Pushing Daisies: “Comfort Food”

Return of the Muffin Buffalo

Copyright © 2008 by Sarah Stegall

Pushing Daisies

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

“Comfort Food”

Written by Douglas Petrie

Directed by Peter Lauer

Any considerations I might have had about Pushing Daisies becoming too syrupy-sweet were completely axed by the sight of a man eating his own deep-fried skin in this episode. That image is one I’d like erased, please. It was almost gross enough to make me turn off the television, the first time Pushing Daisies has really stepped over the line from black humor to plain bad taste (you should pardon the pun). All was forgiven, however, when Kristen Chenowith burst into song at the end of the episode. “Eternal Flame”, indeed–would that this series was eternal.

This episode picked up from where “Robbing Hood” left off–with Chuck and Ned opening the grave of Chuck’s father, Charles Charles (Josh Randall, Men in Trees). But after that, the narrative thread gets braided, re-wound, and twisted into a Gordian knot of a story. Not sinceMemento have I had such a hard time following a plot. When I finally unraveled it, the story was pretty straightforward–Chuck could no more “re-dead” her own father than Ned could “re-dead” Chuck herself. Caught in the same ethical dilemma as Ned (someone must die if the re-awakened are not re-deaded soon), Chuck’s conscience torments her into confiding in a surprisingly sympathetic Emerson Cod. While they pursue a remedy for this problem, Ned and Olive enter a food competition, pitting them against a muffin baker named Marianne Marie Beetle (Beth Grant, Wonderfalls), a character previously appearing in executive producer Bryan Fuller’s other cancelled series, Wonderfalls. I kept expecting some of her bakeware to start talking to her.

The funniest thing about this episode may have been the hats Ned and Olive wore at the Bake-off. The creepiest thing may have been the plastic sleeping-sleeve Ned devised so that he could share a bed with Chuck. The most disturbing thing about this episode was that the chemistry between Ned and Olive was much better than the chemistry between Ned and Chuck. Increasingly, the dynamic Ms. Chenowith is putting all her co-stars in the shade, whether it’s due to the relentlessly perky yet sad Olive or her terrific singing skills. If I were Chuck, I’d be seriously worried that Ned is being distracted by Olive; for Chuck, it can literally become a matter of life and death. Lily gained some ominously dark overtones, as she chased Dwight Dixon around with a shotgun, and casually admitted to Emerson Cod that she’d be happy to murder him. She really does not have a reason for this determination, other than a gut instinct. She doesn’t really know that Dixon is duplicitous, which casts her actions more in the light of a bitch in the manger to poor Viviane, who only wants happiness. Having destroyed Viviane’s happiness before by sleeping with Viv’s fiancé, Lily now seems determined to wipe out any chance of her sister’s joy. This is pathetic and disturbing, not funny.

Also disturbing is the carefree attitude of Chuck in regards to Ned. She keeps her father alive past the 60-second mark, knowing full well that the closest humans to Charles Charles, the ones most likely to suffer the karmic consequences, are herself and Ned. Maybe she’s okay with risking her own life to bring her father back as a zombie, but she had no right to risk Ned’s life, especially without consulting him. Chuck had no way of knowing that Dwight Dixon (Stephen Root, King of the Hill) or any other potential victim was nearby. No doubt she rationalized that, since Ned had stolen her father’s life, he owed Charles Charles a second life. But that means Chuck has chosen to risk her lover’s life in favor of her father; Ned will see this as betrayal no matter how she explains it. Next week promises to be an interesting confrontation.

What we’re left with, at the end of the episode, is a tangle of personal relationships equal to a couple of seasons of Days of Our Lives, or maybe Passions. Will Ned and Chuck ever be able to touch for real? Or will Olive usurp Chuck’s place in Ned’s heart? Will Lily and Viviane reconcile? What will become of the shambling corpse of Daddy Charles? It’s getting difficult for even Ned to remember who knows what about whose secrets; he came very clear to confessing his “gift” inadvertently during his investigation of the Fried Chicken Colonel murder.

Part of me thinks that cancellation, much as I regret it, may have been the best thing to happen to Pushing Daisies. If the storylines were to progress at this rate indefinitely, I believe they risk becoming twee rather than funny, morbid rather than eccentric, confused rather than whimsical. The writing itself is still brilliant — I loved the bake-a-thon in the boarding school — but the story being told is losing its luster very quickly. I think it’s a dilemma this show will never solve — the heart of the show is the fact that Ned can bring the dead back to life, but the creators don’t want to work this to death. Instead, they focus on the “murder investigations” and the romance. The inevitable result is that we get frustrated in our desire to see more wonder, and over-saturated with a doomed-love story that, frankly, has already dragged on past all tolerance. Still, with the end of the series in sight, I can take some comfort in knowing that it’s unlikely the two remaining stories will “jump the shark”, or disappoint, or bore us.

And we’ll always have Olive’s evocation of hobbits on jet packs to keep us giggling.

Pushing Daisies drew 4.91 million viewers, with 1.5 million of them in the Golden Demographic, adults 18 to 49. This put the show, and ABC, solidly in fourth place. Word comes that Pushing Daisies creator Bryan Fuller has signed a two-year deal with Universal Media Studios. He will rejoin the writing staff of Heroes starting with episode 320, and will develop new series projects for the studio.  For anyone who hoped for some kind of reprieve from cancellation, this is the final shovelful of dirt on the grave of Pushing Daisies. It’s done.