Emerging like a sweetly scented addition to primetime’s musty flower bed, “Pushing Daisies” opens its second season in full creative bloom. Producer Bryan Fuller’s Emmy-nominated dramedy is one of the few programs that dares to deal in whimsy, which is perhaps why audiences drifted away before the writers strike truncated its initial run. Managing expectations is paramount to the show’s longevity — such an offbeat concept is unlikely to break out in a major way — but let’s hope ABC’s patience is rewarded with this gentle if somewhat delicate flower.
The first episode reintroduces the niftily intricate, unabashedly romantic premise: Ned (Lee Pace) found out as a lad that his touch can bring people back to life, the tradeoff being that if he touches them again, they die forever. Should he fail to touch them within a minute, somebody else must die to restore cosmic balance.
So when the girl he has loved since childhood was murdered, Ned couldn’t help but revive her. Yet now that Chuck (Anna Friel) is back in his life, they can never touch — an impediment to intimacy that has inspired all sorts of clever tricks, including beekeeper suits and gloves.
Ned, meanwhile, continues to use his gift to solve murders, working with private investigator Emerson Cod (Chi McBride) to interrogate the dead regarding what happened. The cases are almost wholly disposable, but they convey the eccentric tone, focusing on honey marketers (and killer bees!) in the premiere, the circus (including a perhaps first-ever homicide attempt by human cannonball) in the second hour, and a convent (where Ned and Emerson play fathers Mulcahy and Dowling) in the third.
Beyond its fairy-tale explosion of color and production design, “Daisies” indulges in moments of almost surreal imagination, like having Kristin Chenoweth — as Ned’s lovelorn assistant Olive — put her Broadway chops to use reenacting a memorable scene out of “The Sound of Music.” The cast, meanwhile, is uniformly terrific — down to the 150-some-odd-year-old Golden Retriever (in dog years) that Ned can only scratch with a stick.
Few current series more clearly reflect filmmakers’ signature touches — from the look director Barry Sonnenfeld brought to the pilot to the beautiful, poetic prose Fuller provides via Jim Dale’s narration, which describes the Ned-Chuck no-contact dilemma as “a delicate dance — a ballet of avoidance.” And that it is.
The facts, then, are these: “Pushing Daisies” isn’t perfect, but there’s no other dance on TV remotely like it. And to echo last season’s review, that alone is reason to hope it finds a way to avoid death’s touch.