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Pushing Daisies

Nicola Mostyn thinks TV should be getting more clever, not less…

Published on April 23rd 2008.

Pushing Daisies

I was going to talk about Sunday’s night’s Channel 5 documentary, Extraordinary People: Half Man Half Tree but it was just too sad and perplexing.

Quite frankly, even the briefest discussion of this 36-year-old Indonesian man’s debilitating wart infection - so extreme it had caused his hands and feet to sprout massive, root-like fibres would put you right off your mid-morning flapjack. Oh, sorry, were you already eating it?

Moving swiftly on, I had high hopes for the new ITV series Pushing Daisies, a US import with an interesting premise: a man with the gift of bringing the dead back to life revives his childhood crush, but there’s a snag. If he touches her again, she dies. For good.

More intriguingly, the role of the childhood crush, Chuck, is played by Rochdale’s very own Anna Friel, who I haven’t seen on screen since she butchered an Australian accent in the 1999 turkey Mad Cows. In Pushing Daises, she plays an American. Gulp.

Friel pops up in the first episode when Ned (who is a piemaker by trade and temporarily revives the deceased to solve their murders as a sideline) is called to investigate the demise of a young woman who was smothered with a plastic bag on a cruise ship. The girl is Chuck. Ned can’t bring himself to kill her again, so he lets her live, unable to touch her and feeling vaguely guilty that for every dead person kept alive for longer than one minute, someone else has to pop it.

The quirky clever central conceit of Pushing Daisies is matched by a striking whimsical style. It has a childlike, technicolour look, a knowing voiceover and a stylised script - it’s something like Amelie crossed with a Roald Dahl film; like Tim Burton lite. Or it wants to be. Unfortunately, it isn’t anywhere near that good.

With its bright colours and curious characters, the programme looks good enough to eat. But it just doesn’t deliver anything meaty. Instead there’s lots of repetition.

Chuck’s aunts are called: “The Darling Mermaid Darlings.” Her fateful trip was booked with the “Boutique Travel Travel Boutique.” She is the “dead girl who wasn’t dead.” This, plus the way the narrator lists how old people are to the day, hour, minute and second, may sound momentarily intriguing but these are really pointless, verbose fripperies – they don’t actually do anything.

In this way, Pushing Daisies suffers from an ailment which has been on the increase in American series’ - they have a huge amount of style but a decreasing amount of substance. As we get more and more used to watching television, it would surely make more sense if the stories got increasingly sophisticated. Instead, many are looking better but accomplishing less. Like Lost and Ugly Betty, Pushing Daisies is initially intriguing and aesthetically dazzling but, plot and theme wise, it achieves in an hour what it could have done in five minutes, and it challenges its audience not a jot.

Which is a shame because, actually, Anna Friel is really very good; she looks amazing and her American accent is spot on. Pity she couldn’t have got a part in Heroes, beginning its second series on BBC 2 on Thursday night. If you haven’t seen Heroes yet, cancel your social life, get down to your DVD shop immediately and rent the first series. So far this US import is showing no symptoms of the dreaded decreasing-substance disease and is an absolute gripper. You’d really have to be dead not to enjoy it.

Pushing Dasies, ITV, Saturdays, 9.05pm

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V. I. Lenin AirportApril 23rd 2008.

I always work on the assumption that if all the "critics" on the Radio Times frenziedly rave about some new American import that it will be a load of worthless old cack. It's worked for 'Friends', 'Lost' and I haven't seen 'Pushing Daisies' yet but I am quietly confident.

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