"Well, I suppose dying's as good an excuse as any to start living."
— Charlotte "Chuck" Charles
The facts are these:There once was a piemaker who could raise the dead with a touch—but only for sixty seconds, or else someone else would have to die to take their place. If he touched the resurrected person again, they died permanently. One day, the piemaker was given the opportunity to raise Chuck, his childhood sweetheart... So he did. This act brought the two much closer, but tragically kept them apart; one more touch would mean Chuck would be dead forever. Along with his undead dog, a grumpy private eye, her eccentric aunts and a singing waitress, they solved murders, asking the dead who their murderers were in those sixty seconds and then collecting the often substantial reward for finding the killers.That could be the premise of Pushing Daisies, if it weren't a laughably inadequate description.Created by Wonderfalls and Dead Like Me executive producer Bryan Fuller, and set In a World lavishly decorated in Fifties styles, the show effortlessly makes its faintly ridiculous plots believable, as it deftly traces the line between earnestness and irony. Its fast-paced and witty dialogue, quirky characters, and great acting really bring out what can only be called the heart of the show: showing how people connect, or don't connect, with their fellow humans.Unfortunately, it ended up doomed to live up to its name. The first season was truncated by the 2007 Writers Strike, and the second season didn't have much of a head of steam under it. The writing team was given 3 episodes to wrap up the series, and the last episode was aired on June 13, 2009 - one year, eight months, one week and three days after the first. The two seasons together make up a normal full-sized season.Recaps page is here.
The Tropes Are These:
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Aborted Arc: When the first season was cut short due to the Writer's Strike, most of the plot threads set up during the first half received abrupt Ass Pull resolutions. When the second season suffered a similar fate upon the show's cancellation, most lingering threads were simply left hanging, though a choice few received mention in a Ass Pull epilogue. Sadly, the two half seasons do not equal a whole in terms of story.
Absolute Cleavage: Olive rocks some while wearing the Darling Mermaid Darling outfit.
Merle McQuoddy, his boat the Knockout Nora, and Typhoon Tyrone, which sunk her.
Main character Charlotte "Chuck" Charles and her father Charles Charles.
Episode 11 of season 2 is full of alliteration.
All Germans Are Nazis: Invoked and subverted twice. In "Bad Habits", a threatening guy with an accent, thought to be an 'Angry German' by Emerson Cod, was actually Swiss (and non-threatening). In "Comfort Food" was the Waffle Nazi, who appeared with full Lederhosen get-up, Gratuitous German, speech patterns, and threatening personality - only for it to be revealed as fake: he is neither German nor actually speaks the language, but is putting on a show.
Virtually all the males involved with the aqua dance show in Kerplunk.
And the Adventure Continues: Due to the sudden cancelling of the show, numerous plot threads were either abruptly tied or left hanging. By its finalé, Series 2 ends with: Vivian discovering what occurred between Charles and Lily; Chuck revealing herself to Lily and Vivian; Ned and Chuck still continuing their relationship; Emerson getting "Lil Gumshoe" published and presumably finding Penny; and Olive staying with Randy Mann and going on to start her own novelty restaurant.
Shrimpboy's the gangster in charge of the table and paying off the manager. Anson Chen did eight years in the state pen for armed robbery. Jin Quin is a thug for hire who'll do anything for a few dollars. Louie Lu strangled his mother-in-law, got off on a technicality. Jim is a plumber.
Also, when Olive tells the legend of Merle Mcquoddy:
Olive: He flew into rages! Roamed the beaches at midnight! Shunned indoor plumbing!
Balancing Death's Books: There's a grace period of a minute, but if Ned doesn't re-touch the re-animated, something else of approximately equal "life" value will die in exchange. And even after said grace period, Ned can't touch the re-animated person/creature/whatever, or they'll be dead again.
Bilingual Bonus: In "Dim Sum Lose Sum", the spoken Chinese is all real. except for adding details about the speakeasy, Chuck's translation is nearly verbatim.
