My last post was about pilots and how bad they are because of all the required exposition. I want to talk about GREAT pilots. Last night, I was not sleeping, because I was trying to recall some of my favorite first episodes of TV shows.
The first one I thought of was the pilot episode of the brilliant but short-lived series Pushing Daisies, charmingly called (as appropriate for the show) “Pie-lette”
The show has a narrator, which effectively outsources the exposition to someone who will always be expositing (and beautifully performed by Jim Dale). We are introduced to a rather complicated idea: the Pie Maker, Ned, has the power to bring the dead back to life with his touch. If he touches them again, they die again, forever. If he doesn’t touch them again within a minute, they can stay alive (until and unless he touches them again, forever), but something else of the same approximate size will die. Ned loves Chuck, aka Charlotte Charles, aka The Lonely Tourist, and when she is murdered, he cannot resist the urge to touch her, and he cannot make himself touch her again. So we have the essential tragedy – he a loves a woman he can never touch. Not to mention his dog! Despite the tragedy, there is a lot of joy, love and humor in Pushing Daisies….not to mention the occasional song, which is something I adore in a TV show.
To complicate things, Ned is loved by Olive, and he also assists a private detective, Emerson Cod, by touching murder victims to find out who killed them. He touches them again within a minute, so here we have another incredible moral weight on the Pie Maker – he kills people, essentially. (Sidebar: Bryan Fuller, creator of Pushing Daisies, also created Dead Like Me and Hannibal. I’d love to do a tally of how many people he has killed on TV shows. Both Pushing Daisies and Dead Like Me have at least one death per episode; Hannibal has a slightly lower body count but most deaths are presented in stunning tableaus which are both horrifying and beautiful, but I’ll talk about Hannibal another time.)
The Pie-lette does its job perfectly. We meet all the main characters and learn their relationships to one another. We experience the heightened magical reality of this world – the saturated colors of C’oeur d’Coeurs, where Ned and Chuck grew up; we get the playful language with all the repetitive structure (C’oeur d’Coeurs, Boutique Travel Travel Boutique, etc.). We understand the underlying tragedy of a love that is requited but cannot be acted upon.
Sadly, the writer’s strike (which gave us Dr. Horrible, so I can’t get too mad) interfered with the show – it was doing well in the ratings prior to the strike but never came back after the strike – meant that the story was only 3 seasons and the story was truncated because of that. But the “Pie-lette” is just about as perfect as a pilot can be.