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.