The sign in Emerson's window, supposedly for his PI business, is actually for restaurant that specialises in pork ribs. Also, it's facing inwards. It gets a bit difficult to take Emerson's Film Noir office seriously after a while.
"Blind Idiot" Translation: The S2 episode "Robbing Hood" erroneously claims that the wholly nonsensical Latin phrase orbis pro vox translates as ring for rights (as in, "ring doorbells for rights").
Body Horror: Many of the murder victims, who retain their injuries after Ned brings them back to life. Among them a man with a chunk of his face torn out by a Rottweiler and a woman whose face melted as a result of being pressed up against a lamp.
Came Back Wrong: All of the bodies of the people Ned brings back to life remain as they were when he touched them. This is not always pleasant to watch. Interestingly, this doesn't seem to apply to the fruits Ned resurrects. One explanation or rationalization could be that Ned's powers can reverse/heal the effects of time or death by "natural" causes but can't reverse physical trauma.
Canine Companion: Digby (though of course, Ned can't touch him, as Digby was the first thing Ned had ever brought back to life).
Combine this with Just for Pun and you get Olive's pig companion, Pigby.
Chekhov's Gun: "Circus Circus" has Chekhov's Cannon. A midget with a cannon happens to pass by when Ned and Emerson are at the ringmaster's trailer... then, later in the episode, the human cannonball gets fired at them.
Charles Charles' pocket watch also applies. It was shown in the very first episode, and cropped up again when Lawrence Schatz stole it note the funeral director revealed to be running a grave robbing racket in S01E03, and then became relevant again come Season 2.
Emerson Cod's revolver also applies; throughout the show it is used only to wave around, but it finally gets fired in "S02E07: Robbing Hood" when he destroys an escape rope. It's even noted by Cod:
Emerson: It's about time I get to do the gun pointing around here.
Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Alfredo Aldarisio. Initially a love interest for Olive, he eventually fixes the espresso machine for her and attempts to catch her eye to no avail. Later on in the series, he then simply disappears with minimal explanation and the Alfredo/Olive subplot is dropped, only returning when Olive is quickly paired with Randy Mann when the show suddenly ended.
Justified, in that Alfredo's last appearance is in an episode where he is Put on a Bus, and Olive realizes she loved him too late.
City with No Name: The city where the main action takes place is never named, though we do know that it's in (fictitious) Papen County, 131 miles due north of Coeur d'Coeurs (Ned and Chuck's equally fictitious hometown). Information on placing Papen County in a US state or region is internally inconsistent.
Ned's apartment building, though, is "played" by the famous Bradbury Building in Los Angeles.
Clown Car: A number of clowns were driving away from the circus when they were forced off the road and into the lake. When their car is dragged up and the police start pulling the bodies out, it starts out with only one clown...and then another one is pulled out and another one and another one (including a clown wearing stilts), and they just keep coming.
Colour-Coded for Your Convenience: The interiors of many buildings. The Pie Hole and the morgue are green, Betty's Bees is yellow, the convent (and the nuns' habits) are aqua, and the Chinese restaurant (plus Emerson's office upstairs) are red.
Comic Role Play: Olive on Aunt Lily— who tells her to pretend she's Chuck, her daughter, and to tell her what she'd say if Chuck were alive. Chuck is listening in.
Continuity Nod: After nabbing a criminal with a fake arm in "Pigeon" (Ned: "Is this the hand you were holding?"), Ned keeps the arm. In later episodes, he uses it to pet Digby and fish things out of a vat of taffy.
The bee brooch used as a bug in "Bzzzzzz!" is also used for the aforementioned Comic Role Play in "Oh Oh Oh—It's Magic"
Cool Old Lady: Both of Chuck's aunts are cool old ladies, but especially Aunt Lily, who shot Chuck's murderer. After nearly being killed herself. With zero depth perception. In the very first episode.
Cosmic Deadline: The last couple of episodes are a very obvious rush job that fail to resolve most of the lingering plot threads.
Costume Porn: Everyone dresses very nicely, but it's Lily and Vivian who pull out the bejewelled eyepatches and qipaos.
