The facts are these: Episode two of Pushing Daisies absolutely kept up the whimsical tone and magical visuals of its pilot, along with some wonderfully sweet moments featuring our two protagonists.
In other words, it had just about all the things that a lot of us were worried it wouldn’t have after its beautifully executed pilot. And yet I come away with not nearly as much of the warm feeling I had after watching that first episode.
I’m not sure why that is, exactly. I didn’t figure on a Kristin Chenoweth musical number until at least November sweeps. And the narration was, once again, too much — and that, I think, is more of the problem. Relying as much as it does on Jim Dale’s voiceover, the show is danger of telling its stories more than it shows them.
Do we need the narrator telling us Chuck has a lot of questions, right before Chuck says, "I have so many questions," or describing the mixture of feelings Ned has at a crucial point in the story rather than letting Lee Pace just act? A show this visually arresting, and employing actors as good as they are, shouldn’t need that many words on top of it all. We don’t need that much extra help in getting that it’s a fairy tale.
Especially when the words the characters speak are so good. Lines like "When you turn over a rock, do you find whipped cream? No, you get worms" and "You love secrets. You want to marry secrets and have little half-secret, half-human babies" are not the kind of thing you hear on television every day. More of that, and less being led by a narrator’s hand, would serve it well.
This week’s case, in keeping with the theme of the episode, was all about secrets as well. Ned and Emerson are on the trail of whoever killed a safety inspector for a car company. Except that, on account of Chuck asking him all sorts of unrelated questions, he only reveals that a crash-test dummy killed him before his alive-again minute is up.
That little shred of evidence leads them to the Dandy Lion car company, which is about to go public with a car that runs on fuel made from dandelions and is, of course, very, very cute. It’s also, as it turns out, a deathtrap, and the company CEO killed the safety inspector in order to cover up this fact and allow his life’s work to go forward.
As mysteries go, this wasn’t on the level of, say, The Usual Suspects. And that’s fine — this show is not going to live or die on the strength of its cases of the week. It’s going to survive if people buy into the world it inhabits. Director Barry Sonnenfeld (who helmed this week’s episode as well as the pilot) has done an excellent job with the look. Creator Bryan Fuller and his fellow writers have managed to slip in some moments of dark humor and cynicism (thanks mostly to the fabulous Chi McBride) that undercut some of the cuteness.
Now the show needs to move beyond that. Let’s see a little more of Ned learning to open up emotionally and welcome Chuck back into his life. His gesture at the end of the episode, with the divider and hand-holding glove in the car? Incredibly sweet (and almost devoid of narration). If Pushing Daisies can bring more of those moments, and avoid the temptation to keep talking over them, I think it will be better off in the long run.
Or am I just being too harsh? How did Pushing Daisies hold up for you in its second week?