Copyright © 2009 by Sarah Stegall
Written by Gretchen J. Berg & Aaron Harberts
Directed by Lawrence Trilling
“There has not been this much talent around a body of water since Moses played the Red Sea.” — Chuck
This is not so much a review as an obituary. Pushing Daisies is well and truly over. And alas, after months of waiting, and some half-promises from Bryan Fuller that we would have an ending of some kind, the final episode of Pushing Daisies did not follow through. Whether written as a cliffhanger in anticipation of a third season that never happened, or cobbled together at the last minute after the series was canceled, there was probably never going to be a truly satisfying finale. If this series had been a mini-series (remember those?) or a limited run, maybe Fuller could have brought the tension between Ned and Chuck to a natural end. As it is, we have an off-balance episode that focused too much on secondary characters and not enough on the main couple.
Ned, Olive, Chuck and Emerson Cod attend an exhibition of synchronized swimming, and there discover that aunts Lily and Vivian have finally emerged from seclusion, lured by the smell of chlorine. Lily and Viv confront arch rivals the AquaDolls, played by Wendie Malick and Nora Dunn, who swim “for Christ and country”. Their venomously catty exchange with Viviane and Lily was one of the highlights of the episode–nobody, but nobody does snark as well as Swoozie Kurtz. Then everyone watches in horror as a runaway shark swallows one of the AquaDolls whole. In the ensuing investigation, we meet an airheaded husband, a faithless sister, and a gyrating male dancer who doesn’t understand why his “banana hammock” dance doesn’t garner more respect. Yes, the show is reduced to jokes about a Speedo.
What starts out as an episode centered around Lily and Viviane’s relationship, co-dependent as it is, and their return to public life quickly morphs into something else. Cramming in resolutions to such complicated story lines as Emerson’s search for his daughter, or Olive’s sudden new romance with Randy Mann, only diluted our interest in the aunts. The most important question, of course, was whether Ned and Chuck would ever be able to touch. The answer: no. Well, hell. This is the problem with unsurmountable obstacles in episodic television: if your characters can never find resolution, your audience winds up frustrated and confused. Simply declaring “They all lived happily ever after”, without showing us the how and the why, is deeply unsatisfying. I would rather Fuller had just given us a last episode with no attempts to wrap things up, if it was going to be done this clumsily.
And no, promising that everything will be wrapped up in a comic book to be produced later doesn’t cut it.
Not that the show doesn’t already look like one. The color saturation was even deeper than usual on this episode, bursting with reds and blues and gold lamé. The shark was about as stiff as cardboard, but a realistically gory depiction of a shark eating a woman would have been wildly out of place on this show anyway. The music is as lively and jazzy as ever, and for one last time, there’s some sexual tension between Ned and Chuck. Not much, but there’s a ghost of it.
Bryan Fuller announced last November that he was taking the show in a new direction, that he was “shifting the show into a ‘Twin Peaks’-ian soap opera.” If so, I’m glad it died when it did. The series bore almost no resemblance to Twin Peaks, whose dark wanderings were about as far removed from the sunny, optimistic milieu of Pushing Daisies as one can imagine. This was underscored in the final minutes, as narrator Jim Daly detailed the happily-ever-after non-ending over scenes from the previous episodes. We saw once again the landscape of Neverland: the candy colored windmills, the lighthouse, the Aunts’ garish Victorian, and finally the field of golden flowers where Digby ran happily towards his fatal meeting. We end where we began, with less sense of satisfaction.
I was happy about one development: in the most mature speech given Ned to date, he finallyacknowledges that he has been selfish to insist that Chuck keep her existence secret from the aunts. Alas, they pick quite a moment for this reveal: Lily has just confessed to Viviane that she had an affair with Vivian’s fiancé, bore a child with him, and that the child was (is) Chuck. On the point of an irreparable rift, they open the door to see Chuck herself on the front porch. What a place to end a story.
The pace of the last three episodes was off. The writing was sub-par. Storylines introduced earlier were dropped with no explanation. What happened to Ned’s father? To Simone? To Ned’s brothers? Fuller apparently was tinkering mid-season with his show, which is akin to working on the engine of a car traveling at full speed down the highway. That is never going to end well. We end with muddled storylines and an otherwise extremely talented cast left adrift and directionless.
I hope someone is taking notes. I hope someone is noticing that the first season of this series was one of the best ever seen on American television, but that it lost its way because it was trying to do too much. So fragile and insubstantial a bubble could never bear the weight of season after season of drama and angst. I think viewers sensed this, and never committed heavily to Pushing Daisies. I will say this one more time, and then stop; this series should have had a limited run.
I will miss Pushing Daisies as one of the most original and entertaining attempts on television. I credit Bryan Fuller for the guts to make the attempt. I was introduced to the superb talents of Kristen Chenowith, reminded of the comic genius that is Chi McBride, and once again entranced by the low-key sexiness that is Lee Pace. The show would have gotten three stars from me just for the presence of Swoosie Kurtz and Ellen Greene. It set a standard for wit, intelligence and originality few shows will even attempt to emulate. So let us lay some daisies on its grave, and observe a moment of silence.