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Look of the Week: the spring styling of Chuck on Pushing Daisies

Contributed by
Apr 7, 2019

Welcome back to Look of the Week, celebrating the best in TV and film sartorial excellence, past and present across sci-fi, horror, fantasy, and other genre classics!

The facts are these: a whimsical show that was canceled far too soon is also the source of some much-needed spring fashion inspiration 10 years after it last graced television screens. Bryan Fuller’s Pushing Daisies debuted October 3, 2007, on ABC and while there are episodes set in the winter, everything about this show, from the costumes to the notion of rebirth, screams spring. 

Pushing Daisies

Credit: Getty 

Murder and a bold color palette are not typical production design companions — unless blood spatter counts — but Pushing Daisies is not your typical murder show. Creator Bryan Fuller also explores a reluctant protagonist with powers in the equally delightful and canceled too soon Wonderfalls, and this thread weaves its way through a lot of his other work, including the also canceled-too-soon Hannibal. Fuller increases the whimsy and stylized levels in the world of the Piemaker; someone turned the dial to as far as it will go on the Technicolor setting.

Ned (Lee Pace) possesses the ability to bring people/animals/plants back to life with nothing more than a touch, but if they stay alive for more than one minute, something of a similar size will pay the price — and if he touches the recently resurrected again, they die for good. After Private Investigator Emerson Cod (Chi McBride) discovers his unique talent, Ned goes into business with him, solving murders and collecting the reward money. It's a plan that seems pretty fool-proof until the murder victim is Ned's childhood crush, Charlotte ‘Chuck’ Charles (Anna Friel). Ned, unsurprisingly, has intimacy issues, thanks to his 'gift,' but having Chuck back in his life opens him up in a way he didn't think was possible. 

Pushing Daisies

Credit: ABC

Resurrecting Chuck for more than one minute was not part of a grand plan, but it is hard to resist your first love and first kiss. Chuck, for her part, looks great (even for someone who was just murdered with a pink plastic sack); her aunts picked out a killer burial outfit, which makes her look like she stepped off London's Carnaby Street in the swinging '60s.

A mini gold crochet dress is not particularly incognito though, so Charlotte spends a lot of the pilot wearing headscarves, trench coats, and sunglasses resembling a character from a Hitchcock movie. There’s also the button-down shirt she borrows from Ned to sleep in, which is typically a move utilized to show a couple has had sex, but the whole no touching thing rules that out. (Also, if you were unaware of just how tall Lee Pace is, the dress-like fit on Anna Friel goes a long way to show this difference.)

Pushing Daisies

Credit: Getty

Pushing Daisies is saturated with primary colors from the opening frame; the bluest skies, the yellowest flowers, and young Ned’s (Field Cate) red polo shirt pop off the screen. The introduction to Ned is explicit in portraying this world as a heightened version of the one we live in. It is like a twisted fairy tale, except fairy tales are already pretty twisted. 

Narrative and character cues are inspired by noir and hardboiled detective fiction, but instead of a landscape draped in shadow, this one resembles the ‘50s and ‘60s in my imagination (if you ignore all the MANY social injustices, coupled with the fear of atomic war, which occurred during those decades).

Pushing Daisies

Credit: ABC

In the pilot, Chuck tells Ned about the sheltered life she experienced before she took the cruise that ended her life. The narrator (Jim Dale) tells us of Chuck’s voracious reading habits featuring the “People she could never be and adventures she would never have,” but now she is free of her old life. Chuck can reinvent who she is, which is something that occurs through the clothes she wears.

Costume designer Robert Blackman switches up Chuck’s look on an episode-by-episode basis as she leans into whatever murder they are investigating, whether it is going undercover at a car manufacturer or leaning further into the whole Hitchcock aesthetic. Chuck has not met a hat, pair of oversized shades or retro dress she doesn’t want to wear.

Pushing Daisies

Credit: Getty 

Meanwhile, Ned is a neutral palette kind of guy, sticking to black tees, henleys, and button-down shirts. Cardigans make it into Ned’s closet, which is a specific kind of swoon-worthy garment (particularly on Lee Pace). Blackman explained to The New York Times that by keeping him in these tones, Ned stands out in the color-soaked frame. In the same interview, Blackman reveals the many vintage periods he turned to for inspiration, "The decades I’d dip into were the ’40s, ’50s, ’60s, early ’70s, skip the ’80s and then come back to the ’90s until present day.”

As with more recent shows including Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and Umbrella Academy, this world looks a lot like the one we live in with some playful twists. The retro fashion market is huge including brands such as ModCloth and Lindy Bop, vintage sellers on Etsy, as well as the many brick-and-mortar thrift stores. There are plenty of options when it comes to indulging your inner Chuck. Muted colors are out, floral prints and primary colors are in. Fit-and-flare dresses dominate, but there is a dash of Mod which calls back to the gold shift crochet dress of the pilot. Pants aren’t completely absent, as with her frocks, these garments — such as lemon capri pants and high-waisted plaid — are colorful.

Pushing Daisies

Credit: Getty

Chuck is not alone in her penchant for bold attire. This scene from the Season 1 episode “Pigeon” is a veritable pattern feast for the eyes. Olive Snook (Kristin Chenoweth) is another character trying to figure out her place in the world, all while nursing unrequited love with a sunny disposition. Meanwhile, Chuck’s aunts, Vivian (Ellen Greene) and Lily Charles (Swoosie Kurtz) have their own eccentric attire that looks like it came from the Bewitched archives.  

Pushing Daisies is available to stream on Prime; it is 22 episodes of pure escapist fantasy that also deals with issues of identity, intimacy and a love story for the ages. When anyone asks “What TV show would you bring back if you could?” my immediate answer is always Pushing Daisies. There is a conclusion of sorts at the end of Season 2 if you are hoping for a semblance of closure, but there is still a lot more story to tell (see also, Hannibal). Despite the many grizzly deaths, there is something so pure and hopeful about Ned’s world that Chuck crashes.

Pushing Daisies

Credit: Getty 

Pushing Daisies could, like Chuck, live another day, as Bryan Fuller has mentioned his desire to resurrect it as a Broadway musical. Considering how stacked the cast is with Tony wins and nominations — see Kristin Chenoweth, Ellen Greene, Swoosie Kurtz, Raul Esparza, and Jim Dale — this feels like a no-brainer.

And while the show has been off the air for a decade, the bond between the cast is strong, as best demonstrated by Anna Friel’s post celebrating Lee Pace’s recent 40th birthday. In this world, they can touch each other (his response is equally heart-melting).

Inject a bit of whimsy into your spring wardrobe and viewing, courtesy of Pushing Daisies. It is time to resurrect feel-good frocks and television; it might make the world a little brighter.

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