When Pushing Daisies first premiered I instantly fell in love with its story about a pie maker, named Ned (Lee Pace), who could bring back the dead with the touch of his finger. He quickly became the key in helping private detective Emerson Cod (Chi McBride) solve murders in order to collect the rewards. Ned’s little world felt like an upbeat Tim Burton film filled with characters that were as unique as the stories being told. Among them were a bee-keeping childhood sweetheart (Anna Friel), a pair of Agoraphobic ex-professional mermaids (Ellen Greene and Swoosie Kurtz), and Olive Snook (Kristen Chenoweth). The show sadly only lasted for two seasons before being canceled but remains a favorite among people.
Pushing Daisies originally aired coinciding with that emotional time of me being a teenager. It’s because of this reason it took me a while to fully appreciate the character Olive Snook was. At first, I saw Olive as a threat to Ned’s love interest, Chuck (who was my favorite), and therefore to my OTP (One True Pairing) of the show. Even as the audience got to know her and she was brought in closer and closer to the inner circle, there was still a part of me that held her at a distance because she constantly made her emotions about Ned known.
Now that HBO Max has graciously re-released Pushing Daisies onto its streaming platform, a much older me has been able to rewatch. It’s quite incredible what life experiences can do to how a person processes and reconnects with the material. In rewatching Pushing Daisies, I found myself feeling empathy for Olive and quickly realizing how underappreciated she truly was.
Hopelessly Devoted To You
When it comes to being “friend-zoned” Olive Snook takes the crown. Anyone who’s had the experience of really liking a person, expressing that like, and then having said person brush it off constantly without setting a clear answer would certainly understand Olive’s entire existence. She has built her happiness around a fantasy of being with Ned. Yet, because Ned is so unaware of how to share any feelings because he’s never really allowed himself to open up to anyone, he just allows her to continue to live in this bubble.
To Ned, Olive’s flirtation is seen as her “trying to be nice.” Even after they share a kiss because he had just saved her life, he tries to tell himself that it was an “in the moment thing”. Never once does he want to establish boundaries or clarify things for her. That’s pretty messed up on Ned’s part for not wanting to take any responsibility for stringing her along. Even after Chuck comes into the picture he just sort of forgets that Olive’s flirtation is a thing and continues as if everything is normal. They are not normal, Ned.
Olive lives in a Ned Bubble. She works close to him, lives right next door, finds herself taking care of his dog Digby, and spying on him like she’s already been his girlfriend.
There are moments when her feelings for Ned are so strong, they have to come out in song. If you are going to have Kristen Chenoweth on a show there’s really no excuse not to showcase her singing ability. I actually had Pushing Daisies to thank for introducing me to her body of work. This show sent me into my Broadway phase, but I digress.
Yet, the times she sings are usually to express how Ned is affecting her world. “Hopelessly Devoted To You” is her saying that no matter how much he doesn’t see her, she will remain to be there for when he’s ready to. “Eternal Flame” is how even though she has tried to move on there is always that spark that pulls her back in and that hope for a future with him burns harder than before. “Hello” comes at a time when Olive and Ned are pretending to be a couple and are forced to kiss sending Olive into questioning her own feelings. Has she actually been able to move on? Does Ned just think of her as a friend, or is pretending allowing him some sort of epiphany?
Olive’s emotions for Ned are immensely complicated and have controlled a lot of her motivation in the series. The final straw that allows her to break his spell comes in S2E11 when he is jokingly telling her that he enjoys trying on their pretend relationship. “Try on? You try on a sweater at the mall. You try on your best friend’s bra and you smile on the inside because yours are bigger and better. You don’t try on a person.” It’s at this moment Olive can fully see how Ned feels about her and has always felt about her. He can’t have Chuck to the full extent (be it a different reason than Olive believes) but either way she is done being a thing that he can try on when it suits him.
It’s because of Olive’s Ned Bubble that she has had a difficult time trying to find her own happiness. She is so focused on waiting for Ned that there have been times when she had been too blind to see what was in front of her.
A traveling salesman, Alfredo Aldarisio (Raul Esparza), falls for Olive when his travels bring him to The Pie Hole. He comes in, sits at a booth every day, orders something, and waits for small interactions to happen between him and Olive. Every time she is having a moment because she sees Ned with Chuck, she finds her way to his table and allows herself to open up about how she is feeling. Meanwhile, he continues to just sit there and allow her to speak. When she makes a passive comment about the espresso machine being broken, he takes it on himself to fix it.
Who knows where a relationship between Alfredo and Olive would have gone. His time with her was spent with him being that support system that she needed, but the relationship itself was one-sided. She didn’t realize until his work had taken him elsewhere how much Alfredo actually cared for her. He was giving her what she had wanted from Ned but unfortunately didn’t appreciate it until it was gone. Through Alfredo’s departure, Olive got her first taste at missed chances, and she wasn’t going to let that happen again.
Olive began to really attempt to separate her emotions for Ned. She was able to acknowledge that they were overpowering and confusing at times. More importantly, that they may never leave.
Randy Mann (David Arquette) was a taxidermist who had become friends with Ned after he investigated the death of Randy’s housemate. Randy knew Olive’s feelings towards Ned and how much she was in love with him. That didn’t stop him from beginning to have those feelings for her. Much like Alfredo, Randy would come to just be in Olive’s presence even if she never acknowledged him as anything more than a friend.
When Olive and Ned have to pretend to be a couple after Olive tells her childhood kidnappers (more on them in a moment) Jerry and Buster (Richard Benjamin and George Segal) that she had been in a relationship with him, Randy is forced to watch as Ned plays along when in reality he wants to be the one having the relationship. His jealousy of the situation doesn’t stop him from agreeing to be a wingman as he drives all five of them to the border in order to keep Jerry and Buster from going back to prison. As the men put it later when Olive is distraught after finally seeing Ned as someone who would never actually care for her; Randy had been on this entire trip, uncomplaining, only involved because he wanted to be there for Olive.
