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TV Series Review

Some people raise chickens. Others raise ferrets. Ned raises the dead. The protagonist of ABC's new dramedy Pushing Daisies discovers this neat trick as a boy upon touching his stricken dog. Then his mother keels over while baking pies. Ned heals her, too. But there are rules. If he touches the people a second time, they expire for good. Moreover, if the reawakened dead stay alive longer than one minute, someone nearby will shed the mortal coil.

Ned's gift has its perks. Aided by a private investigator (Chi McBride), Ned takes up crime fighting, resurrecting murder victims just long enough to learn who killed them before scampering off to collect the reward money. One of those victims is Chuck (Anna Friel), the cute neighbor girl Ned fell for at age 10. They still have eyes for one another, but because Ned's kiss—indeed, any subsequent touch—would be lethal to her, their affection must be expressed in non-physical ways.

All of this makes for an intriguing if spiritually far-fetched premise. Daisies features off-handed comments about heaven, hell and religion, but it may or may not choose to dig into theological issues. Apart from a graveside reading of Psalm 23, God is absent. In fact, as if to reassure viewers that they won't be preached to, the narrator says early on that Ned's ability was given to him "not by anyone in particular." It may be a TV fantasy, but power over death minus Jesus still equals fraud.

That said, Pushing Daisies is wry, witty and thought-provoking. Mature viewers will have a lot to talk about during commercial breaks. For example, if Ned's second touch kills people, does that make him a murderer? Does the substitutional death after the 60-second time limit presume that there's a universal "soul quota" to fill? And why doesn't Ned ask any of the people he raises, "What's beyond the grave?"

We only saw the pilot before sending this story to the printer, but the hour-long Oct. 3 premiere features just a few profanities and a woman confusing the words masturbation and mastication. While not unduly graphic, murder victims wear their fatal wounds (a man's face has been mauled by a dog), and a villain gets sent flying though a window by a shotgun blast (not bloody). Naturally, any show about reanimated corpses will involve a significant body count and flashbacks to the murders as they occurred, though this is definitely not CSI.

Visually, director Barry Sonnenfeld (Men in Black) captures the garishly retro tone of a Roald Dahl story filmed by Tim Burton while in Big Fish mode. Likable characters share a crisp repartee. And despite bordering on the macabre, Pushing Daisies' quirky debut maintains a disarming sweetness and bright style. It will be very interesting to see where this new series goes and how it attempts to resolve its existential angst.

Episodes Reviewed: Oct. 3, 2007

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