Pushing Daisies, with its candycolored sets, cute concept, and stylized acting, spent its first season proving it was more than just a pretty face: Its brain was whirring with imagination. You remember the show's gimmick, right? Ned (Lee Pace) can bring the dead back to life with one touch, but if he retouches that person, he or she dies again, forever. He used this ability to bring his deceased true love, Chuck (Anna Friel), back from the grave. The premise had its drawbacks too many scenes in which Ned avoids touching Chuck in some gaggy-coy way, like wearing bells on their slippers to signal each other's approach.
Watching the second-season premiere, though, I am freshly impressed with Pushing Daisies' persistent, admirable inventiveness. Series creator Bryan Fuller (Wonderfalls) and his exec producers (who include Men in Black's Barry Sonnenfeld) have opened up the show in a bold, energetic way, and are really letting the supporting players shine. This is a very good idea when your cast includes the vivacious, Emmy-nominated Kristin Chenoweth as Olive, a blond minx jealous of Chuck's romance with Ned, and the fabulous team of Swoosie Kurtz and Ellen Greene as Chuck's ultra-eccentric aunts.
Daisies gets off to a great start with a despairing Olive quitting her job at Ned's Pie Hole restaurant and joining a convent— Chenoweth’s pearly pipes trill magnificently in a brief, hilarious Sound of Music parody. And the show solves one of last season's logistical drawbacks: Kurtz's and Greene's claustrophobic characters never left their house, but now they’ve been pharmacologically freed into this crazy world after Chuck baked antidepressants into their pies. Finally, the sisters can inflict their wacky madness upon a wider part of the populace.
There are still problems. The pie puns continue to make me wince—Olive says she’s ''really flaky,'' while Lily accuses her of being ''all pious.'' And Chi McBride's cynical detective still feels oddly disconnected from the rest of the ensemble. But the show has a fresh, vigorous snap, and the impeccably deadpan Pace gets off some good lines, expressing his nervousness at one point by muttering ''If I could breathe, I would vomit.'' With a little more of that sourness to balance the sweet, Pushing Daisies could be pushing greatness. B