I never use the word “magical” to describe things, because I don’t want to have to beat myself up and steal my own lunch money. But the first season of Pushing Daisies… yeah, kinda magical. It’s one of only two shows (see also #6) that I fell in love with right from the jump.
Pushing Daisies was created by future Hannibal showrunner Bryan Fuller. Something you’ll never want to do is watch an episode of both shows back to back, you’ll get a nosebleed. But Pushing Daisies actually is the same kind of show as Hannibal, even if it’s completely different tonally and aesthetically. It’s a closed off man with a unique gift solving elaborate murders, but told like a storybook. There’s bright whimsical sets and grisly dead bodies. Snappy, witty dialogue about suffocation and grave robbing. Love and longing, grief and clinical depression. Pie and honey, blood and formaldehyde.
I’ll never know why this show ever really caught on. A man who can wake the dead with a touch, ask the victim how they died, touch them again to send them back, then solve the murder? And his girlfriend is undead and he can never touch her? And Chi McBride is the cynical P.I. with a heart of gold and Kristin Chenoweth is singing all the damn time? How are there not eight DVD box sets on my shelf right now?
Luckily, they pretty much got to do all their best stories right up front. Even though the writer’s strike cut the legs out from under the show, I was SO satisfied with this season that I ultimately would have felt that Pushing Daisies had fully lived up to its potential, even if it never come back for a second, also truncated second season.
Eight out of nine of the episodes are fantastic. I don’t know if there’s such a thing as a perfect season of TV, but as we move up the list, we get closer and closer. They’re stuffed, possibly even overstuffed, with humor, romance, narration, primary colors, delicious looking food, morgue visits, golden retrievers, beautiful music, surreal set design, and synchronized swimming. The sheer density of every episode makes it an endlessly rewatchable season for me, all these years later.
If I have a TV equivalent of a happy place, it’s Pushing Daisies. This is maybe the most feel good show I’ve ever felt. I can enjoy the romance unironically and yet not overdose on sweetness, because the show is just macabre and snarky enough to balance it out. This is the show I’d never realized I’d wanted all my life.
If I Had to Nitpick…: The seventh episode, “Smell of Success,” centering on exploding pop-up books and Paul Reubens as a sewer worker with a heightened sense of smell. There’s nothing wrong with it. But when the other eight episodes are these wonderful little slices of whimsical brilliance, the one episode that’s merely “good” can’t help but pale in comparison.
Notable Episodes: Best of the best? “Pie-Lette,” the first episode for all other first episodes to beat. “The Fun in Funeral,” which automatically continues the greatness by acting as a sequel to said pilot. And “Bitches,” which dips into Alfred Hitchcock territory as only Pushing Daisies can.