I think in the last four years since I began reviewing new shows I’ve seen five truly spectacular new pilots. However it’s interesting that the first four of those – Lost, Veronica Mars, Wonderfalls and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip – I no longer watch. Studio 60 never came close to matching what it put up in that first hour. Lost lost me about half way through the second season. And while I would curse the network for cancelling Veronica Mars, the sad fact is that people didn’t watch it. The show was loved my critics and geeks, and yet it couldn’t draw three million people a week. As for Wonderfalls, well, Fox did everything in its power to screw that show from the start.
Yet each one of them managed to put their best foot forward in that first hour (well, maybe not Veronica Mars, which also managed to do some spectacular season finales). The first 15 minutes of Lost, for example, remain the most intense television I’ve seen in the past five years. It takes something special to make a really good pilot episode. The risk is that can you keep it up afterwards?
That’s what I thought while watching Pushing Daisies. This might change, but it’s obviously the best pilot of the new season and one of the best in recent years. It’s funny, creative, weird, has the best set design and visual palate of anything out there right now and is just a lot of fun. But I have no idea how they can keep this up. I can’t see how, but then again, the show has writers who are vastly more talented than I am and who get paid lots of money, so I’m hopeful they can dream something up.
In about as cool and strange a five minute origin sequence as I’ve seen in many years, the show opens with Ned (Lee Pace) discovering the rules of the game at age 10. He can bring the dead back to life with a touch. If he touches them again within 60 seconds, they die again. If he leaves them alive longer than 60 seconds, something else dies in its place (a dog lives, a nearby chipmunk snuffs it. A human lives, another human nearby dies). Oh, if he ever touches the person he’s brought back to life again, even if it’s after 60 seconds, they’re gone again, permanently. The five minutes where he discovers all of this manage to be surreal, funny, sad and touching all at the same time.
Skip ahead a bunch of years. Ned is now running a pie restaurant and using his abilities with a PI to solve murder cases. He resurrects the dead for a minute (who seem pretty cheerful, all things considered), find out how they died, then sends them back on their way. Once he knows what happens, they tell the appropriate people and collect a reward for more information.
Except this goes wrong when he tries to solve the death of a woman who he had a big crush on as a child and hasn’t seen since he first discovered his abilities. He brings her back, but is unable to send her back (“His lips could go no further and, as a result, the undertaker would go no further” says the loopy voice narrating events.). Now she’s back, they both have deep crushes on each other, but can’t touch because if he does, she dies.
This is all deeply strange and the explanation about how the whole resurrection thing thing works should seem terribly contrived. And yet, the writers pull it off with confidence. There's no winking at the camera or mugging. It's a neat writing trick that the actors also pull off.
It’s also a deeply cute show. You can’t look at the two leads and think they’re anything other than revoltingly, charmingly cute. I should have gone into diabetic shock, but didn't. Again, another neat trick. However that doesn’t change the fact that I think the show is doomed. In case you haven’t noticed, American TV programming punishes innovation far more often than it rewards it. As I read somewhere recently, people bemoan the lack of innovating programming on TV. But the reality is that networks do try innovative shows. It’s just that the public doesn’t watch them. At some point, people in suits pick up on that and give us another CSI clone or more dancing with borderline famous people.
In other words, how about giving this a shot. Because really, Dancing with the Stars makes me want to puke.
And speaking of cookie cutter, unoriginal shows….
There was little chance I was going to like this show. I only watched it because Cathy had it on and I was playing around on the computer. It’s a spin-off of Grey’s Anatomy, which I hate. Although that mostly has to do with Meredith Grey who is, by a wide margin, the most annoying character on television for me right now. Fortunately, she’s not on this show. Instead there is Addison (Kate Walsh), who just looks weird to me.
Seriously, have you ever seen an attractive woman and yet you know there is something deeply wrong with her face? That’s who Walsh is to me. I’m trying to figure out if it’s surgery, being botoxed to within an inch of her life or just wacky genetics. But there is something wrong with that woman's face.
The show is about some kind of strange private clinic in LA where people that don’t look like they could afford this kind of hospital can not only magically visit it, but also have the doctors do house calls. Plus there’s all kinds of the strange interpersonal wackiness that people who love Grey’s will probably love here. This week, we have a baby switch, some mystery poisoning and a stripper that causes issues with the female staff members.
I was bored. The characters all seem annoying to me. I can’t conceive of watching this anymore than I already have. But as I said, this isn’t a show designed for me. It’s not a show designed for heterosexual men, to be honest. I can’t see many watching it unless they have wives going “I watch your crap shows, now you’re going to watch my crap show.”
I sort of liked Dirty, Sexy Money last week and both of these shows are in the same soap operaish territory. The difference is that DSM at least has a bit of a wicked sense of humour. This is just 60 minutes of punishment.