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'Pushing Daisies' recap: Does he touch you?

Season 1 | Episode 1 | “Pie-Lette” | Aired Oct 03, 2007

The pilot episode of Pushing Daisies is named “Pie-Lette,” so let no one say they don’t know exactly what they’re getting into when they start this show. Pushing Daisies is cute. But it’s cute as seen through the eyes of the man who created Hannibal, so it’s also morbid and self-aware and different from anything else out there. An untimely cancellation cemented the show’s cult status, and with Lee Pace’s return to the small screen on AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire, there’s no better time to revisit this series. Pushing Daisies was alive. Now let’s make it alive again.

The show opens on young Ned (Lee Pace, played in flashbacks by Field Cate), who at this moment is 9 years, 27 weeks, 6 days and 3 minutes old. Ned lives in the town of Couer d’Couers, where fields of yellow flowers stretch in both directions, and kids run around with golden retrievers all day. It’s the kind of town Jim Dale would narrate, so he does.

couer d'couersWhen Ned’s dog, Digby, is hit by a truck, he finds that his touch brings the dog back to life. Digby bounds off like nothing happened, and Ned doesn’t ask any questions. He just accepts that good things are given to him, like the girl next door, Charlotte “Chuck” Charles (Anna Friel, played in flashbacks by Sammi Hanratti), and his mother, at least until a blood vessel in her brain bursts and kills her instantly. The narrator is awfully matter-of-fact about that last part. Death in this story is just a part of life, viewed as young Ned might view it: both world-altering and impossible to process.

Ned touches his mother’s cheek, and she goes back to baking pies, but Chuck’s dad drops dead a minute later. This is the first rule behind Ned’s gift: If he brings anyone back to life for more than 60 seconds, someone else has to die. But there’s a second rule, and Ned learns it the hard way when his mother kisses him on the forehead. First touch brings life; second touch brings death again, forever. Ned and Chuck’s lives change after that, as she goes to stay with her aunts and his dad ships him off to boarding school, but they share their first and only kiss at their respective parents’ funerals.

ned strawberryNineteen years later, Ned has a fear of intimacy and an obsession with pies. He runs a restaurant called the Pie Hole, baking with old fruits he’s brought back to life, but keeping his gift a secret, even from waitress Olive Snook (Kristin Chenoweth). Only P.I. Emerson Cod (Chi McBride) knows what Ned can do, and only because he stumbled upon it. The two of them solve murders by asking the victims who killed them, and it’s a lucrative business until Emerson picks their next target: Chuck.

Dubbed “Lonely Tourist Charlotte Charles” by the media, Chuck was found murdered on a cruise. Her life was a quiet one, caring for her shut-in aunts Lily (Swoosie Kurtz) and Vivian (Ellen Greene) and harvesting honey for the homeless. She went on one adventure and was killed. Ned agonizes over whether he can even bring her back to life before finally shutting himself in the room of a funeral home in Couer d’Couers and touching his childhood sweetheart on the cheek. Chuck has no idea who killed her, but she’s willing to let the boy who was her first kiss also be her last. He just can’t do it.

ned chuck kissKeeping Chuck in the world spells the end for the funeral-home director. It also exposes Ned to scrutiny and moral questions that he’d really rather avoid. Emerson in particular isn’t pleased with the arrangement, since his life easily could have been the one exchanged for Chuck’s. Ned wants Chuck to lay low, but she’s more interested in catching her killer and claiming the reward. She wasn’t on that cruise accidentally: Her travel agent offered a free trip if she would just bring back a couple of plaster monkeys. (“Those must’ve been some emotional monkeys.”) Chuck’s belongings were sent to her aunts, who could be in danger if the group can’t get to them first.

While Ned comforts Lily and Vivian over a plate of fine cheese, Chuck sneaks into the house and finds the monkeys just as the killer slips a bag on Lily’s head. Leaving Lily for dead, he turns to Ned, whom Chuck rescues, and Lily — whose career as a synchronized swimmer trained her to “hold her breath for a long time” — blasts the killer out of the window with a shotgun and rescues both of them. It looks like Ned’s secret may be out, but thanks to an dirty cat-sand incident that cost Lily her right eye, Chuck remains out of sight.

Chuck is free to start her own life now, and she wants to know why she’s been given this second chance. Ned assures her that his motives were completely selfish, which is to say that he believed his life would be better with her in it. The two can’t even hold hands, but they smash the monkeys’ mouths together for a by-proxy kiss and realize that they’re actually made of gold. The money goes to Lily and Vivian, who reenter the world as Ned and Chuck embark on a life of casual crime-solving, imaginary hand-holding and surrogate hugs from Emerson. What a time to be alive.

ned smile chuck morgueAfter years away from this show, it’s great to dive into its rich visuals and storybook writing again. This show fits summer like a beekeeping glove, and I’m excited to spend the next few months with it. New viewers, share your first impressions! Returning fans, does the pilot hold up on rewatch? And a question for everyone: Does Digby’s long life indicate that Chuck won’t age anymore? Think about it.

Best lines:

“A renowned synchronized swimming duo, they shared matching personality disorders and a love for fine cheese.”

“I hate to be a bad host, but I’m sort of exhausted from chasing your coffin.”

“Bitch, I was in proximity.”

“Middle-aged women who wear sweatshirts with things sewn to them.” “Usually kittens made of felt.”

Pushing Daisies is available at Amazon.com, Vudu, Xbox Video and Sony Entertainment Network.

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