Wednesday, October 10, 2007

"I'm not God, but if I was, I'd be an angry God.": Pushing Daisies

Pushing Daisies cleared a significant hurdle in its second episode, when it managed to lay out a rough template for what the show would be going forward -- and, indeed, it's going to be a mystical Moonlighting. So be it. The episode was a step down from the pilot, but in some ways, it was even better, because it felt like an episode of a television series, not a mini-movie. Also, there was a moment somewhere in the second act (or thereabouts), when I swear I heard all of America say, "So. . .it's a musical?" and turn the channel in befuddlement. I apparently have complete faith in America's ability to dissect the twee and not in its ability to handle singing and dancing.

The weakest thing about the episode was the mystery. I mean, did anyone NOT figure out who the killer was from the second the killer appeared? And that was all mixed in with the twee-est thing the show has attempted so far -- the experimental car called the Dandy Lion. The Dandy Lion factory was art directed within an inch of its life. Even though I like that the show seems to take place in its own universe that's just a few inches away from ours, the car factory was a little too fanciful (much less the Dandy Lion itself). And the mystery itself had a lot of twists and turns to reach an ending that we knew had to be coming -- of course it was the boss and not the girlfriend who did it. I don't mind that the show is going to do weirder, slightly darker mysteries than you might see on the usual show, but it should really earn those twisted twists and turns, I think. Still, I liked the flashbacks to the love affair between Janine and the dead guy. The omnipresent narration in the show can get a little tiresome, but I like it when its summarizing a story like this, weirdly. It helps that the narration doesn't aim too hard to be profound, aiming, instead, for whimsy and wistfulness. (All that said, one thing I did like was the crash-test dummy disguise. It's just another expressionless mask, but it was a good one.)

That said, I like the show for even doing a mystery in week two, especially as it was praised so much for having that daffy fairy tale premise in its pilot. The show's apparently stealing the time-honored model (at least since the '80s) of having a single story per episode and then layering the continuing character stuff on top of that. Numerous other shows have tried it, from Buffy to X-Files to CSI (every so often), and it usually works better than the heavily serialized stuff. I'm happy to see this model return to TV, even if it can make for something a little more uneven and erratic than others.

What I did like about the episode (in spades) was the way it added some nice nuance to Emerson and Olive, the two characters who didn't get a whole lot of definition in the pilot beyond their very stock types. I liked that the show made Emerson a knitter, which is just the right sort of quirk to give a character who's mostly used to deflate the quirk of others -- normal, but not so completely normal that it seems banal. It also helped that the introduction of the knitting needles had a payoff in the final moments of the mystery.

Olive is still that necessary character in a romantic comedy -- the woman who wants the guy and may eventually get in the way of the guy and the girl (for good reason here) -- but she's helped by a completely game Kristin Chenoweth, who showed off her singing voice (more later) tonight as well as her sheer ability with physical comedy (when she slammed into the wall, it was one of the greatest things I've ever seen). Chenoweth is not a horribly subtle star, so the show is doing well to make her broader and broader.

But it was her singing that I suppose will prompt the most talk around the water cooler. I'm guessing it may be the last straw for some people, but as someone who has been known to sing when I think I'm all alone, I kind of went with it, especially as they gave her first the dog and then the floor waxer as dance partners. Olive may not be the show's most original character, but, by God, Chenoweth is going to dump everything she has into that part.

Over at Seriocity, Kay Reindl (who doesn't much like this show) theorizes that one of the things that keeps people coming back and back to a television show is the actors and the characters. That's one of the reasons movie stars often flop on TV -- they feel too big for the screen. We want our TV stars to be friends, and that's the best thing Daisies has going for it right now. That cast is warm and friendly and inviting. And they want to give you pie. I mean, what more do you want? The second episode of Pushing Daisies didn't work in all ways, but it was probably the most successful second episode I've seen this season in convincing me of one thing (assuming we ignore Mad Men, which debuted in the summer, after all): This show can be a series.

(Side note: What's up with ABC Wednesdays and the compulsive consumption of desserts?)


David Sims said...

Honestly, the singing felt forced to me? It was like "heck, Kristen Chenoweth can sing, let's have her sing!" We already know she's hopelessly devoted after all. Well, I didn't think it worked, anyway.

There were a lot of really nice moments here though, and you could see this working week-to-week, to an extent (although I think they're gonna need a couple more recurring characters). The mystery was muddled and obvious, and the Dandy Lion sets were a little Willy Wonka for me. But I liked it.

That narration's gonna get a bit obvious and annoying unless they make it more Ron Howard and less Mary Alice Young.

Myles said...

As far as the singing goes, I think the problem was that it was presented too seriously. There was some nice interjections, but the interjections weren't particularly funny. I must admit that Digby's involvement kept it fine with, I'm now averse to singing in general.

I'm more concerned with the narration: it kept telling me when someone was lying, which felt hopelessly unnecessary to me. A line-by-line analysis of the narration, I think, would show that a lot of it is telling us what to think more than anything else...and that needs to be cut back. The storytelling, though? Top notch.

Marilyn said...

I didn't mind the song & dance, but I am getting tired of the narration, and the "twee" in general. (This show has introduced me to the concept of "twee.") I'm not a Chenowith fan usually, but the involvement of the dog and floor waxer saved the song for me, as did the slam in the wall warrant a chuckle.

I do like the main characters. Didn't mind the mystery so much. But some of the absolute weirdness -- like the daisy lady and the tire tracks over the victim's face -- I'm having some time stomaching.

Jury's still out for me... Definitely a love or hate kind of show.

Carrie said...

I love the mixture of twee with the macabre this show is finding. The brutal murderer? Makes a car that can run on dandelions! The devoted girlfriend? Has a horrible eating disorder! Emerson knits -- gun holsters and money cozies! It just works for me. I have to admit, when Emerson pulled out the knitting needles to break them free of the body bags, that's when I knew this show had me. A great moment.

I was skeptical after the pilot, but the second episode totally made this series a must-watch for me.

(Oh, and ss a dessert addict, ABC Wednesdays is not helping my diet. I really want some pie and cake now.)

Todd said...

I think the twee-er stuff works if the show finds a way to undercut it, as it often does with sarcasm from Emerson or Chuck or when the dog was Olive's dance partner. The factory segments didn't really have this aspect (I mean, the DANDY LION? C'mon!), so they just didn't work as well. I'm in agreement the song choice was a little overobvious, but I'm still happy the show's apparently going to have regular musical interludes. That could make the emotional exposition go down a lot easier.

I'm not as worried about how dull the mystery was. Most TV mysteries are dull. I don't know if the mysteries will ultimately matter anyway. The closest I can come to finding a show like this in tone is Moonlighting, and the mysteries there were usually awful. And it's an ALL-TIME CLASSIC (you have to use the caps when describing it by order of Glenn Gordon Caron).