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Pushing Daisies

ITV1, Saturdays at 9.00pm

Last week I had a real ethical quandary. Stood in the kitchen, plastic milkbottle in hand, I needed to decide whether the peelable lid should go in the recycle bin. On the one hand, it was definitely made of some kind of paper. But on the flip side was foil, and a strange viscous surface. Reason failed me, so I left it on the counter for someone else to deal with. (That this too was an ethical choice was later pointed out to me from behind an angry dishcloth.) Bear with me.

Ned, our hero, has a magic touch. He maketh not the blind to see, nor the lame to walk, but he doth bring life to the dead. By touch. Unfortunately, one minute after their resurrection, unseen universal forces take another life in return - a lesson Ned learns when, as a young boy, he revives his mother only to see his childhood sweetheart's father die. He does not reveal this information to his young girlfriend, not even years later when he meets her again. She is dead and he is still smitten. By then Ned has learned that touching someone for a second time will return them to death, and that he must do this within one minute to avoid killing anyone else. He revives Charlotte but cannot bring himself to touch her twice, so a funeral director dies and their relationship ?- one that must now be demonstrated without touch - survives.

What stops this being a rather morbid way to spend a Saturday night is the tongue-in-cheek melodrama and colourful glossy production. In pitching the programme squarely between Desperate Housewives and the film Amelie, ABC clearly had a target audience in mind. But Pushing Daisies most resembles the little-known show Dead Like Me (unsurprisingly, since both were created by Brian?Fuller). You may have missed that but you didn't miss much, save to say it was also nominally about death.

'Nominally', because Fuller is concerned mostly with the living. Charlotte, called Chuck (like Dead Like Me's Georgia, called George), is dead-but-alive and newly involved in a world in which death is a daily business. But her resurrected status operates as a fairly simple metaphor for separation, for a way of being of the world but not quite in it. Georgia, frustrated teenager, cannot connect emotionally. Charlotte, thwarted lover, cannot physically.

While Charlotte agonises over what she cannot touch, Ned worries about what he can. Equally alienated from the world, he yet finds that everything he touches has consequences in it. He should not have touched Charlotte (or should he have touched her twice?), but he should touch other bodies to help find murderers (or should he resist profiting from that?). Some touching is distasteful but necessary, other touching is desirable but unallowable.

Thinking fleshily, one reading is straightforward. Another is that never before have so many simple choices about what one holds come laden with so much ethical baggage. Aeroplane tickets; clothes made in sweatshops; food that is not local, seasonal and organic - perish the thought. Hand towel or hand-drier? Bio-fuel or the bus? And what in the name of God to do with the top off the milkbottle? A world that often seems not to care for you wants to make certain that you care for it. Then, once morally set, is there a future in which doing the right thing is anything but frustrating? Or, worse, dull?

The programme plays this both ways. Charlotte and Ned yearn for something more than what they have, but the viewer is well aware that it's the longing that keeps things lively. For them as us, hope seems to be the best antidote to death.

Simon Jones