Thursday, October 25, 2007

Pushing Daisies 2

I blogged about Pushing Daisies last week, but I wanted to write a brief follow up -- because this week's episode, "Pigeon," was easily my favorite. The overbearing narration and exposition was gone, for the most part. The phrase "unorthodox urban honey pioneer" surely encapsulates everything that is great about this show -- and they know it because they repeated it. That might have been over-doing it, but it really is a great turn of phrase. The episode switched gears at every commercial break -- a different kind of quest in each act -- which was really a lot of fun. But the thing that officially made me love this show was taking a They Might Be Giants song, and turning it into a diagetic musical interlude.

I grew up on musicals (I attended a performing arts high school) and I kind of hate them, but I really admire the sheer balls required to bring any part of them to bear on any kind of contemporary story. I love genre, and the American Musical is one of the most challenging popular genres to keep alive in a form other than horrid cloying cartoons, and nostalgia -- especially the nostalgia of "wasn't it great when everyone went to see live shows instead of staying at home and watching television," an attitude that drives me up the wall. Mulan Rouge did its level best, and I thought it was reasonably fun, but it was also kind of a dead end aesthetically -- I mean it does not exactly open up a space for a lot of movies in the same vein. Same goes for South Park. South Park's meanness kind of kills the central thing about musical, though the songs are often really funny. The Nightmare before Christmas is great, but the music is almost always much less memorable than the film's other virtues. David E. Kelly created the horrible Cop Rock, but I have always been very sympathetic to his attempts to have characters sing on Picket Fences, Boston Public, and most importantly the much too maligned Ally McBeal. (You can read my very brief defence of that show the "The Best of the Blog" on the right -- the show was often stupid, but it had virtues you could not find elsewhere). Buffy tried a musical episode, but it relied almost exclusively on the good will the show earned in its earlier episodes. I cannot remember a single song, and it would not be in a top ten, or even top twenty, list of Buffy episodes. Scrubs tried to repeat the move, but it was so awful I dove across the room to grab the remote before they were a few bars into the first song.

There are a few things that are great about the way the song appears in Pushing Daisies. For one thing, the characters singing are in a car, a place, like the shower, where it seems somehow natural to sing, especially on a big "road trip" (which is sort of what this is, given that the aunts have been indoors for so long). Having Swoosie Kurtz being annoyed with the singing is an easy, but fairly effective, way of providing a lace for an audience who is not going to go for this. The best thing of all is the choice of song. Ally McBeal often went for nostalgic songs, clearly rooted in another age and time. "Little Birdhouse in Your Soul" certainly has a kind of recent nerdy nostalgia to it, but it is a genuinely good song that is nothing but fun -- just what you want in a musical. And the audience for the band and the show overlaps enough (I imagine) that many people, like me, were able to sing along. Singing along with characters in a musical is really the best the genre can achieve. I have to be impressed with a show that did it, even it it was just for a moment.

UPDATE: Pushing Daisies has been picked up for a full season. Whodathunk? Kick-ass.


Christian said...

I might actually have to check it out now, since I love that song.

Also, I thought "Once More With Feeling" was pretty good. It's the only episode in the history of Buffy, where the bad guy "wins."

"What a lot of fun/you guys have been real... swell/and there's not a one/who can say this ended well/All those secrets you've been concealing/Say "you're happy now"/Once more with feeling/Now I gotta run/see you all in Hell!"

Jason Powell said...

Good post. I like musicals too. I think I agree with most of what you're saying here (except in the cases of stuff I am unfamiliar with). I feel like I might have something to add on this subject, but it is not cohering in my brain just yet.

For the moment, let me just disagree on one point and say that I think the music in "Nightmare Before Christmas" is one the most memorable things about it. Back when it first came out I bought the CD the day after seeing it and would listen to it constantly. The melodies are brilliant, I think. (The lyrics are far less inspired, to be sure, although they are fun to sing along to.)

Anonymous said...

Oh, I so lovvvvvveee "Pushing Daisies" even the overbearing narration. I love his voice. And I can't wait for me to be given to Swoosie Kurtz to do. Every scene she is in just makes me realize why I have always loved her. And, I'm not just saying that because I worked with her for many years. It's the truth yo!!

- Richard

Anonymous said...

Because I can't comment enough on this, "Pushing Daisies" is fresh bloom that makes my heart soar. Yes, I'm a sap - lol :-)

-- Gemini's Twin (aka The Wonder Twin)

Marc Caputo said...

Haven't watched it yet, but as soon as you mentioned TMBG, I hoped it was
"Birdhouse". CanNOT wait for dismissal today!

Voice Of The Eagle said...

"One More With Feeling" is easily the most overrated episode.

Two reasons in particular why I dislike it:

1) It's the point where Buffy started shunning her family and letting herself be used by Spike (Screw Season 7, you can't make me believe it was really LOVE all along).

2) Willow didn't get a song(Come on, Whedon, you claim Willow's your favorite character and you don't give her a song? Get Alyson Hannigan a vocal couch and write her a dagnab song, dagnabbit!!).

Geoff Klock said...

The internet is out at my house -- the blog will be updated as usual, but I will be less active in the comments.

Matthew J. Brady said...

I'm late to this as always, but I also am really digging Pushing Daisies, and this was an excellent episode. I don't know if the song here was really even a musical-type song, since I think they only sang the chorus rather than the whole song. Now, the scene a few weeks ago when Olive sang "Hopelessly Devoted To You", that was a musical scene.

As for modern musicals, I think the recent Across the Universe was a good example of what can be done with the genre, making effective use of popular tunes to tell a story. It's not a perfect movie, but I liked it well enough, and if musicals are going to be made, that's the way they should be done. Now I'll just have to see what Tim Burton does with Sweeny Todd...