If case you’ve missed it, ABC is pulling a fast one on viewers. A new series airing on Wednesday nights called “Pushing Daisies” is not what it appears to be.
On the surface, the show seems to revolve around a character with a strange ability. He can bring the dead back to life with a single touch – and with another touch, they permanently die again. However, if the re-animated corpse stays up for more than a minute, something else has to die in its place to restore the balance. Fairy Tale material to be sure, but no more fanciful than anything Heroes or Bionic Woman are pushing our way. So what is so different lurking beneath the surface?
For that, we have to pay a little more attention to that surface layer – and the first thing that stands out is a rich palette of strong, bold colors. Those hues are mixed in a surreal visual style that takes it completely out of any known time and place. The building depicted here – “The Pie Hole” – looks more at home in the land of Super Mario or the Smurfs than it does at the base of an office building. All of the textures and architecture are designed to remind you of something, yet of nothing in particular.
Above the din of the visual noise we have a soothing narrator to help move the story along. Jim Dale provides a tone of inevitable calm as he makes the plot seem comfortable enough to be almost normal. His voice is reminiscent of many Rankin-Bass stop-motion classics – and exactly like the guy who read the Harry Potter books on tape. (Well, the last one he did do.) That gives us a disconcerting simultaneous push and pull. The creators are reminding us that we’re watching something obviously fanciful, yet lulled into accepting it is familiar.
Here, we have our main characters. Ned, who has the Lazarus touch (lite); and Chuck, the first girl he ever kissed. Ned brought Chuck back to life by mistake, and didn’t have the heart to send her back. He’s keeping her around out of a sense of guilt – as little boy Ned used his power to re-animate his mother, in the process, sending Chuck’s dad to an untimely and unexplained demise.
Now, let’s add in the private eye who knows Ned’s secret. They use his power to re-animate murder victims and try to pull enough info out of a 60-second interrogation so they can solve crimes and claim reward money. But this show isn’t about murder mysteries, and it isn’t about being clever. All of these machinations are required for us to get to the point of the allegory: Virtual relationships.
Part of the long-term tension of the series will be the feelings Ned and Chuck share for each other. Ned’s being rooted in the past, Chuck’s rooted in the future she now has thanks to Ned. And unlike other primetime shows that rely on sexual tension to stir the chemistry, we’re not too concerned about them hooking up. The moment Ned touches Chuck, she dies. Forever.
Already, the producers are revealing some of the clever ways they will be able to share the same space without risking an accidental contact. They hold their own hands behind their backs, as though they were holding each other. There is a plastic privacy cage in the center of Ned’s console, to keep Chuck safely on her side. There’s even an “airlock glove” installed through the window, so they can hold hands. Almost.
How do we have relationships with people we cannot touch? This will be the long-running question posed by the series. And for those of us interested in the emergence of online communities – there ought to be some pretty interesting lessons gleaned from it. It’s clear the writers and producers have some clear ideas already. Let’s see how many of them will apply to our new frontiers of communication.
[tags]Ike Pigott, Occam’s RazR, allegory, storytelling, ABC, Pushing Daisies, pop culture, TV[/tags]