Amazon Prime Video, TV-PG, 45 minutes, 22 episodes
“Sometimes a crime of passion is not realizing the passion in time.”
This is the television show I would make if I were allowed to make television shows.
It’s high concept and weird, first of all. A dude can bring people back from the dead with one touch? But if he touches them again, they’re dead forever? And if they return to life for more than 60 seconds, something else of comparable size and heft dies in its place? That’s weird as hell, but makes for an utterly intriguing show when in the hands of creator and writer Bryan Fuller (“Hannibal,” “American Gods”).
Add in that the dude with the power of resurrection, a pie maker named Ned (Lee Pace), uses it to solve murders alongside private eye Emerson (Chi McBride), friend Olive (Kristin Chenoweth), girlfriend Charlotte (Anna Friel) and a Very Good Dog named Digby, and you really have something. Oh, also, Charlotte has been resurrected, so she and Ned can’t touch each other. And her aunts are world-famous synchronized swimmers. See what I mean?
“Pushing Daisies” knows all this. It’s too smart to fall into showbiz traps, namely taking itself too seriously. Even when heavy topics are broached — Ned and Charlotte talk about their parents’ deaths, and whether their relationship can survive a lack of intimacy; Emerson has painful scars of his own — it is done whimsically, never hitting viewers over the head with musical cues or emphasizing that This Is Important. It trusts viewers will recognize the significance of such moments and apply an appropriate weight to them in their hearts.
It’s also incredibly funny, equally willing to make grim jokes about its subject matter — frozen bodies are referred to as “corpsicles” — and lighthearted quips that are so stupid you have to laugh. (“Follow the yellow thick hose!” characters say at one point, in “Wizard of Oz” fashion.) The show’s special effects border on absurd, even for 2007 standards, but I think this is purposeful, another sign that the show is here for a good time only. Bright blues, yellows and greens dominate the screen. The show also has a narrator, voiced by John Dale, who oversees the story being told, making the whole thing feel like a fairy tale.
The show only lasted two seasons on ABC before being canned for low ratings, but it was (and remains) a critical darling, winning seven total Emmys (mostly for behind-the-scenes work, but Chenoweth did win Best Supporting Actress) and being nominated for Best Television Series at the Golden Globes. The low episode count makes the commitment level a non-factor, though Fuller has recently expressed interest in bringing the show back, in some form.
That would be welcome: “Pushing Daisies” is an easy-breezy watch, and a great one.
This movie is good and unique and all, but I’ll be honest: I’m here to talk about Spike Jonze.
Remember when I said we needed to have a chat about Jonze’s career? The time is now.
Jonze was born in Rockville, Md., which is like 15 minutes from my hometown of Olney, Md. It is not exactly a hotbed for Hollywood talent. But it IS the (former) home of a store called Rockville BMX, which was a renowned bike store in the BMX scene. Jonze got his start as a BMX photographer for Freestylin’ Magazine at 16 and moved to California. He gradually moved from photographing BMX to making skateboarding videos, and from there jumped to music videos of bands hip to the skate scene, his “big break” coming in the form of directing the “100%” video for Sonic Youth in 1992:
Then Jonze really blew up. He directed videos for the Beastie Boys (He did the dang “Sabotage” video!), Weezer, Bjork, R.E.M., Daft Punk, Pavement, the Notorious B.I.G. and Diddy (then known as Puff Daddy). At this point, around 1999, Jonze had won MTV Video Music Awards and done pretty much everything you can do in the genre, so he moved onto film and got hired to direct this movie, “Being John Malkovich,” written by Charlie Kaufman. I’ll get back to the film itself in a bit. Just know that this film — this heady, weird, meta movie — is a critical smash hit. He could do pretty much anything he wanted after this.
What does he decide to do? He co-stars in a prestige movie himself, David O. Russell’s “Three Kings” (pretty good, by the way), then HELPS JOHNNY KNOXVILLE CREATE “JACKASS.” The show with the dick jokes and the slapstick humor and gross stuff and the whole thing. Jonze helped create that, after being involved in two artful pieces of cinema. This is not a criticism. I stan a king who can do both. Jonze was also later involved in “Jackass: The Movie” and subsequent “Jackass” properties. It wasn't a one-time thing helping a friend. He wanted to be a part of the franchise.
Anyway, Jonze went back and did some videos after that (for Beck, Kanye West, Jay-Z, Arcade Fire, other small-time artists like that), and directed Kaufman’s next feature film, “Adaptation,” in 2002, which is also worth your time and will probably show up in Binge Blog someday.
He finally got his chance to write something of his own in 2013, with “Her.” You know how I feel about that one.
He may have collected famous friends along the way, but Jonze is self-made, something that is rare in today’s Hollywood. Look at this week’s hilarious FBI scandal for proof. Jonze went from taking photos of dirt bikers to writing deep, affecting major motion pictures, doing whatever he wanted creatively along the way. He succeeded in every area. If that isn’t inspiring, I don’t know what is.
So, um, “Being John Malkovich.” The less I say the better, but the title is literal. It’s ... wow. It’s trippy. It’s maximum Malkovich. You should watch it. Cameron Diaz is in it. John Cusack, too. And Catherine Keener. Uh, it’s fun? Does that help at all?
If for nothing else, it’s where Jonze got his film start, and that is worth watching. He’s one of the great creative talents of our time, even if we (and he) forget that sometimes.
Ryan Kohn is the sports editor for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. He was born and raised in Olney, Maryland. His biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. His strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.