Pushing Daisies, ABC
A.V. Club; CW Seed; Dread Central; IMDb; TV.com; TV Tropes; TWoP; Warner Bros. (s1) (s2); Wikia; Wikipedia
Well, it was instantly clear, from pretty much the first minute of the very first episode, what category I would be putting this show under: "quirky" (even if it does have a supernatural element as its core premise). But it's more than that, it's... whimsical. It begins in the small town of Couer d'Couers (Heart of Hearts). By the end of the first episode, you should realize that a lot of things in this series are somewhat repetitively named, and rather than being irritating, it's actually quite charming. (There's also a great deal of symmetry in the show. And amazingly poetic prose, and dialog that makes me wish Doctor Seuss, Mother Goose, Hans Christian Andersen, and the Brothers Grimm would have gotten together to write 1930s screwball comedies.) The series is narrated in a quite whimsical, delightful, storybook fashion, like a children's fairy tale (lots of shows in recent years have had narrators, and it's generally a nice touch, but the style of narration here is particularly pleasant, cozy, warm, enchanting... choose whatever adjective you like). There's an innocence and simplicity to it all that's just... so... charming. But like the best fairy tales or ostensible children's stories (especially the modern ones, such as A Series of Unfortunate Events), it's somewhat twisted.
But back to Couer d'Couers. It starts with a scene of a boy named Ned (no last name given), running through a field of bright yellow daisies (and a few scattered white ones) with his dog, Digby. The narrator tells us exactly how old they both are, to the minute, but I'll just say Ned was 9. There'll be some more exacting measurements of time in the show, which is one trope that I felt at the time would get old, if they continued to use it. Never really did end up bothering me much as the series progressed, though. In any event, Digby, before the first minute of the first episode has passed, gets hit by a truck and dies. That's when Ned discovers his gift, given to him by no one in particular, of bringing the dead back to life with a touch. The gift comes with a couple of caveats, which he will soon enough discover.
But first we learn that young Ned is in love with his neighbor, 8-year-old Chuck (whose proper name, we learn later, is Charlotte Charles). Returning quickly to the show's premise, Ned's mother dies, and he brings her back to life. One minute later, Chuck's father dies. Ned would come to realize this will happen any time he allows someone he's brought back to life to continue living for longer than one minute; someone else nearby will die. Later that night, Ned's mother died when she kissed him good night. This is how he learned that while one touch gives life to someone who's died, a second takes it away again... permanently. (Seems a bit unfair that this can leave two people dead rather than bringing the latter victim back, but it's important that you simply go along with whatever conceit the Narrator throws at you.)
After the funeral, Ned's father would send him to boarding school, while Chuck would be raised by her reclusive aunts, Lily and Vivian. They were once a synchronized swimming pair called the Darling Mermaid Darlings. Now the two of them never leave the house, and they have various shared personality disorders. So Chuck spends her life looking after them. Of course, before Ned and Chuck were separated by their respective fates, they had, at their respective parents' side-by-side funeral(s), their first and only kiss. From then on, Ned would avoid social attachments.
19 years later, Ned is known as The Pie Maker. He makes his pies in a little bakery called The Pie Hole. He can bring spoiled fruit back to life to make his pies, if, of course, he only touches it once. There is a waitress at the Pie Hole, Olive Snook, who is also Ned's neighbor. She looks after Digby, who is still alive and young, which makes me wonder if Ned's touch gives not just resurrection but everlasting life and youth. Because that's pretty old for a dog. Anyway, Ned obviously never touches Digby. And he avoids touching Olive (not that there's any need of that, since she has never died, as yet), which makes her want him to touch her. Of course, she doesn't know his secret....
Only one other person knows, a private investigator named Emerson Cod. One day he was chasing a murderer, who died in the chase, and Emerson saw Ned accidentally bring the perp back to life and then take his life away again. After that, Emerson made a deal with Ned, to bring murder victims back to life (for less than a minute) so they could tell him the name of their killer, and Ned and Emerson could split the reward money for solving the cases. Ned was reluctant to accept, but the Pie Hole wasn't doing so well financially, so he had little choice. By the way, flashbacks work as a neat (and frequent) little storytelling device for the show.
