Oh, HELL No!
Copyright © 2008 by Sarah Stegall
ABC, Wednesdays, 8/79/8 E/C
Written by Scott Nimerfro
Directed by Tricia Brock
This was no way to end such a fine show. Wednesday night’s episode of Pushing Daisies may well be the last ever to be shown on broadcast television. Since announcing the show’s cancellation, ABC has not made any announcement concerning the final three episodes already in the can. Certainly, “The Norwegians” is the last publicly broadcast episode of the year. So I was hoping for something special, something that would encapsulate all we are about to lose. I didn’t hope for “closure” to the story line—I don’t think we’ll ever get that, and Ned and Chuck will never touch. But I did hope for a good, solid mystery with the show’s usual lighthearted and witty approach. What we got was a show imploding into itself.
“The Norwegians” was a show about the show. It had virtually no mystery element, but focused entirely on the Pie-Hole PIs and their alleged doppelgangers from the snowy fjords of Norway. Hired by Vivian when Emerson Cod refuses to be hired to find Dwight Dixon, the Norwegians are played by Orlando Jones (The Replacements, Mad TV) and his assistants, Chuck lookalike Hedda Lillihammer (Ivana Milicevic, Casino Royale) and Ned twin Nils Nilsen (Michael Weaver, Chuck). While a cute conceit, the whole mirror-image idea doesn’t really work on anything other than the most superficial level; all three of the actors mug their way through scenes that call for subtlety, and their characters really don’t much resemble Emerson, Chuck, and Ned. The trio spend as much time investigating their counterparts as they do looking into the disappearance of Dwight Dixon. As conversant as I am with this show, even I had trouble with the overlapping storylines, or teasing out who knew what about whom. It didn’t help when Chuck started freely theorizing, based on a stray button, that her father had not run away from her but was actually nearby, watching over them. In fact, there is someone nearby, watching over them, but it’s not Charles Charles.
One of my problems with this show is that Ned and Chuck have become completely static. Emerson and Olive show most, or all, of the character growth, and share most of the action. Behind them, Vivian and Lily are becoming more rounded, with the Pie-Maker and his love a distant third. Being an episodic series, I don’t expect these people to be as deeply drawn as characters in a Dostoyevsky novel, but I don’t expect them to remain statues, either. In this episode, it looked like Lee Pace and Anna Friel were struggling to find some new feature in Ned and Chuck, something to hang a performance on. Instead, we got pretty much the same old, same old when it came to Ned and Chuck—he wants to keep her wrapped in cotton wool, she wants to be free, yadda yadda. This problem should have been solved long ago.
And whatever reason there ever was for keeping the secret of Chuck’s resurrection is long since moot. Olive Snook complains constantly in this episode that she’s being unfairly shut out of the trio’s shared secret. She’s absolutely right—she is being exploited and they should tell her what’s going on. I have never understood why it is more important to keep the aunts in the dark about Chuck; it seems unnecessarily cruel to allow them to think that Chuck is dead, and now they are convinced that her body has been desecrated as well. Weighed against public exposure of her secret (which could be explained away several ways), this is just plain mean. Olive and the aunts deserve the truth. Instead, Ned, Chuck, and Emerson spent a lot of time worrying about whether they had sufficiently taken responsibility for the death of Dwight Dixon. Ned is especially smug about how he’s doing the moral thing; how about a little morality for the living, Ned?
In conformance with the already established Freudian framework of Pushing Daisies, we got more daddy issues. Ned and Olive, literally hanging on for dear life, are rescued by a mystery man who’s all wrapped up like Charles Charles. But it turns out to be Ned’s father, played by George Hamilton (Love at First Bite) in some pretty interesting stunt casting. My first thought when I realized he was all covered up was that he was trying to avoid making contact with other people—like his son. Is that the real secret of Ned’s father’s abandonment of his eldest, that he once brought Ned back to life and now must avoid touching him? That would make for a real twist ending to the show. As it is, I’m still confused—was it Ned Senior who dug up Dwight Dixon and “staged” his corpse in such a way as to get Ned and Emerson off the hook? And what has happened to Charles Charles?
As usual, the acting was outstanding. Even in such a well-played show, however, Kristen Chenoweth’s Olive has to be one of the best of the best. She went through the range of emotions from joy (at Ned’s confession that sometimes he looks at her “that way”) to depression to anger, all with the same perky optimism that somehow avoids being twee. She and Chi McBride make the best team on this show, and I will very much miss “Itty Bitty” and the dour Cod when this show is over.
So the acting was great—why did this episode fall short for me? The writing. The level of humor has sunk to calling the Norwegian’s van “Mother” because the acronym of its “Mobile Investigative Lab Facility” is MILF. Seriously? Emerson eats “hentai” noodles (a sexually charged word in Japanese). Does this show really need to bury sniggering little naughties in the script like this? The only real laugh I came up with this time around was Vivian’s sketch of Dwight done a la Rose in Titanic.
Having said all this, however, Pushing Daisies remains the most beautifully crafted show on television, polished with the care of a master puzzle maker. There is no detail too small or finely drawn, such as Ned’s touch no longer “un-deading” strawberries (because they are fresh), that does not linger in the memory. The color palette remains one of the most stunning and rich on television. Despite my unhappiness with this episode’s writers, the continuity of this show is downright remarkable. For example, I only noticed last night that Sean Lake (Alias) has been in every one of the last thirteen episodes—as a patron in the Pie Hole. Talk about commitment to a running gag! (Especially since he played a café patron on that show as well.) The stories and characters are complicated enough to entertain adults, yet remain family-friendly. There was (and is) so much to love about this show.
However, midway through last night’s episode, I realized why the numbers kept falling during most of the show’s run. If some new viewer tuned into Pushing Daisies, never having seen an episode, it would have been impossible to untangle the characters, their relationships, or their abilities. The show hobbled itself early on with a top-heavy set of “rules” (such as Ned’s bizarre but limited abilities) and inexplicable plot decisions (never telling anyone about Chuck’s return). These quirky characteristics would have been fine in late Season Two or Three, but not in the show’s freshman year. A new show needs to build audience quickly, and the creators ofPushing Daisies seemed to be more concerned with polishing their diamond than making it accessible to new viewers. That’s too bad, because the cancellation of this show amounts to a terrible waste of talent and entertainment value. The cancellation of this show will probably haunt ABC the way the cancellation of Firefly still dogs the Fox Network: an example of the bean counters winning a fight they should have lost.
Mad Men drew in about a million viewers, and not only is renewed but gets award nominations.Pushing Daisies garnered 4.8 million viewers for its final episode of 2008, despite its cancellation. There ain’t no justice.