In the September edition of The Atlantic Monthly, Michael Hirschorn, using Wes Anderson, Ira Glass and Napoleon Dynamite as examples, decided that American popular culture is "drowning in quirk."
And though I didn't agree with a lot of his piece--you cannot slam both Wes Anderson and Arrested Development in the same article and expect to get a Christmas card from me--it was all I could think about as I sat through what, in my estimation, is the worst new show of the Fall Television season.
I'm talking about Pushing Daisies, a show so quirky...so precious...so delicate...so cloying...so amazingly and almost irrationally annoying that I cannot believe it got such great advanced press on the interweb. How anyone could like this hideous rip-off of Amelie, The Addams Family and every Tim Burton movie this side of Big Fish is seriously beyond my comprehension. There was not one moment in the pilot episode that felt truthful and honest. It was all quirky layer after quirky layer with a side order of horrendous narration--Jim Dale does the honors, trying his damnedest to sound like Frontline's Will Lyman, but failing miserably.
Honestly, Pushing Daisies just really made me want to gag.
Ned (Lee Pace, so bland that he looks destined to star as "CIA Agent #3" in the next Bourne movie) is a simple pie maker (quirk #1), who has a nifty talent: he can bring the dead back to life by touching them (quirk #2), but only for 60 seconds (quirk #3), after which he must touch them to return them back to the netherworld (quirk #4). Now if he doesn't touch them after the 60 seconds are up, another person in the near vicinity, but not anyone who is a regular show cast member obviously, has to die (quirk #5).
Along with his partner, a Private Detective named Emerson Cod (Chi McBride, playing the same role he's played in every single thing he's been in since The Frighteners)--oh and yes, you read that properly, his name is Emerson Cod (quirk #6)--Ned uses his magical superpower to solve murder mysteries (quirk #7). And to the surprise of no one who has ever watched television, Ned and Emerson stumble upon a murder involving Ned's childhood sweetheart, Charlotte Charles (Anna Friel, so lifeless she gets out-acted by a dog), or as Ned calls her, "Chuck" (quirk #8). Wouldn't you know it, Ned brings Chuck back to life, but can't bring himself to re-touch her, meaning she's alive and kicking. Only now, he can never touch her again or he risks losing her forever.
In case you were wondering, that means no kissing.
Oh and I didn't even mention Chuck's two aunts (a one-eyed Swoozie Kurtz and an ancient Ellen Page), who used to be synchronized swimmers (quirk #8), love cheese (quirk #9) and haven't left their Addams Family mansion in years (quirk #10). Or the incredibly tiny Kristen Chenowith playing Olive Snook (quirk #11), a waitress in the pie shop who has an unrequited crush on Ned.
The quirkiness is literally unrelenting. This is a show that would make Wes Anderson and Ira Glass look like the cool kids in the high school cafeteria.
Bryan Fuller has had a history of producing cult television shows to various levels of success. Dead Like Me got a second season on Showtime, but it never really broke through the zeitgeist. Wonderfalls was a commercial failure, but I know for a fact all the nerds who read Aint-It-Cool treat that show like it's M*A*S*H. And of course, Heroes was his big score, combining cult cool and broad popularity into one smash hit.
With Pushing Daisies, however, Fuller is forcing it. He's created a television show that is desperately trying to be "cult." Everything about Pushing Daisies is false and just smacks of overzealousness. The show is corporate ideals masked as individualistic originality--as if a group of suits got together and tried to create something "original." It all makes Pushing Daisies extremely transparent and extremely unlikeable.