Pushing Daisies: “Frescorts”

Comfort Food

Copyright © 2008 by Sarah Stegall

Pushing Daisies

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


Story by Lisa Joy

Teleplay by Lisa Joy and Gretchen J. Berg & Aaron Harberts

Directed by Peter Lauer

Emerson: “I’ll be dental damned.”
Callista: “With a girl like her, you should be.”

Who’d have guessed that, of all the characters on Pushing Daisies, it would be the morose and acidic Emerson Cod (Chi McBride) who would have the happiest relationship with his family?  “Frescorts” opens with a charming summary of how private investigator Callista Cod (Debra Mooney, Boston Legal) raised her son to be her right-hand man, thereby setting him on a life path of tracking down bad guys for money. When they re-unite years later in the Pie Hole, she has aged into a cigar-smoking, booze-loving old lady with Emerson’s caustic wit. The two of them are clearly best buds, hugging joyously and enthusiastically entering into partnership again. Their cases are actually one case–someone has knocked off a “frescort”, a hired friend–and Mama Cod gets a high-five from her burly son when he realizes she has managed for them to get paid twice for solving one crime. By the end of the episode, they’ve gone through some changes, tussled over a trust issue, and exchanged some secrets, but they’re still fine friends. I hope we have not seen the last of Mama Cod. And any time Bryan Fuller wants to make the Cods a spinoff, I’ll be there.

Emerson and Ned visit deceased frescort Joe (Joshua LeBar, Entourage) in the morgue, who tells them he may have been killed by “my best friend”. But since his “best friends” are for rent, which one is the killer? Chuck and Olive, having recently become faux best friends and roommates, opt to go undercover at Joe’s employer, a frescort service called My Best Friend, Inc. Ned and Emerson interrogate owner and founder Buddy Amicus (Hayes MacArthur, How I Met Your Mother). Amicus, whose name means “friend” in Latin, is an ex-high school jock who has seen the error of his bullying ways and now dedicates his life to providing the lonely with the best friends money can rent. Better yet, he has invented a Hug Machine. Cute. Chuck and Ned accidentally knock over a mannequin in Amicus’ office that turns out to be the preserved corpse of an old enemy, a hostage moment ensues, and Cod gets to put a baseball bat to good use. In the meantime, Olive and Chuck bring old issues to the surface, Emerson tells his mother about his long-lost daughter, and Ned makes the acquaintance of a man as lonely and quirky as he, frescort customer Randy Mann (David Arquette, My Name is Earl).

A taxidermist with more twitches than Ned’s right eye when he’s lying, Mann brings offal to the Pie Hole so Ned can show him how to make a pie. He also brings his stuffed retriever, to Ned’s horror. Could it be that Ned sees a little too much of himself in a guy who spends most of his spare time around dead things? And what’s with the constant involvement of taxidermy on this show? From Aunt Vivian and Lily and their stuffed birds, to Buddy’s office decor, to Randy Mann’s back bedroom, Pushing Daisies is starting to look like the Norman Bates School of Taxidermy. Later, after the case is solved, Ned apologizes with meat pies (which he cannot eat) and Mann tells him that sometimes you have to be comfortable being alone before you can be comfortable being with someone else. Ned keeps that in mind when Chuck announces that now she wants to move back in; to her surprise, he encourages her to stay and work things out with Olive. In the end, Chuck not only takes his advice but thanks Ned for it by staging an impromptu striptease in his apartment. Is she trying to kill Ned?

The dialogue in this episode absolutely soared. Quick-witted, snarky, fun and ironic, it mocked itself as much as it revealed. Receptionist Barb’s job interview with Olive and Chuck, in which she insisted that they show various facial expressions, was hilarious. The Kalishna-Cod interrogative technique was literally slapstick, and the argument in the locker between Chuck and Olive was not only funny but achingly realistic. As always, Lee Pace’s facial expressions say more about Ned the Pie Maker than any dialogue could have. His reaction to the revived/mummified quarterback, to the formaldehyde spraying corpse, the stuffed version of Digby, and to naked Chuck were absolutely priceless. No mere words could have topped those eyebrows.

I could have done without the corpse spraying formaldehyde or the glass jar with a preserved appendix–this on a show about pies? Yuck! Otherwise, though, the writing and the humor were at the highest standards. And while I love the sweetness and occasional innocence of the Chuck/Ned romance, it was nice to see evidence that they are sexual beings, at least in their heads. They were beginning to look a little too chaste for grownups.

I have to come back one more time to Mama Cod. This character is pure comedy gold. From her Philip Marlowe slang (“getaway sticks”) to her cigar to her whiskey-flavored voice, she’s a perfect partner and foil for Emerson. I really hope we see more of her again.

Actually, we’ll be lucky if we see Ned, Chuck and Emerson ever again. This series debuted at 13 million viewers and the numbers have dropped every single week since, for over a year now. Last night Pushing Daisies’ fast affiliate household rating was a 3.8/6, which translates to 5.67 million viewers. It placed a measly 1.9/5 among 18-49 year olds. Last week, the show had a 4.4/7 household , and reached 6.29 million. These are not bad numbers, they are terrible numbers. Fatal numbers. Thanks to them, ABC came in fifth, behind the CW. Major networks do not permit themselves the luxury of critically acclaimed shows that put them behind cable networks, so I hourly expect news that Pushing Daisies has been canceled. Not even Ned’s magic touch will bring this back. I only hope that when the hammer falls, some good angel at ABC will see fit to release these last few episodes on DVD.

And may I just say that, on a personal note, one reason people may not be watching this show is that it has an unreasonable number of ads. I haven’t done a scientific survey, but it strikes me there are more than four commercial breaks in Pushing Daisies, and the breaks go on a long time. Disrupting such a delicately balanced storyline to sell shoes does not bode well for capturing and holding an audience’s attention. Bad form, ABC. Bad form.