It is of my opinion that pining is, essentially, quite boring for everyone except for the person who pines, a little world of stasis where one can wade through feelings, tumble through them with uncertainty a kind of propeller. Do they like me? Do they know I like them? What would happen if they were to find out? Am I too obvious? Will my lack of subtlety eventually be my downfall? None of these questions is especially interesting to the outsider, and the friends who listen patiently do so out of social contract and, if you’re lucky, genuine investment in your wellbeing. And while there may be a narrative arc that may appeal to the friend, longing in and of itself is basically a solitary experience, until it’s not. (I would even be inclined to argue that it’s still, basically, a solitary experience with occasional collaboration.)
And that yearning is basically predicated on lack of tactility. Rather, one is caught up in the ineffable, the horrid swirl and whirl of time, a delirious trap that confines only you. And all of it is so absurd. So silly. Imagine if someone walked in on you in the throes of wanting! How ridiculous that would be.
Well, that’s what Bryan Fuller imagines in the second episode of Pushing Daisies, a show that is perhaps the ultimate testament to touchless longing. As Kristen Chenoweth’s Olive is relegated to the friend to be ignored by Lee Pace’s Pie Maker, Ned, he himself smitten with a childhood crush who’s been “alived-again”, she sulks, unable to understand why Ned would choose some apparently random girl from his past with an amusingly masculine name. Olive, like many of whose prone to spells of unrequited love, is not self-aware. (She carries on like this for the bulk of the series, but charmingly so.) Whether or not Ned and Olive would even be compatible is moot, what matters is that Olive feels so deeply, so deeply that no one could possibly understand. Who else but she spends so much time with Ned at his pie shop The Pie Hole, so close in proximity, that she can just intuitively get him? The questions rove around her head, Chenoweth archly vacillating between the humor of someone obstinately in love and someone unwilling to move on from an impossible object of affection. You know, as Barthes said, “The lover is the one who waits.”
In “Dummy”, directed by Barry Soddenfeld, she has only Ned’s alive-again golden retriever Digby to confide in, another element of the ridiculous but plausible. As the shop is to be closed up, the world falls away, for Olive at least. She begins singing “Hopelessly Devoted to You” from Grease, the moss-green color checkered tiles her stage. Her gracelessness about the room is itself tender and a form of grace in its own right, an earnest attempt at making this small space one for herself, as both performer and audience. But, as she finishes the first verse, interrupting the “to you” of the title, a happy couple barges in the unlocked restaurant, unaware of what Olive has been doing, and oblivious to the world they might have stumbled upon. She coldly says to the two, “We’re closed”, her face like it was struck by a two-ton truck of reality, and the moment they exit, Olive plows on with the song… only once again to be halted by Manuel, the janitor. With a shot looking down upon the two, Manuel sporting headphones, they sway “with” one another, without touch, their separate spaces of mind and emotion not even brushing up against one another, like two different universes in the same space.
Olive’s little world of alt-Broadway history was one of the most touching elements of the show, an indication of the profound melancholy and sense of stagnancy that Pushing Daisies could adeptly embody. She’d find herself in a fantasy in the second season with Lionel Richie’s “Hello” and The Bangles’ “Eternal Flame” (paired with a broken oven), but the Grease needle-drop always had the biggest spark of someone who was torn between wanting to make her own reality and the unfortunate confrontation of what it really was. Sadder still, unlike Sandy in Grease, there’s never a history between Olive and Ned; rather, the song functions not merely as the longing for a someone, but the longing for the past, present, and future with someone, a whole timeline.
When she is finally able to sing the last two words of the title, she sinks down into a chair, her falling face supported half-heartedly by her hands as her elbows rest on the table. Ned and Chuck can’t touch, a pain in its own way, but they can share the same emotional space. On the one hand, wallowing in self-pity by singing a showtune is very funny, particularly the ways in which our space can be inadvertently invaded by the every day, when we’ve turned the every day into a room where we think we can do that. On the other hand, having to confront the reality that the space you have and want to share with someone else, to build into something new, is unwanted by the other person is a burning ache that feels paradoxically exciting, sweet, and sad. Sweet and sad, like the last piece of pie à la Mode.