Curse Cut Short: in "Circus Circus", a dead clown mentions that the clowns had made up a limerick about an audience member named Bryce von Deenis. Chuck and Ned speculate on the contents of the limerick:
Cursed with Awesome: Ned can revive the dead with a touch, and has used that power to revive his dog and later his childhood sweetheart, make lots of money investigating murders, and open a thriving bakery by using old, rotted fruit in his pies (since it becomes fresh-off-the-vine as soon as he touches it). And as a result, he can't touch the woman he loves lest she drop dead instantly, ditto his beloved pet, and if he ever eats any of his pies the fruit will wither and rot in his mouth.
Although, if he ever wanted to make a pie for himself, he could get around the whole rotting-in-his-mouth problem by actually using fresh ingredients, which he does later in the series.
His second revival was his mother whose lingering caused the death of Chuck's father and then she promptly died when she kissed him good night.
Cutesy Name Town: Coeur d' Coeurs. You can't really get more cutesy than that. For the non-Francophones in the room, it means "Heart of Hearts"
Cut Short: The finale is a mad rush to try to tie up several of the loose ends, and misses a few in the process. Stupid network.
We never did find out what happened to Charles Charles or meet Ned's dad beyond a five second shot at the end of one episode. He was going to be played by George Hamilton. Stupid network.
Department of Redundancy Department: everywhere, as well as all over the place. (See also Repetitive Name, below.) Chuck's aunts used to be the Darling Mermaid Darlings. There's a life insurance firm called Uber-Life Life Insurance. The travel agency Chuck frequented was Boutique Travel Travel Boutique. It was run by... Dee Dee.
Used a fair bit, especially with Olive's outfits — the costuming department really got the most out of using Kristin Chenoweth, that's for sure. The ultra-low-cut mermaid costume with the one-leg so she had to hop up and down to move is probably the shining example.
They also got a fair bit of use out of Lee Pace as well. Perhaps the best example for him is the two minutes or so he's standing in nothing but a pair of boxers in the season 2 opener.
Film Noir: The show's aesthetic draws pretty heavily on the Film Noir, particularly Emerson's office, the clipped, rapid-fire dialogue, and a good portion of "Dim-Sum Lose Some". Also, several film noir classics can be seen playing in the background in a few scenes of "Corpsicle".
Flirty Step Siblings / Not Blood Siblings: How they explain Vivian and Lily having the same last name as Charles and Vivian thinking Chuck is hers and Lily’s niece if Charles is Vivian’s ex-fiancé and Chuck being Lily’s secret daughter.
In "The Smell of Success" Aunt Lily mentions a sweater that belonged to Charlotte's mother. The narrator mentions that this made her go to "her dark place." The moment is framed such that it appears Chuck's aunt simply misses her niece. But a later episode reveals that Aunt Lily is Chuck's mother.
In the first episode, Lily mentions that Chuck used to threaten to bake anti-depressants into their food in order to cheer them up. Come episode two...
Gratuitous German: Used by the Waffle Nazi, who, funnily enough, neither speaks the language nor is German at all. He's just cultivating an image.
Getting Crap Past the Radar: "Jock-off 2000." "Well, I'll be dental-dammed." "Simone had come... and gone." How in holy hell do they get that past the radar?
Also in the episode "The Norwegians," the crime lab used by the titular Norwegians is called Mother, with the lettering on the side saying "Mobile Investigative Lab Facility." The acronym spells a certain popular term for a hot mom.
In that same episode, Emerson ate at a Noodle bar called Hentai Noodles.
Naming an episode "Bitches" when only one female dog is involved?
Olive, in one episode: "I used to think 'masturbation' meant chewing."
Chuck in episode 2 talks about a tee shirt Ned gave her for her eighth birthday, "Be kind to animals, kiss a beaver." Also Lampshaded by Chuck's aunts, who said Ned had a dirty mind and called him "Beaver Boy" following that incident.
Ned referring to his abilities as "Waking and Baking".
In "Corpsicle," one of the suspects deliberately messes up Emerson Cod's name, referring to him as Mr. Cox.
