Pushing Daisies: A Fairytale for the Modern Fantasy

I’m guessing that when you think of fairy-tales, murder and pies aren’t exactly the first things that pop into your head. But in the weird and wonderful concoction that is of Bryan Fuller’s Pushing Daisies, these are just some of the things that bring this incredible world to life.

Pushing Daisies combines the optimism and fantastical nature of fairy-tales with the trials and tribulations of the modern world, to create an unequivocally original universe that can be described as a fairy-tale for adults. It follows the life of Ned (Lee Pace), otherwise known as Ned the Piemaker, a baker who has the innate ability to bring the dead back to life and kill them again with a simple touch.  This magical gift makes him the perfect accessory for Emerson Cod (Chi McBride), a Private Investigator who takes advantage of Ned’s unique gift for the purposes of advancing his career as a PI.

Pushing Daisies is presented to us almost as if it were read to us, a clever addition when realising that fairy tales are re-tellings of spoken folktales and are often read to us as children. The show comes with its own omniscient Narrator who remains anonymous in telling the story of Ned the Piemaker, but reads us the story as if it were in front of him in a whimsical yet factual manner that satisfies the mystery of the universe Fuller has created, but feeds the adult craving for cold hard facts. The Narrator even coins the phrase, “The facts were these,” throughout the show, often citing the exact ages of the characters at the moment in question or telling the audience exactly what is going through the characters mind. It is something as simple as this presentation of the Narrator and his vocabulary that makes this contradictory world all the more fascinating.

At the heart of Pushing Daisies’ wildly contradictory universe is our protagonist Ned and his childhood sweetheart, Charlotte Charles (Anna Friel) who he fondly calls Chuck. The two act as the driving force of the show and are key factors into showcasing the modern fairy-tale world that Fuller has created, often being likened to Snow White and Prince Charming. This is first demonstrated in the pair’s reunion in the first episode. Much like in Snow White, Chuck lays in her coffin after having been murdered on a cruise ship a few days prior. Ned then discovers Chuck, who he hasn’t seen since childhood at this point, and falls for her immediately. The Narrator even goes as far to say, “Only Prince Charming could know how the Piemaker felt upon looking at her.”

Snow White in Snow White and the Seven Dwarves in comparison with Chuck (Anna Friel) in Pushing Daises.

Ned himself even contemplates reviving Chuck by touching her lips to revive her, further playing homage to the classic moment in which Prince Charming’s kiss wakes Snow White from her slumber, before he decides to revive her through a touch on the cheek instead.  Their romance is a whirlwind, and much like in fairy-tales, their love is likened to that of love at first sight and as Chuck’s minute is almost up, Ned cannot bring himself to kiss Chuck and kill her again, so instead waits the minute out to give Chuck her life back knowing that he could never touch her, but could be with her forever.

Like in real life, situations are complicated, and Ned and Chuck’s situation is certainly no different. However, they do not let this stand in their way. They find new and different ways to show affection for one another, whether it be through holding their own hands, pretending that it is the others or kissing through cling film to ensure that their lips never truly touch. It’s this endearing attitude to pursue the relationship despite these difficulties that’s one of the best things about Pushing Daisies, showing that there are other ways to show affection than is traditionally thought of. This is not to say that Ned and Chuck don’t have their ups and downs. Like any modern couple, the pair had their fair share of difficulties (minus the lack of physical affection) and even separate for a brief period of time, adding a sense of reality to their relationship in the middle of this whirlwind romance. But as with all good fairy-tales, they always found their way back to one another and if given the chance, would have most likely gotten their happily ever after.

Ned (Lee Pace) and Chuck (Anna Friel) in Pushing Daisies in comparison with Belle and the Beast in Beauty and the Beast.

Ultimately, however, the shows clear blend of reality and fairy-tale comes through the shows setting. Set in an unspecified time in urban America, the show uses a 50s kitsch style to showcase a bright and colourful world in an otherwise bleak environment. Typically, city landscapes are thought of having dull and bleak palette, focusing on greys and browns to create a neutral dull tone. However, in Pushing Daisies, the use of a 50s aesthetic helps to further the idea of optimism in the modern world by using a well-known palette from an era widely regarded as one of prosperity to remove the remove the bleak connotation urban America might otherwise present. The bleakness comes from the gruesome murders that happen throughout the show that our main antagonists attempt to solve in each episode. These murders are often horrific and would put modern crime dramas to shame, especially with the nonchalant way in which they are presented. Though combined with the vibrant aesthetic of Pushing Daisies, these murders seem less dark and often weirdly comical – especially when many of the victims are revived and have more priorities than answering the questions of Ned, Chuck and Emerson. It is just one of the ways in which Fuller combines the dark with the idealism of fairy-tales to create an incredible fantasy land of quips, pie-making and beekeeping.  

Pushing Daisies is a masterpiece that perfectly blends the endless happiness and fantasy of fairy tales with the harsh realities of the modern world to create a whimsical masterpiece full of contradictions and clever connotations. It was a show before its time, and it is a shame that the show never got its own happy ending, after being hastily cancelled after its second season. This show has layer upon layer of fanciful things to discover and if only given the chance, it could have been so much more. But for now, I guess I’ll have two seasons of this timeless story to indulge in until my heart is content with colour, optimism and most importantly, pie.


by Georgia Davis

Georgia Davis  is an actor and filmmaker who hails from the UK’s fictional region: The Midlands. She is currently in her final year of University studying Media and Performance, and is looking to work in television after she graduates. You’ll often find her shouting about The Office (US), crying over Nayeon from Twice and trying to be funny even though she isn’t.

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