Lee Pace in Pushing Daisies by Bob D'Amico/ABC
Could the third time be the charm? Being an eternal optimist when it comes to TV shows I love, I certainly hope so. For the third season in a row, the show I've picked as my favorite pilot of the fall season is on ABC, and once again, after two consecutive seasons of my pick failing to make the grade, this show's projected success is far from a slam dunk. But let me tell you why I believe, despite all logical skepticism to the contrary, that the dazzling "forensic fairy tale" called
has a shot at making it.
First, here's why my earlier picks didn't pan out. For one thing, both shows -
in 2006 - had the mixed fortune of being scheduled directly after
. (As we've learned, the
viewing experience is so intense and its fan base so obsessed that it's pure folly to put any show, especially a demanding one, after
.) Both shows were also exceedingly dark in tone, whereas
is bright, light and funny, despite a subtext of ever-present death.
's case, many viewers found its subtle creepiness off-putting and even boring, and by the time the story kicked into full gear midway through the season, it was too late. With
, the riveting pilot with its intense bank-hostage action sequences overshadowed the contemplative and unevenly portrayed aftermath story lines that followed. (
returns to finish out its truncated run Aug. 1, and I'm hearing good things about these six episodes.)
and its entirely different, thoroughly unique look and vibe. Diving into this enchanting show is like gorging on a delicious dessert with each bite giving off a new and unexpected pleasure. It's charmingly written by Bryan Fuller (
Dead Like Me, Wonderfalls, Heroes
) and stylishly directed by Barry Sonnenfeld (
Men in Black
), who promises to stay involved with this show longer than he did in his earlier forays into distinctive TV (
Karen Sisco, Maximum Bob, The Tick
). They achieve a tone that is part storybook fantasy (narrated by Jim Dale, every bit as engaging as he is on the
audiobooks), part unrequited love story, part wacky comedy, part whodunit procedural.
That's a lot of parts, and a lot more fun than it sounds. The fable-like premise, originally conceived by Fuller as a spin-off to
Dead Like Me
, introduces us to Ned, who as a small boy discovered he has the gift to bring the dead to life with a mere touch. But if he touches them again, they go to the great beyond for good. Sounds macabre, but the clever way it's played is anything but. Ned grows up into a sweet-souled but understandably awkward young man, adorably played by
' Lee Pace in a star-making role.
Ned is living a low-key existence operating a pie shop - his fruit pies, filled with rejuvenated fruit, are especially tempting mdash; until his gift of life and death is discovered by an opportunistic private eye (the always-welcome Chi McBride), who turns the show into the most offbeat of procedurals. Ned and the PI team up to solve crimes by bringing the victims back to life just long enough to figure out who killed them. (If the dead stay alive too long, there's a price to be paid as well.)
In the most pivotal twist, one of the victims turns out to be Chuck (actually Charlotte), Ned's boyhood sweetheart (the captivating Anna Friel), and when Ned uses his gift on her... suffice it to say the show takes off in yet another fascinating and heart-tugging direction.
Throw in a few more memorable characters played by theater pros - such as Broadway songbird Kristin Chenoweth (
The West Wing
) as Ned's adoring pie-shop waitress, and Swoosie Kurtz (
) and Ellen Greene (
Little Shop of Horrors
) as Chuck's bizarre aunts - and you've got the makings of a first-rate, highly flamboyant ensemble.
There's nothing on TV or elsewhere (perhaps in the Tim Burton canon) that remotely looks, sounds or magically enthralls the way
does. Holding court to the press at a Wednesday TCA session, Fuller and Sonnenfeld and their sparkling cast convinced me all over again just how special this show is. And not merely special, but fun.
Here's Fuller, an avowed Stephen King and
fan, on the show's tone: "[It has] that tricky balance between the sweetness and a little bit of darkness, but darkness not in any way that is too morbid or depressing. The show is a fun show. I think we all set out to try to do a show that was fun. I personally don't really like shows that are too serious. There's always the exception - like
, I think, is fantastic. But I can't watch
. It's just depressing. I don't want to see terrorism. All of our procedurals on this show are going to have that fun infused with them." For instance, in a case involving a whistle-blower, the plot will also deal with a car that runs on dandelions.
"So there's always going to [lend] a magical quality to the case that gives it some levity, so when we do have murders, they skew a little bit more
I'm sold, obviously. But can ABC, and the critics who've embraced
, sell the audience? It may not be easy, but there were a lot of unbelievers a year ago who doubted the chances for the equally lovable
, and look how well that turned out.
will be airing at 8 pm/ET, and it's being asked to launch an all-new night of ABC programming on Wednesday s(it's followed by
and the sudsy
Dirty Sexy Money
). Daisies' time-slot competition is a mixed bag of reality/game shows and only one scripted contender, which happens to be one of the fall's other hot prospects: Fox's Kelsey Grammer/Patricia Heaton sitcom
Back to You
There's any number of ways to analyze its chances, but as foolhardy as it sounds, I'm going with my heart and my gut and predicting that
will be more than a sleeper. It's a keeper.