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Pushing Daisies & r & (Wednesdays, 8pm, ABC) & r & & r & by LUKE BAUMGARTEN & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & he facts are these: Ned (Lee Pace), usually just called "the pie maker," discovered early on that he had the power to bring things back to life just by touching them once. It wasn't until later that he learned the dual downsides of this amazing gift: 1) touching the newly re-living thing a second time will kill it off again permanently and 2) leaving the re-living thing alive for more than a minute will kill something else in the general vicinity. Needless to say, this has given Ned a bit of a touch complex. He doesn't like doing it, unless there's a reason.





Emerson Cod (Chi McBride) -- a private investigator who, happening upon Ned accidentally resurrecting someone, offered Ned a stake in the crime game if he'd just re-animate a few corpses and ask who killed them -- was one reason. The untimely death of Chuck (a girl, played by Anna Friel), his childhood sweetheart, was another.





Pushing Daisies is one of the year's best new network shows. Oddly, it's also completely derivative of exactly the things you'd expect. It employs quirky narration and camera zooms like Amelie. The bright '50s-ish look is Edward Scissorhands without the dark side. The show's lithe orchestral scores totally bite Thomas Newman's work on Six Feet Under. It could be drivel, but it isn't. The images are strong, the dialogue is usually crisp, the direction is confident and the story is as compelling (though perhaps not as deep) as anything on TV.


That isn't to say the show's perfect. The episodes thus far have been annoyingly uneven. The pilot was both a great hour of television and the best series proof-of-concept in a long time. (Most pilots are neither.) The second episode, about a murderous green-fuel car manufacturer, though, was bland. The third episode was good again, but last week's was only OK. Granted, Chi McBride's an anchor, always there doing his sassy black thing. A concept this strong shouldn't be wavering this early on.





It might be fatigue. Series creator and primary writer Bryan Fuller is credited with writing seven of the series' first eight shows.





Fuller has created a good concept, a fantastic world and endearing characters, but he should give that imaginative but overworked brain of his a rest.





TiVo-Worthy





Aliens in America


When will Midwestern parents learn? If your kid's a geeky teen, you can't just improve his standing at school by snagging him a captive best friend foreign exchange student to traipse around with. You'll end up with a kid like Raja, who ain't exactly ready to give up the customs of his home country. And trust me, Muslim garb don't play in Altoona. (CW, Sundays, 7:30 pm)





Nip/Tuck


Year Five and the plastic surgeons are all moving to Los Angeles? Uh-oh ... The show's creators are promising less emphasis on the vanity of plastic surgery and more on its necessity in the entertainment industry as a business investment. (FX, Tuesdays, 10 pm)





Phenomenon


As much as I hate Criss Angel (a whole bunch), and as ambivalent as I am about televised feats of prestidigitation, this contest-format reality show has me intrigued. Each week Angel and mentalist Uri Geller trot on a bunch of amateur illusionists onstage and have them do tricks. Not having Mindfreak-like budgets (or entourages) lends some authenticity to the affair. (NBC, Wednesdays, 8 pm)

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