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Peter Rogers's Blog
Artist-in-Residence at Chez Firth

Monday (9/28/09) 8:56pm - ... wherein Peter posts a Weekly Media Update.

Movies:  Dave Chappelle's Block Party
TV:  Pushing Daisies [2x12] [spoilers]
Books:  <none>

Dave Chappelle's Block Party
This is Michel Gondry's documentary about a block party Dave Chappelle put on in Brooklyn.

I can't think of much to say about the film.  It doesn't really have a narrative or a conflict.  It's one of those documentaries that drops you in the middle of an event and lets you take it all in.  It's like the film is designed to answer all the questions that that air-dropped interloper might have.  "Who's putting this on? and why? and why are there all these middle-aged people from Ohio? and who lives in that crazy house? and what's going on backstage during this show?"  Gondry takes his camera to Dave's adopted hometown of Yellow Springs, Ohio, to the party preparations, to the Broken Angel House that overlooked the party, to the backstage, to various places in the community, and so on.

(I admit, I was never quite as interested in the Broken Angel House as Gondry was.  Then again, I suspect nobody can match Gondry's interest in quirky, handmade things.)

So I found it mildly interesting, and that's about as much as it was going to do for me.  I have neither the background nor the interest in hip-hop to be completely drawn in by the music.  The performers were interesting individuals, but I was never (say) blown away by this inside look at Lauryn Hill.

Instead it was just a neat little event to observe, with lots of people and places to explore.  You could listen to what they had to say; you could follow them around; you could hear them sing.

Pushing Daisies [2x12] [spoilers]
The last disc of Pushing Daisies contains just the last episode, "Ker-Plunk".


Some shows get some sort of heads-up.  Maybe they get an explicit warning:  "Hey, three more episodes, and you're done."  Or maybe it's more like Freaks and Geeks, where they expected to get cancelled every week and so they made that show like there was no tomorrow.

But then there's Pushing Daisies, which always had that slender hope of renewal:  they were critically renowned, they did get renewed once, and the ratings weren't *that* awful, right?  Or maybe they knew the axe was falling, but they just didn't let it affect them at all.  In any case, this is one of those shows that doesn't "end" so much as "stop".  In the last episode, they wedge their murder-of-the-week into a half-hour, and then spend twelve minutes desperately tying everything up with the alacrity of a crack-addled kitten with a ball of yarn.

Mind you, it's better than nothing.  It's better than just tying up the murder-of-the-week and calling it a day.  It's certainly better than
ending the whole series on a cliffhanger.  But it still feels cut off.  These major plot arcs -- Chuck revealing herself to her aunts, Emerson finding his daughter, Olive moving on romantically -- those were all plot engines that had some weight to them.  They needed *time* to come to a resolution.  Instead, they get CGI, re-used footage and Jim Dale narrating at a breakneck pace.

I know, I know:  it's the best they -- or anyone -- could do under the circumstances.  ("Surprise!  You're cancelled!")

It just makes me mad at ABC, I guess.

This last disc also contains the set's "Special Features", which are not particularly special.  It's just a set of the usual EPK-ish featurettes -- interviews with the cast and crew intercut with copious amounts of episode footage, and split into themed units.  There's one bit about the show's CGI, another about production design, another about the soundtrack, and then one last one that's just full-on Bryan-Fuller hagiography.

And with that, the show is over.  The things about it that were wonderful at the very start continued to be wonderful throughout.  And now Bryan Fuller is making two new shows for NBC, both of which look a bit bland.  There are vague plans for Pushing Daisies comic books, but one never hears much about their progress.

In the end, I find myself wondering what impact this show will have.  I don't guess it will inspire a slew of imitators.  It's not like LOST or Arrested Development or (arguably) The Wire, which broke open a whole new way to tell stories on television.  ("Oh, you can arrange it like *that*?  Well, hell, let's try that!")  In the end, Pushing Daisies was just a procedural with a number of mini-arcs, and TV is lousy with those.

But man, the things it did inside that format.  Before Pushing Daisies, sets just didn't look like that, and characters just didn't sound like that, and people just didn't make hourlong fairy tales.  The whole series sat there with the imperturbable impossibility of an Escher print.

And for some reason, my gut tells me that this just isn't the thing you bother trying to imitate, any more than an aspiring singer-songwriter would try to sound like Björk.

No, a show like Pushing Daisies doesn't say, "everybody go make a show like Pushing Daisies."  What it does is, it serves as an example of what's *possible*.  What I hope is that showrunners who saw Pushing Daisies, and showrunners-in-training who saw Pushing Daisies, watched that show and they felt ashamed -- ashamed that they'd ever tried to make a show that was anything *less* than that, less than a show that was so uniquely and gloriously itself right up to its last frame.[1]

So, what happens when everybody else steps up?

I'm continuing to prepare for the Dickens show with Our Mutual Friend, the book about day-to-day life in Victorian England, and my old accents book.  Nothing new and exciting, podcast-wise.

For next time:  more Dickens, more of The Middleman, the Japanese film After Life, and perhaps Iron Man as well.

[1] Yes, I'm moved to indulge myself here, prose-wise.

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Mood: [mood icon] contemplative · Music: none
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