Blogathon

Yanking the Rug: The Day the Daisies Died

Note: This is my contribution to Maddy’s “Small Screen Blogathon”, wherein the participants pontificate about a TV show that they remember fondly…

 

Once upon a time, back when there were only three “major” TV networks in America and half the country was not on anxiety medication, things moved at a slower pace in the world of broadcast entertainment. Once a TV series was approved, it was generally given a generous incubation period in which to prove itself before anyone dared bring up the prospect of cancellation. In fact, many of the shows which are now considered “classics” of the American airwaves actually had abysmal ratings during their initial seasons. But since the networks stuck with their choices instead of cutting and running at the first sign of trouble, the ratings slowly accelerated since viewers had the time to find the shows and appreciate their merits.)

That is no longer the case. These days, if a new TV show is not an instant hit, it can be off the schedule within a few episodes. (This quick-kill situation is exacerbated by the fact that so many of the people currently involved in network planning don’t have the first clue about quality programming. They have financial backgrounds, not artistic, and the only thing they understand is quick return on investment and how to manage a 401k.) The sad thread through all of this is that innovative, high-quality TV shows have very little chance of survival.

Case in point: “Pushing Daisies”.

To be fair, this gem of imagination was not immediately sent out to pasture, managing to last, although in fits and starts, from 2007-2009. It debuted to great critical acclaim and decent-enough ratings, garnering a sizable, devoted fan base. Sadly, the first season coincided with the infamous writers’ strike of that time, and the number of episodes was severely truncated. During the second and final season, ABC executives, who never really knew what to do with this unique show, shoved it around on their schedule and barely ran any promotions. Viewers grew frustrated with not being able to find the show, the ratings dropped, and the show was cancelled mid-season.

All said, only 22 episodes were produced over two years, and the last three episodes were not even aired during the original run. (When ABC is done with a show, they are done.) But despite this relatively low output, the series was nominated for 17 Primetime Emmy Awards and won 7. (Yet we have so many mundane, worthless series that have managed to stay on the air for years without being nominated for or winning squat. This is yet another example of the cultural divide in America. No wonder the British are annoyed when we take one of their beloved shows and desecrate the hell out of it for American audiences.)

So, exactly what was it about “Pushing Daisies” that won my heart and then left me devastated when said lover was torn from my arms?

Thank you for asking, even if you didn’t.

The basic plot: One of the lead characters, Ned (Lee Pace) has the ability to bring people and animals back from the dead just by touching them. If he touches them again, they go back to wherever they were, permanently. (Complication: If he lets them live longer than a minute, then someone nearby dies to balance things out.) Ned owns a restaurant (“The Pie Hole”) which is struggling financially and, long story short, he teams up with a private investigator (Chi McBride) who is happy to pay Ned if he will briefly resurrect crime victims to find out “who done it” and catch the perp.

In the midst of all this, Ned’s estranged childhood sweetheart Charlotte (Anna Friel) dies a mysterious death. When Ned reanimates her to find out the deets, he is unable to let her go with the second touch. They fall in love again (well, they never fell out), but now they can never physically touch one another or Charlotte bites it. And that’s the very basic gist: Each episode involves a murder that needs solving and lovers who can only kiss through a sheet of plastic.

But there’s so much more to this.

The set design is incredible. It’s obvious that every tech person involved on this project was fully invested in creating a unique world. It’s a gorgeous, colorful, time-slip mashup of the best things from different eras, perfectly blended and served up in a such a lush manner that you even want to eat the plate. You can pause an episode at almost any point and the resulting still is a marvel of craft and creativity.

The supporting cast is phenomenal. Everyone shines, with three of the brightest stars being Kristin Chenoweth as Olive (who pines for Ned, doing so in that humbly glamorous way she has) and Swoosie Kurtz and Ellen Greene as Charlotte’s aunts, Lily and Vivian. (Let’s face it, folks. If you want a sparkling sensation in your TV show, bring in The Theater People. They understand charisma and presence, and these three have it in buckets.) There were over 40 guest stars during the brief run, and it’s abundantly clear that those guests relished the opportunity to create some magic instead of just cash a paycheck. They have no limits, and that’s part of the delight.

The individual plot episodes are, at the very least, surreal. Whimsical would be one word; twisted would be another, but in a very satisfying way. None of this is meant to be real. After all, in one of the few times when the ABC marketing department actually tried to do their job with the show, it was promoted as a “forensic fairy tale”. That’s not quite right, but it’s close. This fairy tale is actually one that you hope is happening, somewhere, somehow, and it would be really swell if you could drop by for a visit and maybe never leave.

All of which leads to the real star of the show: The Writing. The dialogue is stellar, from the blink-or-you’ll-miss-it throw-away lines to the witty wordplay of the plot, capped off by the no-place-like-home folksy narration of Jim Dale. This is a smart show written for smart people, which is probably another reason that ABC dropped the ball with this one, aiming as they often do for the lowest common-denominator. As a writer, listening to the words, there were so many times when I wished I had penned an envious bit of dialogue, but at least someone was able to do so, during the short time when “Pushing Daisies” was allowed to thrive in a wasteland of scripted reality shows, formulaic comedies with laugh tracks, and the endless stream of hospital-based dramas where nobody knows your name.

If you appreciate creativity and you haven’t seen the show, seek this one out. Trust me.