Anyway, I want to say... I like the acting on the show, as well as the writing and narration and... cinematography, or whatever. Ned seems rather disconnected, if mostly for obvious reasons. But at the same time, he's a nice guy, he obviously cares about people... especially the people he brings so briefly back to life. Well, he can be, by turns (or depending upon the subject), either taciturn or garrulous, though either way perhaps a bit neurotic. Emerson, on the other hand, is slightly more hardened, but I wouldn't say callous. He seems to take the oddity of his partner's gift remarkably in stride, at any rate. Olive seems somewhat ditzy, at first, but... once you get to know her, it's clear that first impressions can be deceiving. And as for Chuck....
Ned has thought of her every day since he last saw her at the funeral(s) when they were children. But he hasn't seen her since then. Until she dies. The news report at first couldn't identify her, but he felt connected to the victim somehow. And that made sense when Emerson told him her name: Charlotte Charles. She had been choked to death with a plastic sack and thrown off the cruise ship on which she was vacationing, for the first time in her life. Emerson wants to take the case and learn who her killer was, to claim a $50,000 reward. Ned brings Chuck back to life and they have an... interesting reunion. But she doesn't know who killed her. Without thinking, Ned lets a minute pass, and the funeral director, who was in another room, dies. Don't worry though, he frequently stole from the dead people in his care, so he was a bad person. In any event, Ned decides to let Chuck go on living, though at first he hides this fact from Emerson.
Chuck is a very sunny person. She was always fairly happy with her life, limited as it was, never leaving her aunts' home until her fateful trip. She kept bees so she could make honey for the homeless, I don't think anything sums her up more succinctly than that. Well, she takes her death and resurrection remarkably in stride. She's happy to reconnect with Ned. Their relationship is really an incredible storybook romance, with a certain tragic twist, that they can never touch, or else she'd die again. (This kind of puts me in mind of Rogue from the "X-Men" comics & movies.) But there are lots of little scenes between them, little things that happen which, in the hands of lesser writers and actors, could easily come off as unbearably corny. But here, these things... are corny, but not unbearably so. What they are is almost unbearably, deliciously sweet and romantic and if tears don't once well up in your eyes, then I feel very sorry for you.
Chuck shows up incognito at the Pie Hole, though Emerson recognizes her. And takes her continued life in stride, even if he's not happy with his partner's actions, or rather half-actions. She wants in on the investigation of who killed her and why. She also wants the biggest cut of the reward, seeing as she actually died for it. When Ned claims "I'm not a detective, I make pies," she says "You can't just touch somebody's life and be done with it." And his deadpan reply, "Yes I can, that's how I roll," is... I just loved it. Just a bit later, Emerson is talking to Ned alone, and says he's surprised Ned did something so stupid (as letting Chuck keep living). He asks, "Are you in love with her? 'Cause it's that level of stupid." Which is another awesome line. More fast-paced banter, leading to Ned's revelation to Emerson that he had killed Chuck's father, and she still doesn't know. And it leads to Emerson asking who died in Chuck's place, and Ned hands him a paper open to the funeral director's obit, at which point he says "It's a random proximity thing," to which Emerson replies, "Bitch, I was in proximity!" LOL! (Is a review a good place to insert a "LOL"? I don't care. I have to do it.) Which is something I had actually been thinking myself in the earlier scene at the funeral home.
Well, I've dwelt too long on the pilot episode, so I'll try to move on. They eventually discovered the motive behind Chuck's murder, but it... didn't really feel resolved to me. Whatever, after that case is basically closed, Chuck joins Ned and Emerson's team on a more permanent basis, much to Emerson's annoyance. Of course, they often have to visit the morgue to resurrect dead people in the course of their investigations. There's a coroner who... doesn't know what Ned does, but clearly he knows something odd is going on. I like the way he rather skeptically takes this in stride.
Anyway... aside from all the comically quirky homicide investigations, and more corny yet adorably bittersweet romance between Ned and Chuck, there's always plenty of other stuff going on. Olive eventually learns that Chuck is supposed to be dead, and assumes she faked her death. She starts bringing pies to Lily and Vivian, to comfort them. Also she continues to pine for Ned, and though she's jealous of Chuck, they eventually become friends. And eventually Ned can't help but tell Chuck the truth about her father, which understandably upsets her for awhile, so she leaves... but of course, she comes back before too long.
What else? There are various recurring characters, I suppose. So many strange and interesting and amusing and cute things happen in this show. I just love all the characters, all the fast-paced banter, all the mysteries, all the romance and quirkiness, all the bright colors and whatnot... I dunno. It's impossible to fully describe what the show is like, you just have to watch it. No doubt I'm forgetting plenty of things I should say, and intentionally leaving out other things to avoid spoilers. But I'll mention that the series was cancelled after two seasons, which really hurt because I just adore it so much....