If you name a character Olive Snook, she’s going to seem pretty flat. And amid the glittering chaos of Pushing Daisies, it would have been easy for Olive to spend the entire series as a one-off joke. She’s a comically inept waitress with a crush on her boss, Ned. She has a high, slightly irritating voice, and she usually misses the point of jokes. But then Kristin Chenoweth gets to sing.
The singing is incredible (this is Kristin Chenoweth we’re talking about), but it also works to humanize Olive. As she twirls around The Pie Hole in her little green dress in the show’s second episode – the love of her life just left with the love of his – Chenoweth gives the spunky waitress surprising depth. Her longing for Ned is often made fun of elsewhere, but at this moment it seems both overblown and undeniable.
Unlike musical shows (Glee or Smash) or musical episodes of other shows (Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Scrubs), Pushing Daisies never felt the need to spread the singing through the rest of its cast. Neither Ned nor Chuck, the lovers at the center of the series, gets a song. Ellen Greene, who plays one of Chuck’s batty aunts, is the only other actor who got a chance to sing (once on her own and once in a duet with Chenoweth), but there was never any need to label Pushing Daisies as a musical show. The characters who did sing revealed themselves in song; the characters who didn’t sing revealed themselves in other ways. And (thankfully), those who sang, sang well.
I started thinking about Olive’s singing in relation to (SPOILER) the recent mid-season finale of Mad Men, which featured Bert Cooper spinning tunes in time with some sock-clad soft-shoe. When that scene aired, viewers’ reactions ranged from “WHAT??? I love it. More.” to “WHAT??? This ruins a show known for emotional realism.” My reaction fell squarely in the first camp, due in part to my experience watching Pushing Daisies.
Pushing Daisies, of course, was never a stickler for realism. But it did train me to think of music as just another form of character expression – and that it was okay to skip out on reality for the sake of that expression. If a song and dance number just makes sense for characters like Olive Snook, then why not let them sing? In breaking away from strict conventions, Pushing Daisies made Olive – and Chenoweth, who won an Emmy for her role in 2009 – seem more, not less, human.
So maybe instead of a new set of musical episodes or whole TV shows, there should be more musical characters. Can Mellie start serenading the White House on Scandal? Why not have Ser Jorah explain his love for Khaleesi with a love ballad on Game of Thrones? Maybe Bryan Fuller can cannibalize from his old work and bring music to Hannibal (no matter how unsettling that would be). Sometimes the core of a character really does lie in their emotional ridiculousness. Let them sing and dance! And let us be hopelessly devoted to them too.