On October 3rd 2007, ABC premiered an original new series during its Wednesday night lineup. It was a show ahead of its time, and while many that came after tried to recapture the sheer magic that enchanted fans around the country, not one of them ever succeeded. Even still, over a decade later, loyal fans bemoan the loss of what was surely one of the most creative shows to hit the airwaves in modern television history.
That show was Pushing Daisies.
The hour long series was the perfect combination of intelligent comedy, poignant drama and charming romance. It was also a directorial masterpiece, with each sweeping scene a moving tableau of visual poetry.
The story itself was, what some might call more of the fantastical fare. A simple, if not altogether awkward Pie Maker discovers he has the ability to bring back the deceased with a simple touch- and if he doesn’t touch them again, sending them back through the pearly gates within 60 seconds, a random someone within close proximity will keel over in exchange. He uses his unique ability in an unusual partnership with a rather enterprising private investigator who leverages the Pie Maker’s abilities to resurrect recently murdered victims so they can discover the identity of their killers, thus, the enterprising duo of investigator and pie maker can collect a handsome reward. It proves a lucrative business, until the lonely Pie Maker discovers the latest murder is that of his childhood sweetheart, Chuck. Once he brings her back, he cannot bring himself to let her go again. The caveat? He can never touch her again. Not a brush of the hand or a kiss on the cheek, but the chemistry between the two is palpable, and you find yourself longing for a happy ending.
Alas, we never got our happy ending. The season finale of the second series left us on a surprising climax that was never resolved as ABC decided to cancel the quirky series, allowing none of the characters- or the audience- any closure.
The show boasted a stellar cast. Lee Pace as the simple Pie Man, Ned, was the man every mother wanted her daughter to marry. Anna Friel was the delightful Chuck, his impossibly sweet and recently resurrected love interest. The legendary Swoosie Kurtz and Ellen Greene portrayed Chuck’s outrageously eccentric, agoraphobic Aunts. The incomparable Kristin Chenowith was Olive Snook, the bubbly, heartsick waitress whose affections for the Pie Maker were unrequited and the incredible Chi McBride was the brilliant and utterly hilarious mastermind who turned what might have been a curse into a profitable business. However unexpected it may have been, onscreen, Pushing Daisies came as close to perfectly manicured, wildly imaginative storytelling as we’ve ever come.
Not a thread of talent was wasted on Pushing Daisies, which even incorporated musical numbers so well placed that it would have made Walt Disney proud. From Ellen Greene singing a rendition of the iconic Cat Stevens song Morning Has Broken as she stands, arms wide open, in a warm summer rainfall to Chenowith’s Olive Snook mopping the floor of the pie shop as she laments with heartbreaking authenticity the Olivia Newton John classic Hoplessly Devoted To You, it seemed certain that Pushing Daisies would go down in the annals of television history as a future classic.
And, for many, it has.
So, why was it unceremoniously cancelled by ABC at the conclusion of the second season? According to executive producer Barry Sonnenfeld (Who, as a sidenote, also brought us such fun outings as The Addams Family Films, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events and the Men In Black franchise) he explained the untimely cancellation to the Huffington Post in 2017 like this:
“We were delayed almost a year, so we were never on long enough and consistently enough to build a word-of-mouth. And then the second issue is, I blame our scripts, in that I think they were slightly too cute. I wish they’d had a little bit more plot.” — Barry Sonnenfeld
Incorrect, Barry! Or throngs of devotees in both the media, on forums and social media wouldn’t still be mourning the loss ten years later! It certainly wouldn’t have gone on to achieve cult status, as it has.
The facts are these:
Pushing Daisies was a show ahead of it’s time. Long before the musical phenom that became Glee or the whimsical, dark Netflix comedy hit Santa Clarita Diet or the flurry of comic book movie adaptations, Pushing Daisies was the pioneer.
The show itself suffered lackluster marketing. While it generated a further embedded fanbase over time, most discovered the series long after it ended leaving more and more viewers wondering just what happened after the season two climax. The executives at ABC didn’t really give it a fair shot. Ratings slumped during the second season after viewers had waited almost an entire year only to pick up where the first had left off. There were no reruns, no opportunities to go back and binge watch the first season for a quick refresher, so the continuation of the story arc felt segmented- practically forgotten.
Over the years, the cast and show creator- the genius that is Bryan Fuller who had previously brought us another death-is-hilarious comedy, Dead like Me and the suburban comedy Wonder Falls– have all expressed their desire to one day see Pushing Daisies revisited. And there is no better time than now.
The terrain of television has changed dramatically in the decade since we prematurely bid adieu to the denizens of the fictional, idyllic town of Coeur d’Coeurs. Streaming services such as Hulu, Amazon and Netflix have dominated traditional television, usurping the tedium of weekly episodes in lieu of offering up entire seasons at once, that you can watch on demand (As I do frequently with Pushing Daises on my old DVD’s.) The increasingly demanding schedule of television- now more encumbered with reality shows than scripted series- makes it difficult to pencil in an hour to lounge in front of your screen to catch the action as it happens. Perhaps this is why showrunners like Shonda Rhimes and Ryan Murphy have abandoned weekly episodic entries, the latter in favor of a 300 million dollar Netflix development deal. The industry cannot deny that streaming services have aggregated a much bigger audience than traditional television. Stranger Things, for example, among countless others, only benefited.
We need Pushing Daisies now more than ever. In a heavily politicized climate and the onslaught of daily conflict, the uprising of hate, the emotionally taxing news that inundates us with devastating, depressing news, Pushing Daisies is the blue pill of escapism that we’re begging for.
Much to my delight, and that of countless others, Bryan Fuller- who is one of my personal writing idols- has launched a campaign to have Pushing Daisies replace the deservedly canceled Roseanne- a show whose fate I predicted 3 months ago in this article.
NOT TO BE OPPORTUNISTIC, BUT IF YOU’RE ITCHING TO FILL THAT #ROSEANNE SLOT WITH ANOTHER FORMER @ABCNetwork SHOW…
We need some magic, again. And maybe it’s time to bring this deserving gem back from the dead. That’s a fact.
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