At first blush, ABC’s Pushing Daisies seems a little too precious for its own good. You notice it first in the cinematography, so bursting with color it’s almost eye-searing. Then there’s the omniscient narrator who sounds as though he’s reading from Grimm’s Fairy Tales and who almost always refers to characters by their professions. Hence, the show’s protagonist, Ned, becomes The Piemaker since he peddles goodie-filled pastries from a restaurant called The Pie Hole. That’s not all Ned -- excuse me -- The Piemaker does. He investigates mysterious deaths with a knitting detective named Emerson and dodges the affections of his love-struck employee Olive. Also, he pines after his childhood sweetheart Charlotte (or Chuck, as he prefers to call her), who he can never have because of a deadly secret.
Sound too saccharine? A little self-consciously screwy? It would be, except for that part about Ned’s talent. You see, he can raise the dead. Murders are much easier to solve when you talk with the victims afterward. One touch from Ned and they’re alive. Another and they’re dead again. But if they stay in this mortal coil for more than a minute, someone else must shuffle it off. He’s raised and put down a ghastly menagerie. A businessman mauled by a rottweiler. A pilot thrown through a plane’s windshield during a crash. A student incinerated in an explosion. But there’s one victim he can’t bear to touch a second time, a lonely tourist who was strangled on a cruise ship. That victim is Chuck.
Combining mirth and the macabre is tough, but Pushing Daisies pulls it off. It also provides something of an object lesson. Be it dark or light, an overly narrow tonal range hampers a story, thinning its audience and stripping it of conflict. Why care if you immediately know the perky blonde will win the hunk with little fight or end up disemboweled by the creeping horror? Variation makes things interesting. Marrying opposites sometimes makes them compelling.
You can watch the pilot for Pushing Daisies (or, more properly, the “Pie-lette”) at ABC.com or Hulu.
(Picture: CC 2007 by audreyjm529)