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TV Review: Pushing Daisies 1x02 "Dummy" and 1x03 "The Fun In Funeral"
"Pie-lette" was a charming episode of television, but when it first aired, it left a lot of viewers wondering just where Pushing Daisies would go from here. With the next two episodes, we discover that those who guessed "murder mystery procedural," "chaste but charming love story," or "whimsical meditation on death" were the big winners.
The second episode of the show, "Dummy," follows a typical procedural set-up: a dead body turns up, our heroes investigate for clues and eventually determine the identity of the murderer only to risk being murdered themselves. Of course, on this show, several of those clues come from reanimating the dead victim, and still more come from a saleswoman dressed as a dandelion. Only on Pushing Daisies ...
"Dummy," like many episodes of Pushing Daisies, begins with a flashback to Young Ned. At this very moment, Young Ned was 9 years, 33 weeks, 6 days, 20 hours, 34 minutes old. Shuffled away to boarding school after the sudden death of his mother, Ned struggles to make friends. He decides to play a prank on his fellow classmates by reanimating the frogs they're about to dissect, only to feel significant guilt later when a treefull of birds dies in place of those frogs. Poor Young Ned just can't catch a break.
With its premise firmly re-established (Ned can wake the dead but only for a minute or something else will die in its place, Ned feels lots of guilt), we can move on to the episode itself.
And what a strange little episode this is.
Let's begin with the central mystery. We begin normally enough with Emerson picking up a case of Bernard Slaybeck, who was found dead by the side of a road, the victim of a presumed hit and run. When he and his tire-marked body wake back up at Ned's touch, things get a little strange. "I was killed by a Crash Test Dummy," is all he has time to tell them about the case, after asking them to tell Jeanine in promotions that he loved her.
The story only gets stranger as the world of Pushing Daisies expands. Bernard worked for a company building cars powered by dandelions, the "Spores Car of Tomorrow". For a show still making its way, this is probably the moment that PD committed to full-on whimsy and abandoned realism altogether.
At least there are a few dark and strange jokes to dial back the saccharine. The creepy discovery that the room full of crash test dummies is now a room filled with real corpses was a nice touch, but my favorite moment of the episode is when the eco-conscious creator of the Dandy Lion car chases after our heroes in a gigantic yellow Hummer. The show almost ruins the gag by calling attention to it running out of gas as he flees the police, but the initial reveal is so funny that I'll let it slide.
The world of Pushing Daisies is clearly different than the world inhabited by its audience, and while that is in no way a fault in and of itself, I wouldn't be surprised if this episode turned away potential viewers. It's too cute. It's too out there. The second episode of a series is always tough; it has to retain the audience from the pilot while keeping the momentum going and all with a much smaller budget to work with. I love this show, but this episode is a strange choice for the second episode of the series.
At least, the central mystery was. The ongoing argument between Chuck, who's never had to keep secrets in her life, and Ned, who's lived the past twenty years with a very legitimate fear of what would happen if his biggest secret gets out, makes a lot of sense. Even if Ned has let Chuck in on the biggest secret of his life, he's still got two more he's keeping from her: if he keeps someone alive more than a minute, another person dies and that he's responsible for the death of her father, indirectly or not.
In the end he doesn't tell her everything, but they do start to share a few things, and that's a big step for a man who has lived his life so closed off from others he barely even speaks to them.
I haven't even touched on Olive, the lovely lead left out of the loop. She's in love with Ned (to the point where she hangs out of her window and holds a mirror on a stick to spy on him in his apartment!) though he all but ignores her. And so, in another reveal to separate this world from the real one, we learn that not only does Olive often imagine "there was an orchestra in her heart. Music heard only by her, except when her heart broke open and it spilled out into the world," but she breaks into a full rendition of "Hopelessly Devoted To You" right there in the Pie Hole. It's one more great reason for Kristen Chenoweth's casting on the show, but it's more than a little unexpected.
Rather like Pushing Daisies itself.
1x03 "The Fun in Funeral"
The Fun In Funeral
This episode, in my opinion, is much stronger than its predecessor. Yes, there is a mystery to solve and yes, there are dead bodies to re-animate, but its focus is much more on the characters themselves and has a direct impact on their lives and relationships.
Let's take a moment to consider where those relationships stand at the beginning of the episode. Ned and Chuck are falling into domestic patterns, learning to coexist without ever touching. Chuck's even found a way around a few things, surprising Ned with a kiss through cellophane. Ned clearly loves her, but when it comes to the other people in Ned's life, well, they're a little more skeptical. Both resent Chuck's existence and newfound presence in Ned's life--Emerson hates the way she works her way into their investigations (especially considering she doesn't have all the information) while Olive hates being overlooked for Ned's affections. All of these things come into play this week once Emerson reveals the episode's victim: none other than one Lawrence Schatz, the funeral director who keeled over exactly one minute after Ned brought Chuck back to life.
