Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Pushing Daisies: "Smell Of Success"

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Image for article titled Pushing Daisies: "Smell Of Success"

The facts are these: Genevieve is away this Thanksgiving Eve, so I'm sitting in on my personal favorite TV Club blog, with no expectations that I'll be able to match our regular hostess' wit and insight. The best I can do is tell you about this extra-quirky and curiously moving episode, and try to explain why to me it exemplifies Pushing Daisies' best qualities–and the qualities that I'm sure turn a lot of people off.

This week's case revolved around snooty odor expert Napoleon Le Nez (get it?), who's just written a book encouraging people to smell only beautiful things, and thus improve their moods and their life. But Le Nez appears to be the target of an assassin: His protégée dies when an advance copy of his book explodes in her face. ("Death by scratch-'n'-sniff," Emerson grumbles. "Don't nobody shoot each other anymore?") Le Nez is convinced that the culprit is his former colleague and current rival, a man who believes in "real smells," like garbage and sewage. A man, naturally, played by Paul Reubens.

After the rival appears to blow up Le Nez's car, pre-orders for the book ramp up. (Even Olive buys one, when she's not engaged in the episode's alternate adventure: trying to convince the Charles sisters to put their mermaid suits on and get back into the water.) And because that promotional bump looks awfully suspicious, well, it doesn't take long for Ned and Emerson to figure out that Le Nez is behind his own harassment.

But then, when are the mysteries on this show ever all that complex, or even respectably diverting? Daisies-philes watch more for the spectacle, and the surprising moments of poignancy. In this episode the spectacle came in the form of Le Nez's freaky apartment gadgetry, Olive in a low-cut mermaid costume (yowza!), and the heretofore unrecognized culture of adult pop-up book creators, collectors and stores. (My favorite title: The Pop-Up Book Of Sports-Related Deaths.) And the poignancy crept in at the end, as Vivian Charles sang "Morning Has Broken," melting the icy heart of Lily Charles, who after letting the shadow of raindrops create ersatz tears on her face, joined her sister in the pool at last, for a round of synchronized swimming conveyed on screen by some lovely animation. (At least I think it was animation; it was lovely regardless.)

I'm sure some people would (or did) find the musical number at the end the very opposite of touching; they'd find it cloying, and maybe even forced. But even though these characters are naught but cartoons, the actors playing them imbue them with more depth and dignity than the surface reveals, and when they reach for that big emotion, they frequently find it just waiting to be plucked, and ripe.

Of course it helped that this episode had a dialectic to explore along the way: what might be called The Hunchback Of Notre Dame vs. The Phantom Of The Opera. While Chuck is trying to encourage Ned to take a chance on her "honey-crusted cup pies," he's arguing back that sometimes freaky hunchbacks are better off staying in their towers, safe and secure, apart from the world. He's like Le Nez in that respect, advocating for the pure and untainted. Chuck's more like Reubens' character, willing to run around under the city and try to influence people's lives from below, even if it's smelly, smelly work.

Grade: A-

Stray observations:

-One major complaint I have about Pushing Daisies: the sound mix sucks for anyone that doesn't have a decent home theater set-up. The constant whimsical music, even during the dialogue scenes, means that the show is both too loud and yet hard to hear. And since the dialogue is so rapid-fire, some of the best jokes get lost. (For example, it took until I looked at the photo above for a minute or two before I got what Ned was saying late in the episode, when he found a matching, less-clearly-labeled sock under Le Nez's bed. I heard him say something about "getting the spacing right," but I didn't realize that what he'd found was Le Nez's practice sock, in preparation for the one Ned would find in the sink.)

-I did hear this line, though: "What are the stages of death? Something, something, something, something…acceptance."

-I also caught the latest manifestation of Emerson's needlework jones: his subscription to the humor publication Knit Wit. I know that joke's not funny and yet…it's kind of funny, you know? That's Pushing Daisies for you.