TV EYE: Pilot Season – ‘Californication’ and ‘Pushing Daisies’

Part one of my look at upcoming TV pilots for the 07/08 season is here – and now, two more pilots, in readiness to see what survives the bloodbath (although one is a cable show, and is therefore mostly exempt…). One’s genre, one isn’t. One has ridiculous amounts of sex, and one doesn’t. Fear the spoilers…

CALIFORNICATION

Or, let’s watch David Duchovny have sex with an improbable number of very limber naked girls. Californication’s credentials as a Showtime cable show are sealed within the first five minutes, and what we have appears to be along the lines of a male take on Sex in the City– except with only one central character, and added angst. Duchovny plays a writer who’s had one very succesful novel reworked into a succesful but appalling movie, and is now struggling with writers block and the recent break-up of his marriage (to Natascha McElhone, an actress who sometimes veers from brilliant to unwatchable, but is thankfully brilliant here). The first he tackles by not writing much, and the second he tackles by sleeping around as much as is humanly possible, but his habits are having an effect on his goth teenage daughter, and also come back to bite him in a big way at the end of the episode when one particular sexual conquest turns out to be a little more significant than he first suspected. The Hollywood satire is a little clunking at times– particularly in the way the novel “God Hates Us All” gets transformed into “A Crazy Little Thing Called Love” starring Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes– and certain aspects of it feel like male wish-fulfilment (particularly the admittedly amusing sequence where Duchovny beats up a man in a cinema who’s using a mobile), but what really helps is that Duchovny is excellent at comedy, and there’s an edge to the humour that keeps it deeper than just a chance to see plenty of skin. One scene, where Duchovny is set up on a blind date that really doesn’t go well, is a great piece of writing, and with an excellent cast, there’s plenty of potential. Intermittently very funny, it’ll remain to be seen whether or not the more maudlin, self-obssessed aspects of the drama progress, or simply end up as annoying.

PUSHING DAISIES

Here, we have what may be the most interesting, quirky and downright fun new show of the upcoming season– which means, knowing the way these things work, that it’ll almost certainly be cancelled before it even gets the chance to find an audience. Creator Bryan Fuller is accustomed to this kind of thing, having helmed the acclaimed but little seen Wonderfalls, although his work on the first season of Heroes didn’t seem to do that show any harm (as well as providing them with some of the better written episodes of the season– pity he’s not sticking around…). Anyhow, let’s hope that Pushing Daisies can at least struggle through to a satisfying number like 13 episodes, as it’s a genuinely sweet and enjoyable fusion, as well as being like nothing currently on television. The best comparison I can come up with is taking the heightened, larger-than-life reality of Ugly Betty, and splicing it to a worldview that’s part Tim Burton, and part Coen Brothers– and considering the pilot is directed by Barry Sonnenfield (director of The Addams Family, Men in Black, and director of photography on Raising Arizona), it’s no surprise. The story follows Ned (Lee Pace), a humble piemaker with a very specific gift– he can bring the dead back to life. It’s not without its drawbacks– if he brings someone back for longer than a minute, someone else dies in their place, and if he touches them again, the process is reversed and they keel over. As a result, he gets befriended by a gruff police detective (brilliantly played by Chi McBride), and the pilot centres around how he ends up bringing back to life his childhood sweetheart Chuck (Anna Friel) who- naturally- ends up going past her alotted minute, and soon they’re all trying to find out exactly who killed her. It’s all heavily stylised, with fussy, archaic narration (provided by Carry On star Jim Dale, of all people) and it’ll be interesting to see whether the Burton-esque style they’ve attained can be carried on for a whole season. Some may find it a little too sweet, a little too kooky– but, I have to admit, this pilot swept me off my feet, and it also helps that Anna Friel is completely adorable as Chuck, and the set-up gives us the classic romance that can never be consumated. Nutty, weird, and with some of the best dialogue I’ve heard in a while, Pushing Daisies may only have a limited shelf life (if my instincts as far as the world of US TV are anything to go by), but I’ll definitely be there for every episode of this offbeat confection.

3 thoughts on “TV EYE: Pilot Season – ‘Californication’ and ‘Pushing Daisies’

  1. Having watched the Pushing Daisies pilot – which is so sweet and quirky it makes Wonderfalls look like The Shield – I have to say I’m wondering whether I can take thirteen episodes of this show. I enjoyed it very much – Pace and Friel are adorable and the jokes are funny – but Wonderfalls worked because at the heart of its kitsch plasticity there was Jay, a black hole of sarcasm and disdain. Chi McBride’s character performs some of that function in Pushing Daisies, but he’s peripheral to the diabetes-inducing Ned/Chuck dynamic. I’ll definitely be watching in the fall, but I have to wonder if there’s enough substance to the show to last for any amount of time.

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    • I haven’t actually gotten around to tracking down Wonderfalls, and keep suspecting that I need to correct this at some point. Have to admit, I do kind of agree with you- there are aspects of the episode which could end up grating to a major degree if repeated week after week (I can’t help but hope that the narration is either abandoned, or at least ratcheted down a few notches. I kept waiting for it to stop, and it didn’t). It will certainly need some kind of shape- as while the set-up is undeniably cute, it’s hard to see how it can progress (considering that any contact between Ned and Chuck is going to result in instant death for her). Out of the pilots I’ve seen so far, it’s the one that’s made me most keen to watch the resulting series– but it does have “Wacky cult hit” written all over it, and it’s definitely not going to be everybody’s cup of tea.

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      • Oh Yes !
        “diabetes-inducing” it certainly was, I’m not sure the premise will last for many episodes, but Anna Friel, oh yes !
        Youichi.
        P.S. Jim Dale does lots of “Voice” work in the US, he was the reader of the Audiobook versions of all the Harry Potter books, although not as good as the UK Stephen Fry versions.

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