With the recent release of Pushing Daisies‘ second (and final) season on DVD, the customary mourning period has been laced with a tang of bitter resentment. Bryan Fuller, Daisies’ creator and much sought after television writer, has breathed new innovative and visionary life into television time and time again only to be denied from letting his projects blossom and thrive like they have with fans on DVD.
It’s anyone’s guess how many beloved television shows one has to make to get some support up in here, but despite his tragic track record, the writer/producer’s future is looking bright. Now that Fuller has once again departed from Heroes, has a seven figure contract with Universal Studios, and has been reportedly “preparing new series pitches”, he is in a prime position to bring some long-lasting quality TV programs into our living rooms.
So as to ensure that these talents don’t go to waste, TV watchers, NBC executives, and anyone else who has an impact on the success of a television programme needs to know why Bryan Fuller’s ventures have more than enough potential to become more than just an unfortunately small contribution to one’s DVD collection.
It seems that sci-fi/fantasy fans have to travel across time and space nowadays to reach any desirable escapist fare. The monsters are visible, tangible, and probably gross. While those shows are thrilling and vital to the genre, Fuller’s three creations, Dead Like Me, Wonderfalls, and Pushing Daisies take a creative departure and apply elements of great subtlety and mystery to the otherworldly variable(s) inhabiting the supposed normalcy.
Georgia Lass (George) of Dead Like Me works as a temp, has wacky friends, and struggles with her relationship (or lack thereof) with her family. She is also a grim reaper who ‘reaps’ souls that are ready to move on, can only observe her family grieving and growing from afar, and must assume a new identity (and body). Jaye Tyler from Wonderfalls is forced to shape the destiny of her dull existence when inanimate objects start talking to her. Ned bakes pies, fights with his girlfriend, and wakes the dead in Pushing Daisies. Simultaneously, their worlds are delightfully exotic and all too familiar, askew only a little off-center.
The level of unknown is just enough that we from planet Earth, with our constant queries about God, science, and fruit-at-the-bottom yogurt, can relate. An explanation as to why Ned has the magic touch, where souls go after they leave the reapers, or who the voice is that talks to Jaye are neither given nor necessary. Instead, we visit these characters once a week and watch them thrive in these odd, fantastical situations, all the while feeling somewhat at home.
In these topsy-turvy worlds, the bitches reign supreme. Not over the men, but over the majority of female characters on television. There are certain molds from which producers, writers, directors, and actors sculpt imaginary women; so much so, in fact, that their rudimentary cookie cutter tracings are all starting to look alike. I think we can put the bitter, man-hating detective in the cupboard for a while, don’t you think? Or the martini drinking, man-hungry socialite? Or the club hopping, man-hunting vampire?
Okay, that last one may not be as prevalent, but the point is, we are craving something more.
The women in Fuller’s shows are weird, clever, sophisticated, unconventional, eccentric, fatally flawed, and yet entirely forgivable. Along with lovable and perpetually annoyed with the world lead characters like George and Jaye, Fuller and his writers have championed a type of woman that hasn’t been successfully replicated since the 1940s. Dames. Impeccably dressed and armed with a sharp tongue, a built-in bullcrap detector, and a perpetually arched eyebrow, these ladies aren’t constantly and unconsciously comparing themselves to men or treating their gender like some sort of character flaw.
Characters like Karen Tyler, Lily Charles, and her sister Vivian (among others) so vividly exude a charmingly old-school energy that gracefully carries over into modern day settings. Then there are other fictional gems like Olive Snook, Charlotte Charles, and Sharon Tyler who, in their quirky youthfulness, stumble through life (and death) accumulating the aforementioned traits and entangling them with their already complicated personalities. They’re all different. They’re all multi-dimensional. And the men aren’t bad either.
If there had to be one defining and noteworthy characteristic that permeates through Fuller’s shows and the team assembled to put those shows together, it is the respect and trust granted to the audience. Not everything is as neatly tied up or as emotionally predictable as they are in other programs that explore similar themes. Especially in Dead Like Me and Pushing Daisies, concepts of death, regret, longing, and honest-to-goodness unrequited love are offered to the audience and portrayed in plotlines and moments of character development that are frequently hard to swallow.
These aren’t things that appear in one episode, are met with reverence, and then forgotten so the characters can start fresh the following week; they become underlying threads of conflict that are integral to their lives and the show as a whole.
The humour is dished out in much of the same way. Instead of being spoon-fed jokes and witty quips that are all too aware of how witty they are, the audience has to pay attention to the dialogue and possibly uncover hidden references and gags that have a much sweeter payoff. This is particularly true in Daisies, where the writers weren’t afraid to invent such a lyrical style of dialogue that is filled with clever humor and almost reads like poetry. They trust the audience to make the leap and understand what is happening without being condescended to. The innocence of it refuses to clash with a tone that is very adult.
Believe me, there is much more to be said, but it is definitely better to just watch. Like many Bryan Fuller fans, I was certain that third time was the charm and ABC would take a risk with Daisies, knowing full well what they had on their hands. The only hope now is that people catch on to these shows while they are on DVD and give whatever Fuller does next more of a chance. If these future endeavors are anything like the ones detailed above, they will be the rarest of confections, too delicious to pass up.