Every now and then network television deviates from standard formula and spits out a show with boundless energy, quirky style and delightful characters—something with tons of heart but enough suspense and intrigue to keep it compelling each and every week. Pushing Daisies is one of those shows, a dark dramedy set in a fantastical Tim Burton-esque world, where Ned, a charming, seemingly normal pie-maker played by Lee Pace, can bring back the dead with one touch but kill them for good with a second one. Ned has only a few seconds to make that second touch or someone else in close proximity to him will die. Pace plays the character with such likeable benevolence that it’s clear from the pilot episode (cleverly dubbed “Pie-let”) that pie-maker Ned is the perfect candidate to be endowed with such remarkable powers.
Ned has very interesting (albeit unenviable) powers, but he’s not the most interesting character on Pushing Daisies. The supporting players are the strength of the show—like Chuck (Anna Friel), Ned’s long-lost childhood crush. The pair is reunited in adulthood after Ned brings her back to life. Sparks re-ignite immediately and sexual tension builds to stratospheric heights. Their first kiss as adults comes early in the first season and sweetly involves a lip barrier of plastic wrap. Chuck, who has been allowed a second chance at life, provides the moral center of the show. She cares for her two melancholic and clinically depressed aunts (an eye patch-wearing Swoozie Kurtz, who provides her character with witty deadpan, and the always pleasant Ellen Greene) by secretly baking anti-depressants into the pies they order from Ned’s pie shop. The two women are unaware that their niece is alive, a story point that, though funny, will quickly grow stale unless it evolves soon.
Kristen Chenoweth surfaces in a supporting role as Olive, the pie shop employee who pines for Ned’s love, and the show wisely takes full advantage of her talents early on. Chenoweth, wonderful in the musical Wicked, possesses enormous musical skills (by episode two, she’s already crooning “Hopelessly Devoted to You”) and snappy line delivery. In a Halloween episode focused mainly on Olive, she quips, “Ned hates Halloween, you know. Makes him moodier than a pumpkin full of PMS.” The writing is full of similarly crisp and fast-moving dialogue, giving scenes involving Ned and Chuck the feeling that they’ve been lifted straight from a 1930s screwball comedy. By successfully combining elements of Murder She Wrote, Moonlighting and his own outlandish and critically acclaimed (but short-lived) Dead Like Me, the show’s creator, Bryan Fuller, handily expands upon the basic premise, making Pushing Daisies one of this season’s most promising and unusually appealing new shows.