Pushing Daisies: “Bad Habits”


Copyright © 2008 by Sarah Stegall

Pushing Daisies

ABC, Wednesdays, 8/79/8 E/C

“Bad Habits”

Written by Gretchen J. Berg & Aaron Harberts

Directed by Peter O’Fallon

Relaxing in the sunshine of a Tuscan-looking convent courtyard, novitiate Olive Snook is communing with her truffle-snuffing work partner, the pig named Digby. They’ve had a long day searching out and harvesting the delicacy, which forms a large part of the convent’s revenue. How surprised they are, then, when the director of truffle operations, Sister LaRue, plummets to her death from a bell tower directly in front of them. Olive calls in her friends to investigate after the Mother Superior rules the sister’s death a suicide. To gain entry to the cloister, Emerson becomes “Father Dowling”, Ned becomes “Father Mulcahy”, and Chuck becomes “Sister Christian” (oh really?).

This plot could have been too cute for words, but as always, the dark ironic humor in Pushing Daisies saves it from being twee. Even better, the show has returned, finally, to its first season characteristic philosophical musings. The deadpan delivery of fast-paced  dialogue is not enough to keep the funny coming; the content of that dialogue has to amuse as well. That has not always been the case this season, but last night the show roared back to first-season levels of humor, insight and pathos.

The metaphysical discussions this time were well located–in a convent. Ned is profoundly uneasy about reviving a dead woman while literally standing under a crucifix with the body of Jesus. Emerson reminds him that Jesus raised the dead, so he can hardly object if Ned does it. Even as the trio discuss heaven, hell, purgatory and the cosmic responsibility Ned’s “gift” entails, he revives the nun, who bursts into profanity. The trio’s scandalized reaction to this was one of the high points of the episode, reinforcing yet lightening the heavy philosophy. And when Sister LaRue makes a break for it, Ned exclaims, “Nun on the run!” and gives chase. The bizarre concept that Ned has to run down and re-dead one of his subjects was also a high point of the show’s mordant humor.

This story was all about digging–for truffles, for a genealogical past, for truth. Olive is intent on clearing the name of her friend, for whom the stigma of suicide would have been shaming. Chuck is still desperately hoping to reconcile herself to her past, to find out what “family” means in her context. Ned thinks he doesn’t want to dig, but he really should be. And it is Ned who finally digs the secret of Chuck’s parentage–her Aunt Lily is actually her mother–out of Olive, in a very funny guessing game involving a 29 year old photograph. Ned and Emerson dig through a newly sealed brick wall and discover not only a tunnel, but a grieving chef who traded contraband to Sister LaRue in return for truffles.

Like all good detective stories, it all ends in people telling the truth. Olive tells Ned the truth about not only her unrequited feelings, but how his rejection has hurt her so badly she ran away to a nunnery. Ned accepts his responsibility for her feelings, as well as Father Ed’s insight into his own fractured past–until Ned faces down his own abandonment issues, he will be as isolated from himself as Olive in her nunnery. Chuck, who is increasingly unhappy at living what she sees as a kind of lie, gets a full dose of truth from Ned; having taken away her father, he now gives her back her mother when he tells her about her true mother.

As always, credit for the charm of this show cannot be fully encapsulated in a review, but there were a few outstanding moments: Mother Superior (Diana Scarwid, Wonderfalls) confronting “Father Dowling” and “Father Mulcahy” (played by Lee Pace, who played Scarwid’s son inWonderfalls); Emerson thinking the chef Hansel is Leatherface; Ned’s orgasmic reaction to Chef Hansel’s cooking; and virtually any scene involving Kristen Chenoweth. Olive Snook bids fair to overtake Chuck as the romantic leading lady of this show: cute, short, perky, It would have been so easy to make Olive the bitchy rival to Chuck, but instead the producers (and Chenoweth) have made her warm, human, even sisterly. It’s hard not to root for Olive, not Chuck, to get her man.

And can I just say, the story of young Olive digging up a dinosaur fossil as a child, and trading it for the stallion she wanted, was just perfect. I can think of no better micro-summation of the quirky appeal of this whole show, than that two minute opening.

Pushing Daisies finally climbed above the 6 million viewer mark, with preliminary ratings exceeding 6.2 million. This is still not great, and the show remains fourth in its timeslot.