Design Appreciation: the sets of Pushing Daisies

Gaye's a massive fan of Pushing Daisies, and takes some time out to salute the design work on the show's extraordinary sets...

We don’t always know what we’ve got till it’s gone. That expression is true of many things in life including how we choose to entertain ourselves in what dwindling free time we have.

For some of us, some of that time was spent with Pushing Daisies and it was good times, indeed. While it lasted. The comic fantasy show about a man who could resurrect the dead temporarily to help find their killer only ran for a precious 22 episodes across two short seasons. It’s probably best known for being another show created by Bryan Fuller that didn’t last nearly as long as many would have liked. But one man does not a perfect show make and there were clearly exceedingly clever people in various departments contributing to the uniqueness of the program.

Much has been written about the dialogue of the show. Storylines were punctuated with potent puns, fun euphemisms and inventive innuendo. But that’s not where this missive is aimed.

We intend to share a little of the love back that is so evident in the design of the show, specifically, the sets of Pushing Daisies. To all those involved: we noticed. We loved it. And we’re starved for more.

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We’ve yet to come across any denials that the overall look of some of the Pushing Daisies sets were inspired by the French film, Amelie (Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain, 2001). The predominantly green, red-orange and golden palette so prominent in that movie also paints The Pie Hole and other locations frequented by the Daisies cast of characters.


Pushing Daisies

The homage is right at home here, but it’s perhaps important to remember that this is a television program, with more than the few sets seen in a two hour film and it’s atypical to see this dedication to design move from big screens to small so successfully.

The most amazing thing, and one that’s so admirable about the talent and time put into the style of the series, is that the exceptional designs extended to one-off, single episode sets and those that were only on screen for mere moments out of the forty minutes or so on show each week.

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In this age of runaway reality TV and infinite competition programs, there’s hardly more than a scuffed stage or the participants’ own hovels involved in the churned out ‘entertainment’. About the only effort required is to have a tidy up and hide the camera and sound wires, which hardly uses much creative juices and only increases our appetite for and appreciation of what we were treated to every seven days with Pushing Daisies.

The show broke the Amelie boundary with additional colour schemes, of course, some so colourful they gushed to the edges of garish and gaudy. But they were always fun to look at and the interiors were tailored to each kook-of-the-week’s unique personality.

The Daisies design team must have had as much joy toying with patterns as the writers who tickled and teased words into pleasing arrangements.

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Olive Snook’s apartment was a sneeze attack of ultra feminine flowered fabrics on every surface in the living room, contrasting with a single pale green pattern in the bedroom that’s duplicated in the pyjamas, carpet, drapes, sheets and pillowcases as well as on the walls and headboard.

Comic and fanciful locations aside, the majority of sets were to-die-for interiors with a respectable riot of rich decor and a 3D tapestry of perfectly placed props.

Circles & arches

Still, that wasn’t enough for a show of Daisies‘ pedigree and in its short life it managed to establish its own motifs of shapes and recurring patterns that reward the repeat or careful viewer.

Besides episode-specific items, circular dissolves and wipes were used to change scenes and what object would serve as the start of the change became a fun feature to watch for. The Pie Hole held lots of disc shapes to choose from, but another source was almost always available.

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Circular windows can be found in nearly every set, even the less significant locations, and they were often used to facilitate scene changes – in The Pie Hole windows, or even those that victims were shot or blasted through or a killer’s confines of a prison cell.

Arched doorways were an additional architectural feature frequently spotted in episodes.


Another aspect of the design you could come to expect was a nearly slavish devotion to symmetry, even in death in some instances.

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People were often positioned between background props – framed by windows and doorways or bookended by gigantic suspended cherries, inhabited birdcages, ceramic beehives, and even windmills.

At other times characters were nearly pointed at with neon arrows by placing them where angles converged.

And, should we fail to spot all the beautiful symmetry and use of space, Pushing Daisies kindly gave us top-down shots and overhead angled views so we could take it all in, in one gorgeous glutinous look.

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Even if you’re not a fan of the fruit pie or duelling sentences wordplay, it’s hard to deny the show was packed to the crust edge and percolating with visual style. Much more so than, say, a funkily furnished human hamster cage where furless rodents compete by shaming themselves in the name of fame.

With appreciation, thanks and an aching for what’s lacking, we salute Pushing Daisies‘ design and continue to hope for more of the same and less of the cheap cookie-cutter voyeuristic vermin baiting we are served up these Daisies-less days.

Next we’ll look at the costume designs of Deep Space Nine, next week. What are your nominations for programmes that proved exceptional in their production design?