Still, I can’t give up on Daisies because there’s much to like. Chuck is endearing, with her fresh-faced fizz. Ned’s work as a baker — he crafts pies by hand with fruit brought back to sweet life by his touch — is an enchanting metaphor for the nourishment that love and intimacy bring to a cold, fast-food world. And though the mysteries that Ned, Emerson, and Chuck take on each week aren’t exactly Miss Marple-league, they’re at least Veronica Mars-league, and involving enough to make you wish the show took them more seriously.
But Pushing Daisies is too compulsively ironic to take anything very seriously. There are tender images of love, loss, and the yearning for connection, but they’re almost buried alive under all the Crayola-colored camp. Why should we give our hearts to a show that seems to fear sincerity so much that it shrouds itself in artifice? PushingDaisies has the potential to be a luscious homemade apple pie, but it would rather be a Twinkie.
Speaking of intimacy issues: who could have imagined the bleak day when explicit sex plus naked bodies plus HBO did not equal must-see television? Well, sound the air-raid sirens, because that disaster has arrived. TELL ME YOU LOVE ME, which is nearing the end of its first season in HBO’s once-sacred 9 pm Sunday slot, is a staggering miscalculation from the channel that defined adult drama. TMYLM follows sexually challenged patients in counseling with a wise, white-haired therapist played by Jane Alexander. There’s a young woman with a sex addiction, a yuppie couple falling apart over the wife’s desire to have a child, and a tired married couple with kids and no sex life. The show consists of earnest yakking, arguing, crying, and screwing, without any compelling context. And this happens, or not-happens, week after week. Sure, in real life, people make the same mistakes over and over. But in art, that constitutes a comedy, and TMYLM is definitely not a comedy. Well, not intentionally.
TMYLM’s selling point is not-quite-famous actors (Penny and Boone from Lost, what’s-her-name from Profiler, the Bizarro Jerry from Seinfeld) performing nude sex scenes that leave nothing to the imagination; we get frank views of landing strips, sacks, and, in one infamous hand-job scene, a (possibly prosthetic) penis climaxing like Old Faithful. Lest this tempt you to order up HBO and take the phone off the hook, be aware that these are the most depressing, least erotic sex scenes you will ever see. The harsh lighting and minimalist make-up make the actors look pasty, greasy-haired, and unattractive — there are porn films with better production values. The sets are dreary, and the cinéma-vérité style, which is supposed to simulate the intimacy of average lives, only exaggerates the awkwardness and boredom. (In case you were wondering, elder stateswoman Jane Alexander gets her share of naked nookie too. At least she and actor David Selby, who plays her husband, look as if they were enjoying it, as opposed to the miserable, tension-fraught couplings of her younger patients.)