Come & Sleep Hotel.
from "Oh Oh Oh It's Magic" "I would have eaten anything for that man!"
In the conclusion of "Comfort Food":
Widow: Now that I have [my husband's] recipe, that nice donut man and I are gonna go into business together: "Finger-Lickin' Donut Holes". Ned: Sounds delicious. (beat) Andfilthy.
A possibly unintentional one: his ex tells Emerson to light a red lantern by his office window when he's ready to talk. In Chinese culture, a single red lantern indicates a brothel, and Emerson's office is in Chinatown.
As well as the Hitchcock references in "Bitches", culminating with Emerson's dream homage to Vertigo.
In some episodes Chuck's fashion style is a clear tribute to Audrey Hepburn
A lot of scenes are shot in style of a Film Noir with the window shades casting shadows over the characters faces, most notably "Girth", "Bitches", and "Bad Habits", when Olive goes to hire Emerson.
Hero of Another Story: Emerson Cod, who runs the B-Plot in almost every episode; as numerous episodes are Ned/Chuck/Olive central for the A-Plot, Emerson always takes care of the murder case alongside it when other plots are explored elsewhere.
Idiosyncratic Wipes: Often an Iris Out. These were once extremely common, especially in cinema, but they look old-fashioned or even slightly cheesy to modern eyes, which are used to more unobtrusive scene wipes. (Therefore, perfectly suited to the show's theme of retro charm.).
In "Oh Oh Oh—It's Magic", some of the scene transitions are curtains opening and closing.
"Robbing Hood" uses an animated bell for some of its scene transitions.
Impairment Shot: In "Oh Oh Oh—It's Magic", we see what the dead person sees when Ned touches them a second time.
Impossibly Awesome Magic Trick: A few examples in the episode "Oh oh oh it's Magic." While several tricks of the episode are explained throughout the course of the episode, a couple are patently impossible (including the twins elevating a Lovely Assistant with bolts of electricity).
Ned: I asked you not to use the word "zombie". It's disrespectful. Stumbling around squawking for brains? That's not how they do. And "undead"? Nobody wants to be "un"-anything. Why begin a statement with a negative? It's like saying, "I don't disagree." Just say you agree. Emerson: Are you comfortable with "living dead"? Ned: You're either living or you're dead. When you're living, you're alive. When you're dead, that's what you are. But when you're dead and then you're not, you're alive again. Can't we say "alive again"? Didn't that sound nice?
Motor Mouth: Ned tends to babble rapidly when he's nervous, and he's nervous quite frequently.
Arguably Chuck as well. The two of them together have a lot of whiplash-inducing back-and-forth conversations together.
Mundane Utility: Ned's pies are great because the fruit he uses is extremely fresh; all the fruit he touches is brought back to life, so it tastes like it's not more than a few minutes off the plant when it hits the oven.
No Name Given: If Ned has a last name, we haven't yet learned it. The narrator, who often refers to characters by their full names, calls him "young Ned" in the flashbacks and "the pie maker" in the present. Doubles as a meaningful name, given that it is an anagram for 'End' and 'NDE', the synonym for 'Near Death Experience'.
Obfuscating Disability: In a season 2 episode we see a brief flashback to Emerson Cod's childhood. His mother faked putting him in danger to expose a man who had made fraudulent insurance claims. She pushed a stroller with a baby doll in it down a flight of stairs- the allegedly wheelchair-bound man with a neckbrace and a broken arm ran from his wheelchair to catch the baby with both hands.
Of Corpse He's Alive: Used to flush out the victim's murderer. Of course, done with the advantage that, for one minute, he is alive...
Missing Mom: Ned's mother died suddenly when he was nine. Chuck grew up believing that her mother had died in childbirth, but later discovers that her mother is her "Aunt" Lily.
Disappeared Dad: Chuck's father died when she was eight, as an unfortunate side effect of Ned bringing back his mother. Ned's father just abandoned him. Emerson Cod is himself a Disappeared Dad...but not through any fault of his own.
