Copyright © 2008 by Sarah Stegall
ABC, Wednesdays, 8/79/8 E/C
Written by Kath Lingenfelter
Directed by Adam Kane
Written by Jim Danger Gray
Directed by Paul Shapiro
Here’s a sterling example of the brilliant, subtle wordplay that I’m going to miss when Pushing Daisies goes off the air: in tonight’s episode, an outcast Indian boy at Young Ned’s boarding school from hell names his pet bunny “Akbar”. Before he invented The Simpsons, cartoonist Matt Groening created a comic strip called Life in Hell, featuring two fez-wearing rabbits named Akbar and Jeff. This subtle homage to a great “underground” strip fits into the show as exactly as the keystone piece of a puzzle, yet it doesn’t detract from the episode if you’ve never heard of the comic strip. And then there’s the Indian boy’s pet snake, “Bilbo”…
Young Ned accidentally kills both pets, throwing his only friend at boarding school into a tailspin of grief. Young Ned resolves to bring the pets back from the dead, and is rewarded with his friend’s beatific smile. Grown-up Ned, however, now realizes the danger inherent in bringing back from the dead those who are thought to be dead; he is increasingly worried about investigator Dwight Dixon’s (Stephen Root, King of the Hill) curiosity about Chuck, her father’s watch, and her aunt Vivian. Lily is getting pretty suspicious as well, and even Olive gets in on the act, using a pie delivery as an excuse to ask some questions.
Meanwhile, Emerson has been hired to investigate the death-by-chandelier of elderly millionaire Gustav Holst (veteran comic Shelley Berman, Boston Legal). Awakened from death, Gustav is more interested in making sure that his gold-digging, cheating wife doesn’t inherit his money, and uses most of his 60 seconds of resurrection instructing Ned where to find his new will. The will is in a safe in Gustav’s trophy room–unfortunately for Ned, and hilariously for us, the “trophies” in the trophy room are stuffed animals (lions and tigers and bears, oh my!), any of which will come to life again the moment Ned touches them. Wisely, the writers don’t show us what happens when Ned touches the giant stuffed polar bear guarding the safe–but they let us hear it. While Emerson interrogates the widow and bellman, we hear roars in the background, and are left to imagine Ned trying to re-dead an angry bear. This may be the best unwritten scene of the series.
Most of the story time of this episode is taken up with the increasingly suspicious actions of Dwight Dixon, his manipulations of the aunts, and Ned’s growing panic that his talent will be ‘outed’. Dixon recognizes a photo of Chuck carried by Vivian and figures out who Chuck’s real mother is, which he then hints about (very unwisely) to Lily. Chuck sneaks into her own old bedroom to find something that will explain Dixon’s questions, and is interrupted by a Robin Hood-costumed burglar who, coincidentally, has been lured there by a sting operation fosteredby Ned, Olive, and Emerson. Yes, this involuted plot has finally eaten its own tail.
The sting operation is not all that original, but for sheer joy nothing could beat Kristen Chenoweth’s channeling Zsa Zsa Gabor with unimpeachable aplomb and a phony Hungarian accent. Fast-talking Robbing Hood Rob Wright (Danny Comden, Dirt) persuades Chuck that his version of burglary is actually philanthropy, that he was involved in a fake burglary with Gustav that went wrong, and that she should really let him go so he can steal enough money to pay the mortgage on the puppy shelter, blah blah. Chuck actually falls for this puppy doo-doo, which erodes some of the respect I had for this character. Chuck is supposed to be naïve and sweet, not stupid. Lily discovers that Dwight has Charles Charles’ watch, which everyone thought was buried with Chuck. She retrieves it and sets out to ambush Dwight Dixon, partly because she doesn’t want her secret motherhood revealed, but mostly because she’s just Lily and she’s got her mean on.
The story clicked together like a well-tended grandfather clock, but still left me somehow unsatisfied. The conclusion to the “mystery” turns out to be exactly what we expected. The mystery was not all that compelling, and the non-conclusion to the dilemma of Chuck turns out to involve Chuck, Ned, two shovels, and a cemetery late at night. This will not end well.
Nor is Pushing Daisies ending well. It garnered 4.85 million viewers, 1.2 million in the demo of adults 18-49. Rosie Live did better, and was cancelled within hours. For all the critical esteem heaped on this show, it seems that viewers are staying away in droves. One reason may be the very complicated backstory, another may be the truly disruptive and lengthy commercial breaks (which are anathema to such a delicately balanced show, which offers nuance instead of slapstick). For whatever reason, viewers abandoned the show long ago, and even faithful viewers seem to be leaving. Such a shame.