Jowett, L. (2011) Spectacular collision/collusion: genre, “quality,” and contemporary television drama. In: Burger, A. (ed.) The Television World of Pushing Daisies: Critical Essays on the Bryan Fuller Series. Jefferson, North Carolina and London: McFarland. pp. 11-27.
For several decades TV scholars have noted that genre hybridity is a characteristic of ‘quality’ television drama. Applying ‘quality’ as a categorisation or description rather than a judgement about value, Robert Thompson (1997) and subsequent scholars argue that combining genres is an integral part of what makes ‘quality’ television drama recognisable and appealing to both critics and viewers. Like many other contemporary television dramas, Pushing Daisies liberally mixes genre influences, from crime drama, to horror, to romantic comedy, transforming the conventions of each through their juxtaposition with other, apparently dissimilar, elements. This makes for a heady mix that potentially attracts viewers who might not watch a more firmly genre-based show, drawing in dark fantasy fans who may never choose romantic comedy, for instance. In some cases, such as Dexter, genre hybridity achieves a seamlessness that enables the show to transcend genre. In others, the genre influences are perceived as colliding rather than fusing, warring with each other rather than merging into a coherent whole, and leading to early cancellation. More than one academic analysis of Twin Peaks suggests that it failed because once the murder of Laura Palmer was solved viewers, seeing the show primarily as a whodunit, stopped watching. This is perhaps particularly the case with shows that mobilise genre visually, or that offer a high level of visual distinctiveness as part of their style. At one time television was, by its very nature, considered to be predictable and inoffensive. Visual distinctiveness has become another marker of ‘quality’ and an essential tool in marketing a show yet, even now, there are limits to what television will accept. The short-lived Firefly, for instance, combined iconic images from both science fiction and the western, confusing the network about how to sell it and who to sell it to, despite praise from fans. Pushing Daisies exhibits a variety of genre influences on different levels, and this paper examines how these operate in terms of narrative, character, theme, and visual style. On the one hand, this fuses multiple genres into an original drama that is a natural development of current trends in television. On the other, arguably, conflicting codes and conventions collide, pushing the show into excesses that cannot be sustained
Pushing Daisies, television drama, genre, crime, romantic comedy, visual style