There's no mistaking Pushing Daisies for any other show on TV. Every episode features new supporting characters, new locations and new mysteries, but all of them fit into creator Bryan Fuller's whimsical, playfully sideways universe. The show bundles romance and comedy with tragic undertones, and flavors it with musical numbers, synchronized swimming routines, magic tricks and murder.
The show's second--and sadly abbreviated--season features 13 episodes, each loaded with more ideas than other series turn out in a full season. By the time you finish The Complete Second Season DVD set, you'll have walked the hexagonal offices of a honey empire, covertly played poker using a Chinese restaurant's elaborate code, walked through secret passageways in a nunnery and witnessed a traveling aquatics show that actually makes a traveling aquatics show seem appealing.
Lee Pace stars as The Pie Maker, aka Ned, who has a mysterious ability to bring the dead back to life by touching them. If he touches them again, they die. If he doesn't return them to their eternal slumber within a minute, a life-form of equal size has to die in their place. In the pilot episode, he brought back the love of his life, his childhood friend Chuck (Anna Friel), damning the consequences. Now she lives with him in hiding near his the restaurant The Pie Hole, but they can never touch each other.
While owning, operating and baking for a pie shop would no doubt be a taxing full-time job, Ned has a secondary source of income that takes up most of the show's time. He temporarily wakes the dead for Private Investigator Emerson Cod (Chi McBride) to uncover clues to murder mysteries. Of course, the victims--revived from a variety of comically gruesome deaths--never quite provide the information needed to easily solve the case, and Cod, Chuck, Ned and Olive (Kristin Chenoweth), the Pie Hole's plucky waitress, have to fill in the blanks. The shows are generally based around one mystery, with overarching main threads stretch through the series.
The writer's strike owns much of the blame for the failure of Pushing Daisies, and for the relatively slow start to season two. The show was earning a respectable audience after its debut, but only produced nine episodes before pencils went down. ABC decided not to order any extra episodes after the strike, leaving the show off the air for nearly a year before. By the time it returned, it had lost much of its momentum, and failed to regain its audience, prompting a premature cancellation.
While the two shortened seasons combine to equal a full season's worth of episodes, both feel fragmented. It's apparent that the writers felt the need to reboot a bit and reiterate some points to ensure its audience was up to speed. And while the opening episodes of season two are entertaining, it takes about four episodes for the series to really start charging forward.
Episode 5, "Dim Sum Lose Some" begins a fantastic five-episode arc involving Dwight, a sinister man played by Stephen Root with a friendly demeanor that makes his intentions all the more mysterious. Not just a great character in his own right, Dwight triggers an avalanche of story that leaves you longing for the next episode, even after no more are left. An old friend of Chuck and Ned's fathers, Dwight wants to locate Ned's, who abandoned The Pie Maker as a child and started a new family.
Dwight's prodding leads Ned to finally meet his twin half-brothers (Alex and Graham Miller), who were also abandoned by Ned's father. The sixth episode, centering around the twins' mentor's magic show, is one of series' funniest, and features memorable guest appearances by Paul F. Tomkins and Fred Willard. But the twins, along with many other characters, never reach their potential.
Due to the show's premature end, it's inevitable that all the story threads don't tie up satisfactorily. Indeed, the final episode essentially ends with a cliffhanger before it awkwardly segues into a quickie ending that was cobbled together in the editing room. It's a shame too, as the long-term story had become quite promising, especially the intriguing hints about Ned's father and developments surrounding Chuck's dead father. Unfortunately, fans of the show will have to be happy with what they have.
Warner Bros.' release of Pushing Daisies: The Complete Second Season spreads the season's 13 episodes across four discs--four each on the first three and one on the fourth, which also includes bonus features. The discs are all stuffed into one regular-sized DVD case that slides out of the cardboard cover sleeve looking like a beehive shelf--a clever reference to Chuck's beekeeping hobby and the honey-centered season premiere.
One of the most visually accomplished TV shows of all time, Pushing Daisies receives the quality picture it deserves. The lush, atmospheric color palette is maintained and the picture is crisp with no major compression artifacts. Each episode adds distinct new locations to the show's stylized universe, so there are always more visuals to marvel at.
Sometimes the show's ambitions outweigh its budget, however, and the computer-generated effects aren't remotely convincing. Fortunately, the show isn't going for realism, but the cheap visuals are still a distraction.
The disc includes a well-balanced, nicely separated 5.1 Dolby track that accurately reproduces the actors' performances, the sound effects, the musical numbers, and composer Jim Dooley's smart score. If you prefer a stereo mix, you'll have to watch the show in Portuguese. The disc is loaded with subtitles in English, French, Spanish, Chinese, Portugese and Thai.
The four extra featurettes included on Pushing Daisies: The Complete Second Season are tasty, but the portions are small. Given all the detail that went into each episode, an audio commentary would have been welcome. Instead, we have a collection of shorts that combine to equal a brief tour of the production process.
The Master Pie Maker: Inside the Mind of Creator Bryan Fuller jumps off from a discussion of Fuller's work on the show and becomes more of a general overview of the production process, including writing, casting, production design, cinematography, propmaking and makeup.
From Oven to Table: Crafting a Script Idea into Reality focuses on the special effects and makeup process for the deaths, which always produce the most peculiar corspes. The short centers around the creation of a character who melts into a fried egg. The fast-paced TV production schedule makes the effects efforts all the more impressive.
Secret Sweet Ingredients: Spotlight on Composer Jim Dooley's Work explores the scoring process with composer James Dooley, who won an Emmy for his work in season one.
Add a Little Magic: Executing Some Giant-Sized Visual Effects outlines the process behind creating a Rhino-attack sequence (hint: they didn't use a real Rhino). While the computer effects on the show often show their limitations, the process is still fun to watch.
There's also a skippable ad for Blu-ray at the start of disc one.
The disc allows you to watch an entire disc's worth of episodes in one sitting or use the episode index. That index includes another nice feature: the ability to universally turn the episode recap on and off, so you don't have to skip it or watch it separately.
It's a shame that Pushing Daisies never got the chance to realize its full potential, but at least we have the existing episodes available on DVD. (Reportedly a comic book that will tie up the loose ends is forthcoming.) While light on extras, this set will be a welcome addition for fans of the show.
Jeremy Mathews has been subjecting films to his criticism since 2000. He has contributed to several publications, including Film Threat, Salt Lake City Weekly, the Salt Lake Tribune, In Utah This Week and The Wasatch Journal. He also runs the blog The Same Dame and fronts the band NSPS.