 

Note, Part 2: In case you missed the first link to Maddy’s site, here it is again. She mostly dishes on movies, especially the classics, although she does venture into TV from time to time, as she did with this blogathon. In any case, if you love movies, please give her a visit. I’m sure she’ll appreciate the effort and welcome you with open arms…

 

37 replies »

    • It might be the missing link, as I haven’t seen “The Good Place”, although I am intrigued. Bryan Fuller, the creator of “Daisies”, also created “Dead Like Me” on HBO (and he has hinted in interviews that “Daisies” is something of a sequel/companion piece to “Daisies) and co-created “Wonderfalls”, if that gives you an idea of where this series fits in the cosmos…

      Liked by 1 person

  1. This show aired during years when there was little time in my life. I’ll go digging around in the many stream options I never have enough time to indulge in without guilt. Anything with good writing, Swoosie and Kristen is a must watch. And there’s something so dang adorable about Chi that it’s hard to see him as a tough guy. BTW, an earlier blog comment said you’d written a book. I’ve checked Amazon and can’t find anything. Would love to buy it if it’s still alive. Deets, please.

    Liked by 1 person

    • As a devotee of the theater, you will love this series. (Well, I’m 99% sure.) The actors (including the amazing number of guest stars) are having such a good time that you can’t help falling a little bit in love with everybody. Wee bit of trivia that means nothing in the end: I graduated from the same high school as Kristin, although she was a few years behind me. Even then, she had buzz.

      Here’s a link to my Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.com/Brian-Lageose/e/B00EECSIH2/ . There are also links in the right column of this blog.

      Reading your past posts, I can see that you’ve been publishing as well, and I just now stumbled my way to what appears to be your “official” author page. There will be extensive perusal in the near future…

      Liked by 1 person

      • Found’em, bought’em, now can’t wait to read’em.

        Went to high school & college in LA where well-knowns are everywhere, in your class, down the street, buying avacados at the roadside stand. Kirsten’s personality is so bright there is no degree of separation and it’s a joy to listen to someone who understands and well-trained in vocal music.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I LOVED this show and was despondent when it was cancelled. Why is it that the horrible drivel that dominates the channels right now survives while truly creative and entertaining shows like Pushing Daisies gets killed?!! Oh wait, I think you got it right the first time – smart television is a bit of an oxymoron.

    In my opinion, Kristin Chenoweth was the real star of the show. She was charming, loveable, and played her character brilliantly.

    Liked by 1 person

    • ABC cancelled two other quirky shows around the same time as the Daisy Demise, and I actually avoided that network for a while. (Why get invested in quality if the show is not going to last? And why did they green-light them in the first place if they weren’t going to support them?) In my opinion, most of the really good shows are now produced by the non-major networks, where shows are given more time to breath and find a following.

      Kristin is a jewel. She really did shine in this show, which was quite the accomplishment considering all of the delicious things to devour in the series…

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’d forgotten all about this quirky show. Thanks for the reminder. Have you seen “Wonder Falls”? If you go for immensely creative and also quirky, this is unsurpassed. Lee Pace also happens to be in this one. Like “Pushing Daisies,” there weren’t a lot of episodes, and some were never aired, but are available. It’s a gem!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I really have been negligent in pursuing “Wonder Falls”, as many friends have tried to steer me in that direction over the years. The creator of “Daisies” also co-created “Wonder Falls”, so I really have no excuse not to give it a run… 😉

      Like

  4. It doesn’t surprise me in the least that you loved this show! Oh, I miss it so much, but we own the series (of course we do!). Sometimes when the world is a little too bleak and gray, I watch a few episodes until bright and happy colors return once more.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. You might have just explained to me why it is that I find British shows or Netflix or Amazon originals to be more to my taste than what’s on network TV now. Those same financial guys that seem to be taking over our government got their greasy little fingers into what should be art. Or at least entertainment.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and other “independents” (to use the word rather loosely) have been doing a terrific job with original programming for the last several years. It can take a little bit of investigative work to find some of the gems, but the quality and content is often immeasurably better and more rewarding. And this wider range of “outlets” has resulted in more creative people getting to share their work, definitely a bonus. And the greasy financial guys? Yep, they are legion and everywhere they shouldn’t be…

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I think I briefly saw the ads for this show, but hubby did not do ‘whimsy’ and thought it sounded awful, so of course we didn’t watch it. Why WWE (or whatever venue where over developed men beat each other silly) was preferable to him remains a mystery, along with Sports Center and football. I’ll have to see if one of the streams has it. It sounds just the thing in this 2018 wasteland of no decent FREE TV programming. I personally haven’t watched the ‘big 3’ since 2013 or thereabouts…

    Liked by 2 people

    • The show is definitely escapist entertainment, something many of us need right now just to remain sane. I’d be very curious to see which character you identify with the most, as there’s definitely a smorgasbord of quirky to choose from. I have my suspicions about your choice, but I’ll wait until you file your investigative report… 😉

      Like

  7. I liked that show but thought right from the first that it wouldn’t last. It required some effort on the part of the viewer and most people don’t want that. If I remember correctly it was also competing with the start of “Big Bang Theory”.

    There’s a lot of stuff on tv but a lot of it is pretty bad.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re right, the fact that you had to pay attention did not bode well for the longevity. But that’s one of the very things that draws me to any form of entertainment. If you make me work for it (without going too far), my affections will be even stronger… 😉

      Like

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