Friday, 18 April 2008

Candy coated TV - Jacqui Walls

In the chocolate box of Saturday night television, amidst the tired almond crunch of the remade Mr and Mrs and the leftover coffee cream that is You’ve Been Framed, a true gem appeared this week. Pushing Daisies (Saturday 9pm, ITV1) was, on the face of it, a sickly sweet comedy starring Anna Friel. But underneath its sugar-coated exterior was a darker side, which made for a delightful piece of television.
The story opens with a young boy called Ned running through a field of yellow daisies with his beloved dog Digby. When Digby is suddenly hit by a truck, Ned rushes over to him, only to discover on touching him that he can bring him back to life. Over the course of his childhood, Ned finds out that his unique gift is also a curse. He can touch any dead person and bring them back to life, but if he touches them again, they die again. And if he doesn’t – and they live for more than a minute – someone else in the proximity will die in their place.
Ned’s story is brilliantly told by narrator and veteran comedy actor Jim Dale, in the manner of a kindly uncle recounting a slightly surprising fairytale. And his comic timing wonderfully complements the physical humour of the programme.
As an adult, Ned (played by Golden Globe nominee Lee Pace) is a reclusive pie-maker, with only his dog for company. He can’t touch anyone or hold a relationship, for fear they might die. He soon meets Emerson (Chi McBride), a private detective who persuades Ned to use his powers to good effect. He realises that if Ned can bring murder victims back to life, just for a minute, he can find out who killed them and hence collect the rewards.
But when Ned brings his childhood sweetheart back to life, it doesn’t quite go to plan. He can’t bring himself to touch her again and lets her live, at the expense of the funeral director, who drops down dead next door. Thus the delightful trio of Ned, Emerson and Chuck (Anna Friel) is formed in pursuit of justice for the dead. Or, as far as Emerson is concerned - money. Added into this surreal mix is Chuck’s two agoraphobic aunts, who provide the best moment of physical comedy in the show when one-eyed Lily fails to spot her supposedly dead niece hiding behind a wall (you had to be there, really!).
This, the first episode, promised much for the rest of the series (though I understand ITV schedulers decided to arbitrarily cut Episode 2 to fit their programme needs so tonight’ssaturday’s offering will be Episode 3).
Every candy-coloured scene betrayed director Barry Sonnenfeld’s links with the likes of Tim Burton and Jim Carrey. It’s a television version of Lemony Snicket in technicolour or an adult Willy Wonka. When Ned becomes a pie-maker, all I could think was Sweeney Todd and I kept expecting Helena Bonham-Carter to pop up at any moment (she would have made a great agoraphobic aunt).
Quirky and colourful, funny and charming, it was an unexpected treat to find on a Saturday night, the likes of which I’ve not seen before. It won’t be everyone’s bag of sweets but it’s my new strawberry dream.