“Pushing Daisies” is more stylised than Bryan Fuller’s previous work in TV, and represents another inch closer towards his more recognisable work on “Hannibal” and “American Gods” in that regard, but the storytelling itself doesn’t really iterate on his previous show “Wonderfalls” in any meaningful way, and actually backslides into slaving itself towards its procedural structure in ways that “Wonderfalls” didn’t. Still, it really does shine visually, and its sickly-sweet nature is endearing at times.
[This review doesn’t spoil anything about the show beyond the first episode.]
The amount of exposition and set-up packed into the opening few minutes of the pilot (amusingly entitled “Pie-lette”) would be overwhelming and clumsy under many writers, but Fuller does a great job of deftly and entertainingly communicating all that backstory. It’s more obvious how skilled he is at shifting through backstory and lore into cohesive, compelling narratives when he’s working on adaptations instead of original works (his reconfiguration of the multitude of “Hannibal” works is brilliant), but it still shows in “Pushing Daisies”.
The visual style of the show is so eye-catching and compelling. Very, very bright, saturated colours, the symmetry in the shot composition (along with the twee dialogue, the whole show feels very Wes Anderson at times) making the show’s world seem more fairy-tale than reality. So many warm colours, so few cool colours, it doesn’t look natural, but it’s not supposed to – it looks like a glorious storybook. The heavy use of blue screen seems in some ways a precursor to how Fuller would deploy CGI in “Hannibal” and “American Gods”. Other noticeable visual features of the show are t imaginative cutaway gags, occasional animated segments (like the play-doh people sequence in the “Pie-lette”), and the camera frequently moving in dynamic ways.
It’s not just the visuals that are full of style either. The show sometimes breaks into musical segments out of nowhere, typically sang by the very skilled Kristin Chenoweth. Jim Dale’s narration anchors the twee style of the show very well (the amount of exposition would sound clumsy from a less skilled narrator).
There are some notable recurring castings (Lee Pace from “Wonderfalls”, Raúl Esparza later being in “Hannibal”, Kristin Chenoweth later being in “American Gods”, Orlanda Jones from the show’s second season later being in “American Gods” too), but they aren’t the only recurring element between Fuller’s shows. Chuck’s limbo-like status between life and death is reminiscent of George’s situation in “Dead Like Me”, especially the “wants to reach out family but knows she shouldn’t” angle. The show’s casual attitude towards death also recalls “Dead Like Me”, and is of course iterated on in “Hannibal”, as is the show’s more laissez-faire attitude towards gore and mangled bodies.
The writer’s strike of 2007 put Fuller in the position of having to potentially end the season earlier than he’d planned it. Episode seven ended up being worked as a potential finale, and that’s indeed what it eventually served as. The way a finale could be set up with just some lines in the episode before it makes the arbitrary nature of the show’s procedural structure really stand out. I didn’t really hone in on this point until watching the second, much more repetitive season, but procedural shows like this often feel very hollow when they seem to just spin their wheels so much between “important” episodes, when the procedural episodes aren’t distinct or brilliant enough to really warrant sustained consistent investment.
Still, the first season coasted nicely off the sheer novelty and syrupy nature of the show. I didn’t find the show’s story or concept as engaging as “Wonderfalls” (let alone Fuller’s later work), but I really appreciated its dedication to style and storytelling beyond just standard dialogue and action. I give it three cherry pies, and a beehive.