I suppose dying’s as good an excuse as any to start livingChuck, Pushing Daisies
Gifted pie maker, Ned can bring people back from the dead. But there is a catch. If he touches them again, they die again. This time forever. And if they’re alive longer than a minute, somebody else dies in their place. Ned uses his gifts to help solve crime. But when his childhood friend and first love, Chuck, dies suddenly on a cruise, will Ned be tempted to bring her back for good?
Pushing Daisies began airing in that fateful year of 2007. I say fateful because, like a lot of brilliant and original programming that debuted that year, it got caught up in the Writers Guild of America’s strike. And while many creative teams manage to regroup and keep producing their shows after the strike was over, a lot them lost their momentum with viewers and advertisers. Pushing Daisies was one of them.
Fast-paced, quick-witted, colourful, surreal and oxymoronically cheerful in its morbidness, Pushing Daisies got interrupted by the strike and produced a mere nine episodes of its first season. It managed to get renewed for a second but did not get a third.
The brain child of the talented producer, Bryan Fuller, the show’s success was not just in its original premise, its seriously clever script or its beautiful production values but in its A-list cast of actors that included Broadways stars Kristen Chenoweth, Ellen Greene and Swoosie Kurtz as well as big-name film stars Lee Pace, Anna Friel and Chi McBride. It’s probably not surprising that, as well as quick fire dialogue, many of the characters randomly burst into song.
With an exuberant cinematography to go with its exuberant style, the show was beautiful and delightful and its mere 22 episodes over its truncated two year run are nowhere near enough. But when I sat down to rewatch this show, I was surprised at just how perfect it would be for a Korean adaptation.
It practically writes itself
Pushing Daisies is, among many other things, theatric and ebulliently so. It’s a character-driven piece with an emphasis on living life to the fullest in the presence of death and in not letting tragedy define you. With shows under his belt such as Dead Like Me, Wonderfalls and Hannibal, Fuller has devoted a lot of time to the way in which death affects the living and Pushing Daisies is arguably his most enjoyable work.
But it’s not just the character-driven nature of the narrative that makes it ripe for adaptation. It has many of the thematic bread and butter of kdramas. Pushing Daisies the kdrama practically writes itself.
The male lead and his Great Secret Trauma
On the surface, Ned is an affable but reserved pie maker who lives above his store, The Pie Hole, with his dog. His employee, Olive Snook, is in love with him but he has no interest in forming close connections to anybody. Ned has a secret: if he touches a dead thing then it comes alive again. If he touches it again, it dies again – forever. And if he lets it live for more than one minute then the universe balances out that life with another. When he was a child, he brought back his mother but as a consequence the father of his childhood friend and first love, Chuck, dropped dead. Not knowing the rules, he then lost his mother anyway when she touched him again. Ned’s loss combined with his guilt has caused him to fold into himself and avoid all human contact. His only companion is his zombie dog whom he also brought back from the dead and can consequently never touch.
The Pie Maker – Junho
Singer, songwriter and actor Lee Jun-ho can be sweet and sour and has shown an ability to be a heart-fluttering male lead and a complex, irascible anti-hero. I can’t think of an actor that would portray better the Pie Maker’s quiet trauma and anti-social tendencies while also embodying his sweetness and deep romanticism. Now in his 30s, he has the maturity as well.
Childhood Connection (First love is true love)
Following the unspoken kdrama rule that romantic partners must have met in childhood, Ned and Chuck were childhood friends and first loves. More importantly, the two have a sparse romantic life after the respective deaths of their loved ones. Ned’s first, last and only love is Chuck and, while Chuck has life aspirations above and beyond romance, Ned is her one true love as well.
Chuck – Jung Ryeo-won
We already know that Junho and Jung Ryeo-won have good chemistry after the 2018 drama, Greasy Melo. But Jung Ryeo-won brings a kind of ethereal detachment to her roles, as if her characters are not entirely in the same world as the rest of us. It’s a quality that’s perfect for Chuck: the orphan child raised by two cheese-loving, gin-swilling shut-ins. Chuck, like Ned, has existed rather than lived. The enthusiasm at which she embraces her second chance in life and love is something that Jung Ryeo-won would sink her teeth into.
It wouldn’t be a kdrama without a love triangle and this one takes front and centre. Olive Snook, Ned’s super petite waiter, is madly and devotedly in love with Ned and not even the return of his One True Love can dampen her passion. And while the love triangle is the only element of the show that becomes slightly tedious over time, if it meant we got Kristen Chenoweth’s brilliant renditions of Hopelessly Devoted to You and Eternal Flame then I for one am not going to complain.
Olive Snook – Kim Seul-gi
What more could I say? This diminutive powerhouse of comedy and acting is also an amazing singer. And while she deserves a lead role rather than stealing yet another show in a supporting one, I can’t think of anybody in Korea who would portray Olive better.
Thou Shall Not Touch
Ned and Chuck love each other but can never touch or Chuck will drop dead – this time forever. The tragedy, the soulful pining and the determination of this love against the odds are kdrama catnip. The path of true love is not a smooth one but with determination and commitment, it’s a difficult path our two leads can walk together. It’s like My Love from the Star without an interplanetary deus ex machina. It even has an eventual separation and a dose of Noble Idiocy. This love affair was made for kdrama.
Random murder and a dose of crime
Who doesn’t want their romance to come with a side of death and mayhem? With the help of gumshoe Emerson Cod, Ned uses his ability to solve murders. It’s a business partnership that benefits both: Ned can ask them who murdered them, Emerson can bring the perpetrator to justice and claim the reward money. And while the Case of the Week format is not typical of a kdrama, the dash of criminal violence is. Why do romcoms regularly have serial killer plotlines? We don’t know. But it’s just another way this show is ripe for adaptation.
Emerson Cod – Shin Sung-rok aka His Royal Hotness
This private investigator who partners with Ned in solving crimes does not have a singing role in the original but it could easily be made into one. And who would do the part better than this doyenne of musical theatre? With both heroes and villains under his belt, Shin Sung-rok could bring a sense of temper and menace to this part, as well as capture the gumshoe’s secret whimsy: a man who loves money, murder and knitting.
Food and Family
Pie Is Home. People Always Come Home.Ned, Pushing Daisies
Food as a symbol of family, love and care is a strong theme in kdramas and so it is in Pushing Daisies as well. From Ned’s pie baking to Chuck’s Honey for the Homeless, food is a big part of the show’s celebration of life and love in the face of death. Ned bakes pies as a reminder of the family he lost and, once she comes back, Chuck bakes them for her gin-swilling Aunts. A ‘wedge of happiness’ that reminds them of the niece they think they’ve lost and makes me want to eat pie while drinking gin. Every time.
The gin-swilling Aunts – Oh Na-ra and Jang Na-ra
Chuck’s martini-drinking, cheese-loving Aunts are former synchronised swimming champions with matching personality disorders who struggle with the world outside their door. Vivian and Lily Charles are agoraphobic and, like the show itself, morbidly quirky. Both the Na-ras are great singers and performers with the perfect levels of eccentricity and quiet strength for our sisters.
And there it is. Pushing Daisies as a kdrama.