Tuned In

Test Pilot: Pushing Daisies

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Test Pilot is a semiregular feature this summer sharing my first impressions of the pilots for next fall’s shows. These aren’t reviews, since these pilots can be rewritten, recast and retooled before airing, and the shows that eventually get on the air can prove much better or worse. But, premature opinions are why God invented the Internet, so let’s get on with…

The Show: Pushing Daisies, ABC

The Premise: Ned (Lee Pace) is a pie maker who discovered as a child that he has an unusual power: He can raise people (and dogs and flies…) from the dead by touching them. There are two catches: If he touches them again, they die again, forever. And if he leaves them resurrected for more than a minute, someone else dies to take their place. He forms a partnership with a private eye (Chi McBride); Ned temporarily brings murder victims back to life, asks them who killed them, ices them again and they split the reward. But one day, the murder victim is the love of Ned’s life since childhood, Chuck (Anna Friel). He leaves her alive–but can never touch her again.

First Impressions: The dialogue is outstanding, as you’d expect from creator Bryan Fuller (Wonderfalls). And as you’d expect from producer Barry Sonnenfeld, the look is… stylized. Really stylized. Hurts-your-eyes stylized. The two leads are adorable, which counts big in a romantic comedy. All around, the pilot is well-crafted and a pleasure to watch. On the other hand, even by the standards of a fantasy, the premise is a bit overengineered. (The whole one-minute-resurrection window, for instance, seems to exist only to make sure you’re not turned off by Ned’s re-killing the murder victims.) And for a show about life and death, it’s never clear how serious the stakes are supposed to be. For instance, Chuck’s awfully cavalier about sitting inches away from a guy who’d snuff her instantly if he sneezed too hard.

Do I Want to Watch Another One?: Definitely, on the strength of the writing and performances alone. But whether I keep watching depends on whether there is some ongoing storyline–which the pilot doesn’t really get at–or if this is just a quirky procedural. I’m not sure I’m ready to commit if this is just Zombie Moonlighting.