Why ‘Pushing Daisies’ is the perfect quarantine show: it has pies, singalongs and characters who can’t touch

Why ‘Pushing Daisies’ is the perfect quarantine show: it has pies, singalongs and characters who can’t touch

As my mother triumphantly showed off the 22-lb. bag of flour she got from Food Basics, I immediately knew that pies would be in order as Ontario berries will soon be hitting the market.

And that reminded me of my favourite pie-centric show, a 2007 dark ABC comedy called “Pushing Daisies” that lasted for two seasons (and also aired on CTV). It occurred to me that it’s the perfect show to watch while self-isolating at home. It has everything: pies galore, singalongs, agoraphobia and even social distancing before it became a thing.

Stay with me on the premise: its protagonist, a neurotic pie-maker named Ned (played by the internet’s six-foot-four boyfriend Lee Pace), has the mysterious Midas touch of resurrecting all things dead: rotten produce, bees, his dog that got hit by a car, and even murder victims who have died in the most outlandish (and sometimes comically gruesome) ways, the latter of which results in Ned being recruited by a private eye to solve a different kooky case each episode.

Ned’s romantic interest is his childhood sweetheart Chuck (a.k.a. Charlotte, played by English actor Anna Friel) who was, naturally, mistakenly killed on a cruise but brought back to life by Ned.

The catch is that if Ned touches whatever he resurrects a second time, they die again and cannot be brought back. So, besides the whodunnit mystery-of-the-week, the series shows how Ned navigates his relationship with his undead girlfriend (and his undead dog that must be at least 20 human years in the show) without physical contact. Relatable, no?

Despite the dark premise, creator Bryan Fuller — who is responsible for other short-lived, cult-favourite shows such as “Hannibal,” “Wonderfalls” and “Dead Like Me” — built a visually stunning, twee fairy-tale world that ticks all the boxes for the low-stakes escapism we need right now.

The sets are hyper-saturated in delicious Tim Burton and Wes Anderson-like colours (Ned’s pie shop has a pie crust as a roof!). The wardrobe takes inspiration from everything from barbershop quartets to mid-century housewives to wacky tchotchke-collecting aunts from the 1970s. A cast stacked with musical theatre heavyweights such as Ellen Greene (“Little Shop of Horrors”) and Kristin Chenoweth (“Wicked”), who won an Emmy for the show, means plenty of musical interludes for those who are still replaying clips from the recent Sondheim 90th birthday concert and “Disney Family Singalong.”

It’s an enthralling show with rapid-fire “Gilmore Girls”-esque dialogue that taps at the feelings we have now.

Greene and fellow Broadway star Swoosie Kurtz play Chuck’s eccentric, ex-synchronized swimming, agoraphobic aunts who, throughout the series, make small steps to venture outside again. Greene’s soft rendition of “Morning Has Broken,” while stepping outside for the first time in decades, is haunting, hopeful and a reminder that despite the uncertainty the world is a beautiful place.

Ned and Chuck make things work in sweet, quirky ways. They slow-dance while wearing beekeeper suits, kiss through plastic wrap and hold their own hands while pretending it’s the other person’s.

Of course, this show is not a primer on how to actually socially distance since it aired 13 years before COVID-19 and, you know, it’s about a baker who brought his girlfriend back from the dead.

But home bakers can look to Ned’s pie shop for inspiration. Various pop culture and recipe sites have catalogued the more memorable pies featured on the show, including brownie sundae pie, pear and gruyère, and something called a three-plum pie.

There are certain shows that have long ended their runs but have seen a resurgence in popularity as people stay home.

Culture critics have rewatched “Mad Men” to relate to its characters reacting to catastrophic historical events. The U.S. version of The Office is still going strong; John Krasinski’s Some Good News channel on YouTube recently had a cast reunion as part of a virtual wedding of two diehard fans. “Hyori’s Bed and Breakfast” (available on Netflix) is being streamed again for its wholesome depiction of a veteran Korean pop star and her producer husband turning their countryside home into a B&B.

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“Pushing Daisies” was a show ahead of its time and resonates more than ever since it aired more than a decade ago.

Give it a watch, whether it’s to commiserate with the aunts afraid to venture out, the lovers unable to embrace each other or the bakers who make pies out of stress. Or just appreciate a fanciful world with musical interludes and unintentional reminders of how we live now.

Both seasons of “Pushing Daisies” are available for purchase on YouTube and Google Play.

Karon Liu
Karon Liu is a Toronto-based culture reporter for the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @karonliu

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