I’m not a huge fan of romance on television. Mainly because it’s usually used as an excuse for someone involved to act like a moron (it tends to be the women), or it’s one character’s sole reason for existence (also usually the women), or it’s an excuse for fake drama when the relationship is “threatened”- usually by a third party (the dreaded love triangle)- even when the outcome is obvious. Pushing Daisies has managed to not only create a relationship that I can willingly root for, it also features a triangle that’s both endearing and well written.
Ned the piemaker has the ability to revive the dead with a simple touch. If he touches them again however, they die again forever. This ability has made him understandably withdrawn when it comes to relating to other people (as a child he revived his mother, only to learn of the second touch clause when she kissed him goodnight). And through a combination of avoidance and denial, he’s carefully ignored the fact that Olive Snook, the waitress at his pie shop and his next-door neighbor, has been in love with him for some time. But everything changed after Ned revived his childhood sweetheart Charlotte “Chuck” Charles, after she was murdered. Since Chuck can’t go home to her aunts, being supposedly dead and buried, and is clearly as taken with Ned as he is with her, she moves in with him and spends her time helping at the pie shop and helping Ned and Emerson Cod (a private investigator) with their murder investigations.
The triangle works for several reasons, the most significant of which is that everyone involved is basically a nice and likeable person. While the audience is quite clearly supposed to support Chuck (and it’s impossible not to) Olive is made quite sympathetic. Olive doesn’t know Ned’s secret, so she’s at a disadvantage trying to figure out why Chuck is closer to Ned than she is. Unlike the standard format, Olive was there first rather than setting her sights on someone who was already involved, and while she’s sad about the fact that Ned seems to be falling in love with another woman she isn’t taking it out on Chuck. Both women are kind and intelligent, without either being played for laughs in a hurtful way. Ned isn’t intentionally stringing anyone along or being indecisive- he knows exactly who he cares for- it’s simply a case of Olive’s emotions not quite catching up with what her brain knows: the man she loves has found someone that isn’t her.
Some people might argue this hurts the drama of wondering who Ned will choose, but I don’t think I’ve ever really seen that question in doubt on any show. So while the audience wants to see the show’s predestined pairing end up together, we can’t help but root for Olive to be happy too. That simple fact- wanting everyone to turn out well, not just the couple- leads to better and more complete characters. Rather ironic that a show I described the other day as ‘Roald Dahl and Tim Burton on Prozac baked into a pie, sprinkled with Dr. Seuss, and narrated like a bedtime story’ would be the one with the characters that seem the most human, but Pushing Daisies has found a way to do it.