Young Ned (9 years, 34 weeks, 12 hours, and 54 minutes old) spends his childhood flashback experimenting with his gift by resuscitating dead fireflies and testing how long it takes their replacements to croak. While Chuck wonders about the minute they get to speak with the dead--isn't that an awfully arbitrary thing?--Ned has painstakingly tested and figured out the consequences.
The consequence he wasn't prepared to deal with, however, was Chuck discovering the truth. Emerson warns Ned not to bring Chuck along to the morgue, a suggestion he promptly ignores, and in a roundabout way this finally brings out one of Ned's big confessions: the only reason Chuck is alive is because Lawrence Schatz died in her place. Ned made a conscious choice to let someone else die, and it's a nice moment neither character is quite prepared to deal with.
Ned doesn't want to take the case, but it's Chuck's insistence on apologizing to the dead man that drives them back out to Coeur d'Coeurs. Louis Schatz, twin brother of the deceased, has been receiving threats over his late brother's habit of robbing coffins before they're put into the ground and has begun to wonder if his brother's seemingly natural death may have been something more.
Since our detectives already know who is responsible for Lawrence's death ("Accidental involuntary manslaughter!" Ned insists), their line of questioning instead aims to determine just what he did with all that stuff he stole, as well as give Ned and Chuck a chance to make amends -- well, sort of. Chuck is appropriately contrite, until she discovers her own watch was going to be buried along with the man who stole it off her dead body. She slams the coffin closed, giving everyone in the room a moment of panic as Emerson takes off running, Chuck considers giving the life she's stolen back, and Ned scrambling not to cause another accidental death.
They succeed, but don't learn much until the second Schatz brother's body winds up in the freezer at the Pie Hole just as the police show up to investigate. Someone's framing Ned!
It's a fun mystery all around and contrives to end with Ned (who wanted to be a Jedi) draped in royal red cloth after winning a sword fight as the too-cute Chuck looks on in admiration.
Both Ned and Chuck's little worlds are shaken up within the episode, but ultimately, Chuck is grateful Ned kept her alive and Ned admits that he'd do it again every single time. Perhaps too neat a bow to wrap up such a complex moral issue, but these two are just too cute to stay mad at each other. Or, apparently, to dwell on complex moral issues.
In the B-plot of the episode, Olive meets a new Pie Hole customer in Alfredo Aldarisio, played longingly by Broadway vet Raul Esparza. Alfredo, who is clearly smitten with Olive immediately, sells homeopathic herbal anxiety remedies. ("Meaning it deeply relates to gay people?" Olive wonders. "Gay only in that they are bright and happy!") Olive isn't impressed, but the secretly scheming Chuck takes to the idea immediately and bakes some of the drugs into a pie she sends to her aunts.
Yes, this episode features the return of aunts Lily and Vivian Charles, who cancel their Darling Mermaid Darlings comeback tour after a posthumous postcard arrives from their deceased niece, who sent it before her untimely death / not death. When Olive arrives with the pie delivery, they invite her in where she learns more than a few things and manages to put together that the Charlotte Charles the aunts have been mourning is alive and well and living with Ned above the Pie Hole. She doesn't do anything with this information just yet, but it's there waiting and will surely come up again soon.
Overall, this episode is an improvement on the last and a sign of good things to come on the show.
One Minute Wonders
This week, Ned brings back from the dead:
- A class set of soon-to-be-dissected frogs, killing a bunch of birds in exchange.
- Bernard Slaybeck, killed by a Crash Test Dummy.
- Two dead "Dummies," who agreed to donate their bodies to test car safety before their untimely (but accidental and unrelated) deaths.
- A bunch of fireflies so he can run an experiment.
- Lawrence Schatz, who died so Chuck could stay alive.
- Louis Schatz, who died from choking on a piece of tongue. Ned alive agains him so they can run to hide his body from the police!
- Two bodies in the basement of the Schatz Brothers Funeral Home. The first asks "What part of do not resuscitate do you people not understand?" while the second wonders "Honey, did you turn off the gas?" Oh dear.
- Digby wanders around the Pie Hole's kitchen. Does this strike anybody else as unsanitary?
- Did Ned respond to the narrator? When our handy voiceover notes that "At that moment, the Piemaker felt a mixture of happiness and trepidation,” Ned wonders aloud, “Why is it always a mixture?”
- Where does Dead Girl Chuck get those adorable outfits? My favorite so far is that little red number she wore to interrogate Lawrence Schatz at the Schatz Brothers Funeral Home.