It doesn’t happen overnight with Randy, but Olive allows herself to actually enjoy his company. How she felt about Ned for the longest time acts as a blocker for her. If she falls for Randy then that means she blows any chance of ever being with Ned. She at one point tries to say that Randy is simply a phase for her but he is the man that she deserves. He is the one that will be there to hear her problems and to encourage her. Deep down Randy is everything she had been saying she wanted with Ned and you know what? Olive deserves that.
All You Need Is Love
Pushing Daisies filled its characters’ backstories with childhood trauma. Ned discovered his powers after his dog, Digby (yes, the same dog that Olive is so attached to) was hit by a truck and was brought back. He also brings back his mother who suffers a brain aneurysm in front of him only to have her die again when she kisses him goodnight. Chuck’s father drops dead and she is made to go live with her two aunts (the ex-mermaid duo from above). Their traumas play an important role in why they are the way they become when the audience meets them.
Olive’s need for a connection and attaching herself to Ned for that connection can definitely be traced back to Olive’s childhood. She grew up in a huge house, received all the lessons and training to become a Jockey that money could possibly buy but at what cost? Her parents completely ignored her and not in the sense of “oh, that’s fine darling take this money and go buy stuff with it.”
Little Olive was neglected by her parents so much that she staged her own kidnapping and they didn’t even notice. Olive left a party that her parents were hosting and jumped into the back of a car belonging to Jerry and Buster, two thieves. When they attempted to make contact with her parents no one picked up the phone. For the time that she remained with them, Jerry and Buster made sure she felt loved. When they brought her home, Jerry and Buster told her parents how neglectful they were to not have even noticed her missing. Olive’s never had anyone fight for her as they had, and even though the end result was them being shipped off to jail, she remained in contact because to her they had become family.
I’ll Stand By You
There is no one I would want by my side more than Olive Snook. Olive has proven herself time and time again to be a fantastic friend and someone who can be trusted. Yet, those she considered to be her inner circle have constantly kept her at a distance and only include her when it’s good for their own selfish needs and wants.
When she helps Emerson out on a case because Ned and Chuck are doing their own thing, Olive gets really into it and even buys herself and Emerson matching themed rain jackets. During their time together he encourages her cleverness and teaches her the ways of the private detective. He even tells her that if the pain of being around Chuck and Ned becomes so much that he would be happy to take her on as a full-timer.
This is important to Olive, who has never really had anyone take into account her feelings (besides Jerry and Buster) and emotions. She’s had to just swallow her pain and plow through, but Emerson’s empathy for her is a moment where she actually feels as though she is accepted by this little family she’s created for herself. Then, he has to go and ruin it in the next episode when he shrugs her off and tells her that the conversation being had is a need-to-know one and she doesn’t need to know. We as the audience understand that he’s doing this to protect her, but for Olive to be pushed away by someone she thinks highly of so soon after being encouraged by them is damaging to her self-worth. So much so that it even appears for a time that she switches sides to help out the other private eyes sent to dig into Emerson.
Ned is just as guilty of doing this to her as well. As explored above, he has a hard time making that boundary between being professional with her because he’s her boss and being overly friendly. He trusts Olive to run his business without him around. He trusts her to watch his best friend (Digby), he even trusts her enough to sometimes include her in on the private detective side of his life, but there is one thing that he apparently doesn’t trust her with.
Olive has proven time and time again that she is the bearer of a lot of secrets. When she began delivering pies to Chuck’s Aunt Vivian and Aunt Lily, there was every fiber of her well-being that wanted to blurt out Chuck being alive as an act of revenge for Chuck “stealing” Ned from her. Yet, Olive is not the type of person to carelessly do that and hurt the people around her. This was a woman who felt extremely guilty being involved with sabotaging a horse race that she gave up riding. Instead, she keeps quiet and assists Chuck in continuing the delivery of pies. Throughout the show, their bond becomes that of sisters.
When Aunt Lily reveals to Olive that she is actually Chuck’s mother but swears Olive never to tell because her sister has no idea, Olive is quick to agree because she understands how important the sisters’ bonds are to one another. She then distances herself from them because she is afraid of slipping. When Vivian drags Lily to The Pie Hole to ask why Olive has stopped visiting, Olive would rather have a meltdown than spill the real reason.
This woman placed herself into a nunnery in order to help prevent herself from confessing. To think that she held Chuck’s secret, her own Jockey secret, and Lily’s secret for so long, and yet when Ned is asked why she is kept from knowing his secret? She would easily go to the paper with it. Does he not realize how much that is hurtful not only to Olive but to us as the show’s audience? Ned tells her continuously that she is part of his found family and yet the one act that would prove this not only to himself but to the viewers of Pushing Daisies has been disregarded. Him not saying anything to Olive means that every single time she’s risked herself for him has been a complete waste because she really is no more than an employee to him.
As far as characters in television who went through being treated like dirt, Olive can certainly be added to that list. The number of times she was left in the Pie Hole by herself with no other staff just because Ned had to go play detective but couldn’t think of hiring more waitstaff. Being told one moment that she is valued only to be name called a moment later by that same person. Even in the end, Chuck got to reveal herself to her aunts, Ned got to have a family, and Emerson was able to reunite with his long-lost daughter. What did Olive get besides the hope of opening her heart up to Randy? A macaroni and cheese restaurant called The Intrepid Cow. The world of Pushing Daisies may not have been in full admiration of you Olive Snook, but I am so happy that I grew to really appreciate you for the best friend anyone would be lucky to have.