Here they are, folks: the best new hour-long series and half-hour series of the season!
“Pushing Daisies” (Wednesday, ABC): The pilot is one of the most colorful, cinematic, magical TV episodes I’ve ever seen. It’s like a Roald Dahl story come to life, full of dark humor and whimsical fantasy. It’s about a man named Ned (Lee Pace) who has the peculiar gift of being able to bring dead things back to life by touching them. Two caveats, however: If he ever touches the thing again, it will re-die, this time for good. And if the newly resurrected organism remains alive for more than a minute, something else nearby will die to take its place. Ned gets involved with a private detective, reviving murder victims, finding out who killed them, touching them again within 60 seconds to send them back to death, then “solving” the mysteries and collecting the reward money. In the pilot, the victim is his childhood sweetheart, Charlotte “Chuck” Charles (Anna Friel) … and he can’t bear to let her die again. (He lets the evil funeral director take the fall instead after 60 seconds go by.) Now she’s in his life, but he can’t ever touch her.
Filmmaker Barry Sonnenfeld (“Get Shorty,” “Men in Black”) is an executive producer and directed the first episode, which helps to explain its fantastic visual style, which rivaled that of most theatrical films. The creator and writer, Bryan Fuller, is a veteran of “Wonderfalls,” “Heroes,” “Dead Like Me,” and “Star Trek: Voyager” — so he knows his cute/clever/fantasy TV. The show has a fairy tale feel to it, complete with a narrator (Jim Dale, famous for the Harry Potter audiobooks). If there’s another show on TV that’s as sweet, funny, original, and all-around delightful as this one, I haven’t seen it. TiVo verdict: Season pass.
“Aliens in America” (Mondays, The CW): Part “Wonder Years,” part “Malcolm in the Middle,” part “Freaks and Geeks,” it’s about an unpopular Wisconsin teenager named Justin (Dan Byrd) whose family gets a Muslim exchange student from Pakistan (Adhir Kalyan), thus giving him an instant friend — not to mention someone to take his spot as least popular kid in school. The first episode was funny all the way through (with no laugh track, thank you very much), skewering American perceptions of foreigners while also presenting a sweet, likable duo in the two nerdy boys. Are there any other Muslim characters on TV right now? And if there were, would they be handled with as much honesty and sharp humor as Raja is on “Aliens in America”? I love this scene from Raja’s first day in school.
TEACHER: Class, today I’m going to put aside our lesson because we have a special guest. For one year we will be in the presence of a real live Pakistani who practices Muslimism. That means we have the opportunity to learn about his culture, and he about ours. So let’s begin a dialogue. Raja, you are so different from us. How does that feel?
RAJA: I am not sure I understand.
TEACHER: Mmhmm. Think about it. How does everyone else feel about Raja and his differences? Yes, Stephanie?
STEPHANIE: Well, I guess I feel angry. Because his people blew up the buildings in New York.
TEACHER: Oh! That’s good!
RAJA: But that is not true!
TEACHER: OK, Raja, in America you have to wait until you’re called on, and I’d appreciate a raised hand. OK, now who else is angry at Raja?
(Most students raise their hands.)
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My other favorite part: When Raja prays, Justin describes it as “the strangest thing I’d ever seen in my house. And we had a clown die in our living room.” Cut to a shot of a dead clown under a sheet, his big shoes and frizzy hair sticking out from either end. Classic. TiVo verdict: Season Pass.