Daisy chain

Pushing Daisies (ABC, Wednesdays, 7 p.m.)

Waiting for a good new series to hit its stride and fulfill its promise is like taking a philosophy class from a junkie with a Ph.D. You settle into your chair each week and wonder if you’re about to get compelling, witty insights into human nature or, you know, a pissed-pants train wreck of pseudo-existential blabber. Pushing Daisies is at exactly that stage.

The facts are these: Ned (Lee Pace) discovered young that he had the power to bring dead things back to life just by touching them. Soon after, he discovered the downsides of the gift: 1) Touching the newly re-living thing a second time will kill it off for good, and 2) keeping the re-living thing alive for more than a minute will kill something else. Understandably, he’s skittish about touching stuff unless there’s a good reason.

Private Investigator Emerson Cod (Chi McBride) offering Ned a cut of his profit if Ned’d just re-animate corpses and ask who killed them was one good reason. The untimely death of his childhood sweetheart, Chuck (Anna Friel), was another.

Less a meditation on life and death than a kitschy examination of human longing, Pushing Daisies takes its style cues from similarly-themed cultural touchstones, melding the documentary narration and camera moves of Amelie with the urban-pastoral feel of Edward Scissorhands (without the dark side). When it’s humming, Pushing Daisies is as crisply written, confidently directed, and compelling as anything on network TV.

So far, though, the show only hums every other episode. The pilot was brilliant, the best series concept in years. The second episode, about a murderous green-fuel automobile manufacturer, though, was toothless. The third was good again. The fourth wasn’t, and on and on.

At worst, Pushing Daisies is still the best new show on TV. That’s little consolation, though, after watching — slack-jawed — the sword fight between Ned and a Chinese-by-birth-Southern-by-the-Grace-of-God-type in week three. That scene — its fat jokes, references to Star Wars, and Arthurian legend, its Robert E. Lee quotes, and the sheer double-take oddness of an Asian man affecting a foppish Dixie plaint — created layers of pop reverie that really aren’t found elsewhere. If Pushing Daisies can start creating those kinds of scenes regularly, it’ll be irresistible. •

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Phenomenon As much as I hate Criss Angel, and as ambivalent as I am about televised feats of prestidigitation, this contest-format reality show featuring amateur illusionists is intriguing. (NBC, Wednesdays, 8 p.m.)