I don’t know if Pushing Daisies creator Bryan Fuller and Joss Whedon are friends (it seems like they could be, right?). If they are, I think Joss might want to have a talk with Bryan about biting the premise of Dollhouse for this week’s murder case.
I am chucking my chagrin overboard and letting loose the spoilers.
We open with a downcast Emerson dealing with a number of rejections from publishers for his pop-up book, Lil Gumshoe. His mood lightens considerably, though, when he arrives to the Pie Hole and finds his mom and fellow private eye Calista Cod (the fabulous Debra Mooney) is in town. Mama Cod, Emerson is proud to tell everyone, taught him everything he knows about the detecting game, and by the way, she’s his best friend. (And, oh yeah, he’s keeping the secret of his daughter from her, because he doesn’t know how to broach the subject.)
Calista also helps Emerson double-book a case: the murder of Joe, who both a nerdy dentist and a hot woman claim was their best friend. It turns out that Joe was a "frescort," a BFF-for-hire at My Best Friend, Inc. If that sounds familiar to you, then perhaps you’ve read a little bit about Dollhouse, Joss Whedon’s midseason show for FOX. Digression ahead:
(So, yeah, I know that Dollhouse is mostly about a group of memory-deprived, imprintable ciphers who assume myriad personalities and will be, among other things, a mystery about who’s in charge of them and a meditation on the nature of identity, which is rather more complex than what was going on in Pushing Daisies this week. But still, it was about a company that rents out people to be your friends, and so I really couldn’t stop thinking of Dollhouse throughout.)
Joe, it seems, got himself stabbed with a rather large weapon, and when Emerson, Ned and Chuck un-dead him in the morgue, they discover that whoever killed him also stitched up the wound (poorly) and embalmed him. And when was the last time you saw an undead guy spurt embalming fluid from three places (badly stitched wound, mouth and ear)?
Suspicion falls quickly — and not without cause — on Joe’s roommate Randy (David Arquette, doing his David Arquette thing), who has a talent for taxidermy and who, it turns out, was a My Best Friend client who fell behind on his payments. Between the creepy room full of animals in all sorts of poses and dioramas and the fondness for meat pies and the fact that he also has Joe’s appendix in his apartment, you can understand why Emerson is suspicious.
And you can also understand how Ned, who’s back to feeling extra-lonely and needy now that Olive is back in town and has moved back into her old place with Chuck as her roommate, and they seem to be getting along swimmingly (emphasis on "seem to"; more about that shortly), would recognize something of a kindred spirit in another awkward guy with a unique talent and few real friends. At least up to the point where Randy shows him a stuffed dog Ned mistakes for Digby — then all bets are kind of off.
Chuck and Olive, meanwhile, have gone undercover at My Best Friend as frescorts-in-training, where they discover that fellow employee Barb (Dana Davis, Chi McBride’s daughter from The Nine) and Joe were dating, against strict company policy. She doesn’t much care for being found out, though, and so stuffs them both in a locker and goes upstairs to seek solace in the hug machine that Buddy, My Best Friend’s CEO, has developed. Except someone jacks up the embrace and crushes her to death as well.
That someone, to make a rather long story short, is Buddy himself, who was not the star quarterback he claimed to be but rather the geeky mascot of the Spartanburg West Spartans, who idolized said QB, Ares, but cost the team the state championship in an effort to be close to his hero. After being tied to the goalposts and pelted with jock straps, though, Buddy snaps and kills Ares, then embalms him and makes him into a statue in his office (um, ick). Seeing the pattern repeating itself with Joe, who was resigning so he could be with Barb, Buddy offed him too. Murder solved, and as a bonus, Ned and Chuck bring a bunch of lonely My Best Friend clients together at the Pie Hole for a mixer that even ends up being a little bit fun.
Onto the non-case-related moments:
- I get where Ned’s deep-seated need for human connection comes from — I mean, man, if ever there were a person with a right to feel cut off from the world, it’s the guy who was abandoned by his father and who can’t touch his true love because he’ll kill her again. Nonetheless, "Frescorts" pressed that button a little too hard, and for the first time since the show began I found myself thinking, Jeez, Pieman, suck it up a little. That said, Ned at least realizes that tendency in himself, and so when he tells Chuck that as much as he wants her to move back she can’t, at least not until he works on being more OK with himself, that a minor sin like that becomes pretty easy to forgive.
- Olive and Chuck apparently have forgiven one another by episode’s end. But their blowup in the locker was one of the show’s funniest sequences so far this season, with Olive calling Chuck out for her own neediness and self-centeredness and Chuck reminding Olive that it’s not exactly fun to be around her when she’s making googly eyes at Ned. And given that, you know, Chuck won’t say why she "faked" her death and Olive was keeping the secret that Lily is Chuck’s mom, it was probably best that they aired this stuff out.
- Let’s say it again: Debra Mooney was fan-freaking-tastic as Calista Cod. Turns out she was digging dirt on her own son after a publisher’s rejection letter wound up in her hands. She assumes Lil Gumshoe is a tell-all about his childhood — "And the main character is a girl. Are you saying I turned you gay?" — until Emerson finally comes clean about his daughter. So stop writing about your childhood, she says, and let her know what a great dad you would be. That will lead her home. Aww.
How’d you like this week’s Pushing Daisies? Is Ned a little too clingy? And were you thinking of a certain other yet-to-premiere show as well?