Thursday, December 13, 2007

Pushing "Pushing Daisies"

It all starts with the faces.

Often shot in direct close-up with the actors addressing the camera, faces are used in "Pushing Daisies" the way films of a bygone era used them. The characters, the attitudes, the relationships are all there in the eyes, the mouths, the demeanors.

Lee Pace as Ned The Piemaker has a long face, both physically and emotionally. His lidded eyes and wide eyebrows help make him look sad even when he smiles. The predicament of a man who can't touch the one he loves most is written all over it.

Chi McBride as Emerson Cod has a round, direct look; the opposite of Ned in every way. Wry, smart and exasperated, he is a man with no time for the kind of mopery he sees in Ned. When he smiles, his whole face lights up, not a trace of sadness, though there might be more than a little slyness.

Anna Friel gazes at the world in wide-eyed wonder as Charlotte (Chuck) Charles. Her expressive eyes and easy warmth beam from within a frame of dark casual tresses. She may be dead, but that's not going to stop her from living.

Kristin Chenoweth's Olive Snook has a cooler look than Chuck's. A kind face in a tight blond bob, she's defined by determination, rather than Chuck's wonder. Like Emerson, she provides direct visual contrast to her counterpart.

And it goes on; Swoosie Kurtz's eye-patch and sour demeanor; Ellen Greene's Morticia Addams sallowness; even recent addition Paul Reubens with his ratlike, furtive glances. And one other face: the face of The Narrator Jim Dale which is no less striking for never being seen. You can take one look at any one of them (well, maybe not Dale) and know more information than a season's worth of most show's dialogue provides.

And speaking of talk ....

The faces may be right out of silent films, but thankfully, "Pushing Daisies" is not limited to the occasional title card. The dialogue is sharp and witty and pointed. And fast. If your ears blink, you might well miss something. Take this from the pilot (excuse me, "Pie-Lette"), shot rapid fire from Friel's lips:

"I’ve been ruminating and by ruminating I mean pondering, not chewing cud. How about we solve my murder and collect the reward? Wouldn’t that be poetic? Certainly an anecdote."

Or this exchange:

Ned: You know what our problem is?
Chuck: If you're referring to the touching thing, I see it as more of an obstacle than a problem.
Ned: It's a pretty big obstacle.
Chuck: Not compared to our other problems.
Ned: We've got other problems?
Emerson: (rolls eyes) I'm going to kill myself.

Each episode, the team led by P.I. Emerson and with Ned's ability to briefly (usually) raise the dead as an ace in the hole, investigate a mystery. But these aren't "CSI"-esque gritty, lurid cases. The mysteries in each instance are there primarily to illuminate and advance the relationships of the principles. It's a strategy I remember fondly from other romantic detective shows like "Remington Steele" and "Moonlighting," and today it's a much-needed antidote to the overly serious "Law and Order" template that clogs the network airwaves.

"Daisies" wrapped up its writer's-strike truncated first season (or half season) last night with a cliffhanger (no spoilers here) and I suppose it goes without saying that I hope this strike foolishness gets settled quickly so we can get back to the important work of Ned, Chuck, Emerson and their friends.

I already miss Anna Friel's face.

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