Thursday, October 25, 2007

A Delicious Serving of Jim Dale: A Review of Pushing Daisies.

My family got into Harry Potter listening to Jim Dale’s audio recording of the books. The books are of course incredible, but Jim Dale adds a dimension all of his own. There is something downright intoxicating about his voice and the voices he does for the characters are otherworldly. He set a Guinness World Record for the most different voices in an audio book. I recently found the British recording of Order of the Phoenix at a used book store. I happen to be a fan of Stephen Fry, who did this recording, but he is nothing compared to Jim Dale. To all those who do not get what all the fuss has been about this past decade you owe it to yourself to listen to the Dale recording.
This week, while folding laundry, I flipped to the ABC website (you can watch most shows these days at your convenience, with almost no commercials, legally at the network websites.) and watched this new show Pushing Daisies. Jim Dale narrates this show and he is at the top of his game. The show could almost be an audio book with visuals and actors to fill in the gaps in Jim Dale’s monologuing.
Even without Jim Dale this is one incredible show. It is about a pie maker, named Ned, who can bring the dead back to life simply by touching them. There are two catches to this. If he does not put them back to being dead within a minute someone else will drop dead in their place. Furthermore if he touches a resurrected person a second time they become permanently dead. In good superhero fashion Ned, in addition to running a pie shop known as the Pie Hole, fights crime on the side. He resurrects murder victims to ask them who their killer was before putting them back to being dead. The central plot of the show centers on Ned and his childhood sweetheart, Chuck. In the first episode of the show, Ned has not seen Chuck since they were about ten that is until he finds her in a funeral home after she was strangled on a cruise ship. Ned balks at putting Chuck back for which the funeral home owner pays the price. Now Ned has the love of his life back in his world, the only problem is that he cannot touch her. As an Orthodox Jew I love this plot line, a romance in which the two leads cannot sleep together or even hold hands.
It would be very easy to be oblivious to how good this show’s acting is. Comedy in general is very hard. As my father once told me: Comedy is much harder to do then drama. There is no such thing as mediocre comedy. In comedy you are either funny or you are not; there is no salvaging a lackluster performance. In drama if things do not work perfectly you can settle for being okay. Now this show is a particularly difficult type of comedy to do. One, you are dealing with a premise that is absolutely absurd with no believability to it. Yet somehow you have to be able to create characters that are believable. It would be so easy to simply allow the show to be ridiculous and ride that into mediocrity. Two, the show is built around comic straights. If good comedy in general is tough to do then being a good comic straight requires genius. A comic straight does not say or do funny things yet somehow has to be funny. The characters in this show are very normal people reacting to absurdity in a very matter of fact fashion. Anyone who thinks this is easy has never tried acting.
There are two performances I would particularly like note. The actor playing Ned, Lee Pace, brings a very straight boyish charm to the role but with a dark undercurrent. There is a very old fashioned quality to him that allows him to believably inhabit the show’s 50s set design and costuming. Pity, if he were a decade younger he would make such a good Edward Cullen. Kristin Chenoweth, who played Glinda in Wicked, deliverers an excellent supporting performance as Olive Snook, a waitress at the Pie Hole with a crush on Ned. Chenoweth is an incredible singer who seems to have a knack for playing dumb blondes who get jilted by the men of their dreams. The show has already given her one musical number; I suspect more will be on the way.
I can easily imagine how this show was born. Someone sat down and thought to himself: lets make a show for all those millions of adults Harry Potter fans out there, something smart, sweet and absolutely twisted. A show that is not afraid to embrace its own absurdity. Through the first three episodes we have been subjected to a pair of cheese crazy depressed aunts who used to be synchronized swimmers, a detective with a pair of hand knitted gun holsters, which he made himself, people getting suffocated to death with a plastic bag, a killer eco-friendly car, a murderous crash test dummy, and a duel with a Chinese southern aristocrat. Come to think of it this show at heart most closely resembles Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events.
This, without question, has got to be the best new show out there.
If you have not seen this show, eat your heart out.

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