Saturday, 31 January 2009

PUSHING DAISIES 2.1 – "Bzzzzzzz!"

Saturday, 31 January 2009
"Hey! You don't just get to put them pictures in my
head. That's an assault on my imagination."
-- Emerson Cod (Chi McBride)

The vibrant colours of this second season are tainted by knowledge Pushing Daisies has been cancelled in the US, so enjoy Bryan Fuller's "modern fairytale" while you can. This premiere, "Bzzzzzzz!", one again reestablishes the premise of the show – which is understandable, but something Pushing Daisies seems to do practically every episode, which is becoming a chore for regular viewers...

Essentially; piemaker Ned (Lee Pace) can bring the dead back to life for one-minute – any longer, and something else has to die to maintain cosmic order. He's already brought childhood sweetheart Chuck (Anna Friel) back from the dead, and is subsequently cursed to never touch her again – as second contact brings about permanent death. Chuck now works at Ned's restaurant, The Pie Hole, and they use his unique talents to help solve murder cases with cynical P.I Emerson Cod (Chi McBride), all while keeping his gift a secret from aerated waitress Olive (Kristin Chenoweth) and Chuck's grieving aunts, Lily (Swoosie Kurtz) and Vivian (Ellen Greene.) Got that? Good.

"Bzzzzzzz!" is another rather formulaic case for the trio; a man called Dusty Fitz (Peter Cambor) wants them to investigate his wife's death, whom he suspects was having an affair. His late spouse, Kentucky Fitz (Autumn Reeser), worked as a Bee Girl for Betty's Bees (a company specializing in honey-based products) and was stung to death – and, after bringing her temporarily back to life, Kentucky puts them on the trail of a murderer at Betty's Bees.

Elsewhere, Olive is growing exasperated by her lot in life – besotted with Ned, who only has eyes for Chuck – so she tenders her resignation and becomes a nun at a mountaintop convent (note how Daisies' vibrant aesthetic shuns black habits for cyan-coloured ones, too). Olive, having learned that Chuck's aunt Lily is actually Chuck's mother in season 1's finale, is astonished to discover from her Mother Superior (Diana Scarwid) that Lily actually came to the very same nunnery to secretly give birth to Chuck... and that's not even the full extent of Lily's deception all these years...

Like most episodes of Pushing Daisies, this is a veritable treat for the eyes – the production design is excellent, and the bee theme of "Bzzzzzzz!" gave us the expected visuals (golden-yellow hues, black stripes, hexagonal architecture). The details are always beautifully-handled (Betty's Bees HQ resembles a hive, its window panes are hexagons, etc.) and there's barely a minute that passes by without some on-screen confection.

That said, it can all become slightly wearing without a strong plot to hang it on, and I found "Bzzzzzzz!" to be rather tedious until it all began to tie-up in the last twenty minutes. There are never many suspects to point the finger at – CEO Woolsey Nicholls (Third Rock From The Sun's French Sterwart) and Betty Bee herself (Missi Pyle) are your options – and it sometimes feels like the same basic plots are simply being rewritten in different settings, given slight twists.

Still, there remains a certain charm to even the most humdrum of episodes, and "Bzzzzzzz!" was no different. The spectre of a bee-covered murderer was good fun, guest-star Pyle is perfect for Pushing Daisies (in fact, she's so good that it's disappointing they're not using her for a semi-recurring role), and the various distractions were entertaining: like Chuck moving out of The Pie Hole to assert her independence, Ned bringing dead bees back to life by having them poured over his naked body, and an icky dead body with bulbous bee-stings all over its flesh.

It's just that, sometimes, Pushing Daisies seems to be trying too hard, and there isn't much chance to really savour its unique style and kooky characters. It's the TV equivalent of a bag of pic n' mix sweets – you should really eat one at a time and relish the individual tastes, but someone's shovelling the whole lot down your throat, so you feel sick and sugar-high afterwards. Plus, these sweets have a very familiar tang, and Pushing Daisies doesn't give you anything savoury to refresh your pallet.

Overall, I'm sure there won't be many complaints from diehard Daisies fans, but the recipe just seemed a bit stale here. There was far too much recapping, the plot wasn't strong enough to overcome the retina-burning visuals, the Ned/Chuck romance often wanders into saccharine niceness that can be overbearing (something Emerson's cynicism didn't help to blunt this week), and I'm not particularly interested in seeing Olive's convent misadventures, either.

More "zzzzzzz" than "bzzzzzzz."

30 January 2009
ITV1, 10pm

Writer: Bryan Fuller
Director: Adam Kane

Cast: Lee Pace (Ned), Anna Friel (Chuck), Chi McBride (Emerson), Jim Dale (Narrator), Field Cate (Young Ned), Ellen Greene (Vivian), Swoosie Kurtz (Lily), Kristin Chenoweth (Olive), Sammi Hanratty (Young Chuck), Sy Richardson (Coroner), Missi Pyle (Betty Bee), French Stewart (Woolsey Nicholls), Peter Cambor (Dusty Fitz), Autumn Reeser (Kentucky Fitz), Diana Scarwid (Mother Superior) & Robin Gwynne (Customer)