The Pollyanna: Chuck. Despite losing her father, being unable to speak to her aunts, and completely unable to make contact with the man she loves, she still keeps her optimism for the majority of the series.
Retro Universe: From Chuck's Hepburn-esque wardrobe to Ned's and Emerson's beautiful old cars, the world is like a more colorful version of the past... or the past as it should have been (although the idealized past apparently includes the Reagan administration as seen in "The Smell of Success").
A 'blink-and-you'll-miss-it' example appears in episode 3, when Alfredo Aldarisio is imagining the atmosphere leaving the earth and sucking him out into space while destroying the earth, you can see a yellow bulldozer driving by outside.
in "Circus Circus", Ned repeats the secretary's description of the head clown as a "real low-down, dirty _____________" just as a circus performer walks by breathing fire, the flames both drowning Ned out and preventing viewers from reading his lips. When the flames clear, Emerson says "I've never heard you say those words."
in "Bad Habits", a revived nun swears a blue streak, conveniently drowned out by a church bell.
Stage Magician: Ned's twin half-brothers and their mentor, the Great Hermann.
Stealth Pun: Usually Subverted, in that the narrator does not spare himself the joy of actually making the pun. For example, in "The Smell of Success" Ned dredges up a sock from the sink in the kitchen of the Pie Hole. By the reactions of Chuck, Olive, and Emerson, its smell is most unpleasant.
The Narrator: The message was clear. Someone wanted to make a stink.
Sugar Bowl: The Pushing Daisies world is brightly coloured, full of pies, tender sweet moments, coy glances, happy honeybees, whimsy, and little charming gestures. This offsets the bizarre murders, morbid humor, and unflinching examinations of personal responsibility and morality.
The Summation: The narrator does this, sometimes several times an episode, and always starting with the phrase "the facts were these..."
With Improbable Fencing Powers justified by the page quote of Sword Fight.
Synchronized Swarming: While following a case where a woman says she was attacked by a "terrifying bee man", Ned speculates about being chased by a human-shaped swarm of bees. Turns out it was actually a person covered in bees.
Unfortunately, Olive was provided a missed love connection in the person of one Broadway veteran Raul Esparza, who... well, would a duet been too much to ask for?
File his song-less appearances on the show along with that of Christopher Seiber.
Theme Naming: Ned's three closest human associates all have food-related names: Olive Snook, Emerson Cod, Charlotte Charles. (A charlotte is a French dessert: a "crust" made of ladyfinger cookies enclosing a mousse of some sort. Her nickname, "Chuck", can also refer to a cut of beef.)
Ned: Ever since I was a kid, I'd have this dream where somebody would find out what I could do. It starts off with lots of ice cream and balloons and ends in a small white room where little bits are cut out of me until there's nothing left to cut.
This Is No Time for Knitting: Literally—Emerson Cod's knitting needles turn out to be instrumental in saving himself, Ned and Chuck from the bad guy.
Theme Twin Naming: Averted if you consider the show tendency to alliterative and repetitive names.
Twitchy Eye: Ned. As noted by Olive, it twitches when he's lying.
Unbelievable Source Plot: Subverted because the investigator is on the inside and therefore knows the secret. The protagonist can bring the dead to life for a minute and interview them about their death. Sometimes, it feels like they still have to lie all the time to others about why they know so much. Not *quite* a paradigmatic example, but still showcases the endless lies necessary to cover their secret investigative trick.
Undeath Always Ends: Averted with Chuck, Digby, and Mr. Charles. Exaggerated with everyone else, for good reason.
Unlimited Wardrobe: To the point Chuck can dress thematically to the centerpiece of a given episode. So can Olive. And Chuck's aunts... right down to Lily having eyepatches to match her outfits.
Un Paused: In the first episode, the first thing Chuck does after Ned brings her back to life is grab his tie and bang him on the lid of her coffin in self-defense against her killer.
Uranus Is Showing: Young Emerson gets sent to the principal's office for making this joke.
Valley Girl: Elise, the gold-digging wife in "Robbing Hood."