Is this the most adorable show ever, or what? The first season of Pushing Daisies is just out on DVD from Warner Home Video, and it is nine episodes of sweet-and-snarky perfection. It's full of quirky off-kilter magic and candy-colored cynicism and pie: delicious pie. It's the most chipper show ever about death and loneliness. Oh, and it's a musical, too. It's as if Tim Burton and the Brothers Grimm collaborated with Disney on a production of some unpublished Charles Dickens ghost story. How could it be better?
There's Ned (Lee Pace), a piemaker who runs a little pie diner called The Pie Hole. He has a strange gift: with a touch, he can bring the dead back to life, though they must die again, at another touch from Ned, before one minute has elapsed or else someone else will die to keep the universe in balance. This wouldn't generally be a problem for Ned, except he has resurrected the love of his life, Chuck (Anna Friel), neglected to send her back to the land of eternal nod, and now can never touch her again. Woe is Ned. So he pines for Chuck, while Pie Hole waitress Olive (Kristin Chenoweth) secretly pines for Ned. Presumably Digby the dog, the first creature Ned ever resurrected, long ago as a child, and hence can never touch again, is pining for Ned, too.
Wait, it gets even better: Pushing Daisies is a mystery-procedural. Because do you know how useful it is, when you're solving murders, to be able to wake up victims for 60 seconds and ask them who offed them? So Ned teams up with private eye Emerson Cod (Chi McBride) to solve strange deaths when there's a reward involved, because even though his strange gift disturbs him, The Pie Hole is not exactly a moneymaker for Ned.
But it's almost easy to overlook that this is basically a crime show while you're enjoying the captivating Pace being so masculine and vulnerable at the same time; the sparky, spunky Chenoweth being so lusciously mopey; Swoosie Kurtz and Ellen Greene -- as Chuck's loopy aunts, who mustn't ever know their niece is not, in fact, dead -- being so, well, loopy; and Friel simply bursting with the joy of being alive again. It's easy to get lost in Michael Wylie's wonderful production design, which does indeed make the show look "more like a feature film than television," as Barry Sonnenfeld -- who directed the pilot and the first few episodes -- says in the bonus making-of material. There's hardly ever been a show that's so much fun to get lost in, visually; creator Bryan Fuller (a veteran of Star Trek: Voyager and Deep Space Nine as well as Heroes) calls the show a "prime time fairy tale," and it doesn't just feel that way, it looks it too.
It's a totally modern fairy tale, though, for adults, with a completely of-the-moment attitude that knows that snarky doesn't have to be mean (though once in a while mean can be fun), and that is life-affirming and huggable and entirely addictive.
The DVD: The making-of featurettes, which are full of production-geek goodness (you'll never guess where they get all those wacky carpets!), are accessed through interactive menus that are majorly cute, but I wish there was a way to play all of them straight through without having to go back to the menus after each one. Also, since when are Chinese, Korean, and Thai subtitles being included on DVDs? Cool.
MaryAnn Johanson (email me)
film reviews and TV blogging at FlickFilosopher.com