer arcs than "corpse of the week."

Alan Sepinwall said...

They could give that away because they still have a much bigger card to play: that Ned was responsible for the death of Chuck's father. My guess is that gets saved for the season one finale, at a minimum.

Say said...

I especially loved the "kick pooh kick!" part.
I really enjoy this show, it reminds me of a french movie, maybe you've heard of it, in France it's called "Le fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain" and in the States I think it's "Amelie".
Well Amelie already seemed like its director, jean pierre jeunet, had both written the script and filmed the movie under influence.
Pushing daisies is like Amélie while doing drugs.
Colors everywhere, lots of funny lines, lovable characters and quirky narrator. love it

Anonymous said...

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