I'm going to go out on a limb here. I've watched a lot of television in my life, logging in more hours than I'd ever want to count. And I have to go back to the debut of Twin Peaks to find a pilot episode that excited me more than the one that aired tonight for Pushing Daisies. The show has a distinctive narrative and visual style that melds the best qualities of its creative team, writer Bryan Fuller and director Barry Sonnenfeld, and it's darkly funny and quirky without being precious.
The premise alone is odd enough. Young Ned (Lee Pace) discovers that he can bring dead things to life with just one touch, but he tragically discovers some drawbacks to the power: a second touch will cause the revived person to irrevocably die, and if the deceased is revived for more than one minute, someone within the general proximity will die in his or her place. Ned runs a bakery called "The Pie Hole," and uses his powers to revive dead fruit for his pies. On the side, he also works with a private detective (Chi McBride) to investigate murders by reviving corpses and asking who their murderers were.
The opening episode does a great job of being a self-contained story while also setting up the status quo well, with a cast of goofy characters and a nice promise of ongoing romantic tension, as Ned revives his dead first love, Charlotte, in order to investigate her murder. Bryan Fuller has found an excellent way to avoid the shark-jumping problem that plagues most series based on romantic tension: if Charlotte and Ned touch, she goes back to being dead.
Though there isn't anything like this on television, it's hard to call it unique. As the review in today's New York Times noted, this series owes a lot to the film Amelie, especially in its quirky tone, visual style, and use of voice-over narration. However, it also feels very much like a work of its creators. It has the same dark humor as Fuller's Dead Like Me, and director Barry Sonnenfeld's visual style creates a bright, colorful, and distinctive world for this series in a way similar to what he created for the Addams Family movies (though not so bright and colorful there, of course).
I hope this series manages to live up to the potential of its pilot. And I don't want to be pessimistic, but I also hope the series gets a chance to live up to its potential. As a smart, dark comedy set just slightly outside of reality, it may be a hard sell to a general audience, but it has all the markings of a cult hit. It would be great if ABC allowed this series to find its niche audience and then would be satisfied with that, but I think that amounts to wishful thinking. At best, word of mouth will spread enough to give this series a vocal following that will keep it afloat for a while.
The website for the show also features a promotional comic that appears to be put together by Wildstorm. The comic was written by series creator Bryan Fuller and drawn by both Zach Howard and Cameron Stewart.
ABC hasn't put the pilot episode up on its site yet, but hopefully they will so that people who missed tonight's episode can check it out. I saw very little publicity for the series, and I only watched because of the positive New York Times review, but I hope the positive response draws some extra support from the network.