Saturday, November 22, 2008

They Cancelled My Frikkin' Show (Or, An Ode To The Piemaker)

"Two roads diverge in a wood, and I took the road less traveled by and they CANCELLED MY FRIKKIN' SHOW. I totally shoulda took the road that had all those people on it. Damn." - Joss Whedon

I think that is the best eulogy for shows that fall beyond the perimeters of normal television, and then suffer the blow of cancellation. Sure, there are plenty of shows that fall directly within those parameters and are also cancelled. But there is less heartbreak and less sorrow, because as much as a person may have liked that one Law & Order that bit the dust, there are three others still on the air, along with a wide array of CSIs and other procedural shows as well. I mourn the shows that take the road less traveled by, the shows that have some quirk, that are cutesy, that are bright and bold; those shows that qualify for the "Best Show On TV You're Not Watching" cover of TV Guide - if they even still do that any more. Many of the shows I fall in love with are in this camp; though oddly enough, not the show Joss Whedon was talking about, which was Angel: the Series and which ran for 5 seasons. That is much longer than what Sports Night got, what Firefly got, and what Pushing Daisies will ultimately get. Yes, they cancelled my frikkin' show. And more than part of the reason is because it took the road less travelled by.

The myriad of ways Pushing Daisies took the road less travelled by is really quite huge. Even with the handy narrator (who could be a dirt road all his own, especially since he was a Pooh Bear narrator and not a Desperate Housewives narrator), the show is hard to follow. The twists and turns and intricacies of the plot are numerous, and the show moves along at a breakneck pace. For those who miss one week, the secondary tension between two characters will have been completely changed, because they were adults about it and actually talked it out. The primary tension[s] of the show really rarely change between each set of characters, since they deal with the unlikely gift of being able to bring back people from the dead and the fact that particular gift along one of the people who most recently benefited from said gift are secrets kept from the majority of the cast.

Then there is the language the show uses, and the rhythm of the dialogue. Language is one of those joys in life for me. I love almost anything written well. I'm working my way (slowly but surely) through Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections right now, and I hate a majority of the characters; the thing that compels me to read is the fact that it is just so well written. The words and sentences carry the reader along, until a promise to read only a chapter is broken numerous times. The show is like that in terms of language, though it has a one up (or a 6-up) on The Corrections in that it actually has likable - even lovable - characters. I recently got the first season DVDs of Pushing Daisies, and I am torn between a need to pop in the next disk right away, and drawing out the experience in order to best savor the 22 episodes I'm ultimately going to get. There are wonderful lines like, "Now where'd I put that rat's ass I could give?" And at the end of every episode, I can remember delighting in any number of lines, but the amount of them and the speed at which they are delivered makes it infinitely difficult to remember them all.

The other road incredibly sparsely travelled is the very idea for the show. A guy who can wake the dead and who spends his days making pies of everlasting fruit. That doesn't seem like a premise that will automatically draw the crowds in, no matter how cute Lee Pace is. The premise is even more out there, I think, than cowboys in space or behind the scenes at a sports show. The joys of breaking away from the pack is that your creation is unique and stands out amongst all others. The problem with breaking away from the pack is that people do like that well travelled road. And not always for reasons one would suspect. I myself wondered if I should keep watching Pushing Daisies, not because I didn't want to enjoy its wonderment any longer but because I wanted to break up with it before the networks could make it break up with me. It is a lonely thing to become emotionally invested in a piece of entertainment and then have it leave you suddenly - and apparently on a cliffhanger (damn you, Bryan Fuller!). One of the reasons to stay with a tried and true formula is that there is no moment when you resent Knight Rider, deeply, and its fans because it has survived to live another day when your show has not. There is no moment when you deride those fans because they chose to watch a silly show about a talking car, whereas you decided to watch a show about a guy who touches dead things and makes them alive again - which could in no way be considered silly. There is no moment when you wonder why, with all of the faults and problems and stupidity (not that I've ever actually seen Knight Rider) of that other show, why did it and its relationship with its fans survive while your show - your perfect, beautiful, shiny, bright, and exquisitely costumed show - is no more.

Alas, that is the trouble of taking the road less traveled by. It makes you an old and embittered television watcher far before your time.


John said...

I'm right there with ya. I may never have caught an episode of Pushing Daisies, but I know I'll feel the same way if The Middleman doesn't get a full second season.
The only good news coming out of these latest cancellations is the fact that Heroes will be getting its best story writer back (who wrote the series' best episodes, but left after the first season.) It's not much, but at least it's something.

petpluto said...

Yeah, but I don't watch Heroes, so it is a very cold comfort. Especially considering that I'll be losing seeing Lee Pace and Chi McBride and Kristin Chenoweth and Swoosie Kurtz and Ellen Greene and Anna Friel on my tv every week.

MediaMaven said...

I don't think TV Guide does those covers anymore, mainly because the current TV Guide is very different from the old, beloved version, since it was bought out by Gemstar and Macrovision. But between the two of us, we've covered pretty much every show that won that title (and even a few runners-up).

What do you mean by a Pooh Bear narrator, versus a Desperate Housewives narrator?

petpluto said...

The narrator for Pooh Bear just narrated the action. He wasn't ever an actual character, or had any real contact with the characters before becoming the narrator (though he did have contact with Tigger once during the narration). Meanwhile, Brenda Strong (Mary-Alice) has an in-show reason for narrating these people's lives and an acceptable ability to narrate, because she's dead and looking down on them (or up at them... it is never made clear). So Jim Dale has no real in-show reason for telling us about these people's lives, other than the fact that he's cool and British (also like Winnie the Pooh's narrator) and can.

And that totally sucks that TV Guide doesn't do those covers any more. Those covers rocked!

Fran Caldwell said...

Hang in there with The Corrections. By the last page, you sort of feel a strange sympathy with everyone, despite their awfulness.