Thursday, October 25, 2007

"It's swimming in miracles not disease!": Pushing Daisies

My greatest dream for this blog is to get it on the first page of search results on Google when you search "Jayma Mays," so that someday, she might see that even when she appears only tangentially in an episode of television, we make the subsequent post all about her, as we feel she is America's greatest star. She will see this blog, smirk to herself in that charming way she smirks and proclaim South Dakota Dark the official blog of Jayma Mays. And, in this way, we will have done the world a favor.

Actually, the good Miss Mays wasn't the highlight of the episode (and thank God, because she was in it so little that if she HAD been the highlight of the episode, it would have been a dreary affair indeed) tonight; the highlight of the episode tonight was how it's split the regular cast in two, sending Emerson, Ned and Chuck off to solve mysteries while Olive and Chuck's aunts have even weirder adventures. I don't mean to besmirch the mystery-solving portion of the show (which is doing a yeoman's job of keeping the show grounded) when I say this, but the "Wacky adventures with Olive!" part of the show is rapidly turning into my favorite show on television. The mysteries are interesting, and they have their moments, but the Olive and Aunt Adventure Hour gives us lots of Kristen Chenoweth (who is FINALLY doing work on television that manages to channel what makes her appealing as a stage actress), as well as some pretty daffy stuff from Ellen Greene and Swoosie Kurtz. Hell, tonight, they sang along to They Might Be Giants after sewing a parrot's wing onto a pigeon named Pidge. (Please go back and read that sentence.) If Pushing Daisies is too precious (and it can be), the Olive and Aunts plots are injecting a needed bit of weird darkness into the proceedings to keep everything from getting too cutesy-wutesy (and that IS the technical term). It's even interesting to see how these three break down along the same lines as our central three -- Olive=Ned, Chuck=Vivian, Emerson=Lily. This allows the show to follow roughly the same path in both storylines, so it doesn't get too disorienting (all of the whimsy is doing that for the viewer).

All in all, I liked this week's episode a lot, even if I liked last week's episode slightly better. I'm actually a little sad to hear that Barry Sonnenfeld will be returning to direct a couple of episodes at midseason, since I think the show has gotten better with budget constraints. The first couple of episodes could get by skating around character logic because the show was so new and offering up some weird world-building around every turn. Now that they can't art direct everything to within an inch of its life, the Pushing Daisies creatives are figuring out some interesting and emotional stories that can be told about these characters, rather than throwing some swoony moments between our heroes on top of a weird mystery.

What let this episode down was the mystery, which was maybe too twisty for its own good. It certainly wasn't predictable (in that I couldn't have called how the mystery would end when it began), but that was mainly because it was so convoluted, not because it was so well-plotted. It's one thing to have a mystery that is so smart it keeps the audience guessing; it's quite another to have a mystery so twisty that it's just there to out-guess the audience. Pushing Daisies hasn't strayed quite that far yet, but when you open with a suspected hijacking and end with a treasure hunt, you know things are going all over the map.

I'm finally on board with everyone who's hoping that they tone down the Jim Dale narration. There were some scenes where it just grated tonight, while there were others where it was quite well done (that opening scene with young Ned and Digby, for instance). I think it's nice when, occasionally, the narrator says something that the characters then repeat verbatim, but when you do it too often, it feels like you're just filling out time. I love the tenor of Jim Dale's voice, and I love that he's not a character in the show, but I do think that the show could sell some of its moments without his voice on the soundtrack. For example: When Olive and Charlotte were both talking about the aunts early in the episode, I didn't need to have him there to remind me that they were talking about the same people. I get that it's a way to dispense with a lot of "previously on" information in a quick and easy manner, but this is the kind of show that inspires cultish devotion. It should trust its audience to know very basic concepts of the show.

I am glad that the show is putting a slowly rotting core at the center of the Ned and Chuck pairing. The two are already beginning to become too sweet, and it's nice to know that the show is aware of this and is introducing elements that threaten to tear them apart (like the guy Chuck sort of fell for tonight before learning he was the bad guy). That final dance in the beekeepers uniforms was supposed to be romantic, I think, but there was something off-kilter about the way it was conceived and shot that made it suggest that this is almost the point where Ned and Chuck realize they need something more than just kisses through Saran Wrap.

I don't mean to sound down on the episode, which was another solid entry in this show's already impressive resume. Believe me when I say that the Olive and the Aunts storyline was just what this show needed -- some interesting, dark, even emotional storytelling, anchored by great work from all three actresses. If the mysteries aren't quite there yet, they're getting better, and I like that they give the guest players (like our lovely Miss Mays) something to DO beyond sit there and be killed. There are always lovely little vignettes about how our guests got to where they are today, and these scenes also feature narration I don't hate.

Pushing Daisies is doing a Halloween episode next week, which sounds like a good idea. If ever there was a show that could pull off such a thing, it's this one. Let us know if you're still enjoying this show or if it's trying your patience in the comments.


Carrie said...

I wasn't sold on this episode until Olive started talking about building a birdhouse in your soul. Then I sat on the edge of my seat just waiting for them to sing it...and they did! And I fell in love with this show all over again.

I've read some comments from people who don't like Kristen Chenoweth on this show, but she is quickly becoming my favorite part of the hour. Her and the aunts are just magic together.

I'll never like her more than Digby, though. Digby is the best.

Brenda said...

My greatest dream for this blog is to get it on the first page of search results on Google when you search "Jayma Mays," so that someday, she might see that even when she appears only tangentially in an episode of television, we make the subsequent post all about her, as we feel she is America's greatest star.

I cannot think of a nobler goal. I'm of the firm belief that Jayma Mays will one day single-handedly save Hollywood. Bet on it!