Special Features

Chi McBride: Welcome back, we missed you! (aka We Miss Pushing Daisies)

Pushing Daisies
Chi McBride, pictured here from Pushing Daisies.

Premiering on CBS in the United States the night of 2/26 is the new crime drama series Golden Boy, which features Chi McBride, former star of one of WeMinoredInFilm’s favorite television shows, Pushing Daisies.  As for McBride, how can you not love a man who once played a character who said, “Sure, I could pay my bills with blind kid’s smiles, but their money is easier.”  In Golden Boy, McBride plays a two-years-from-retirement homicide detective assigned as a partner to an ambitious 27-year-old rookie detective (Theo James) who we know in six years time will become the youngest police commissioner in the history of New York City.  According to metacritic, the show has thus far received generally favorable reviews, although just barely.  With McBride again on a major network show, we thought we would take this opportunity to extend a hearty “Welcome Back” and take stock of why it is we are so delighted to see him on our television screens once again.

Who is Chi McBride?  

Known for his domineering physical presence and uncanny knack for exasperated facial expressions and one-liners, Chi (first name pronounced like the word “shy”) McBride initially pursued a career in rhythm and blues music before switching his focus at the age of 30 to acting.  His first featured role was in the 1992 tv movie sequel Revenge of the Nerds III: The Next Generation.  Subsequent to that, he appeared as a guest star on several television shows and in supporting roles in a handful of theatrical films, most notably Mercury Rising in 1998.  His most long-lasting success has been the sitcom The John Larroquette Show (1993-1996) and David E. Kelley’s Boston Public (2000-2004), both of which ran for 80+ episodes.  His towering performance as the principal of an inner-city high school on Boston Public would lead to a series of dramatic roles on House and in short-lived shows Killer Instinct and The Nine.  Though possibly now more known for his comedic work, at the beginning of the 2000s he was most known as a dramatic actor.  An example of his work from Boston Public is included below:

Boston Public:

Comedy Vs. Drama:

McBride has spoken about having started in comedy on Larroquette and shifting to drama on Boston Public and struggling to shift back to comedy due to the industry’s perception of him as a dramatic actor as well as his disdain for the type of comedic material which was offered to him.

Notice that he does not mention The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer, a 1998 sitcom about Abraham Lincoln’s White House as told from the point of view of his African American butler named Desmond.  This was a show so astoundingly awful from conception to delivery that Cracked.com named it one of the 6 TV shows you can’t believe we’re actually made.  But this is a pro-Chi McBride article.  He’s made up for Pfeiffer.  Moving on.

Undercover Brother:

While I personally appreciated McBride’s Boston Public performance, I far more enjoyed his comedic work in 2002’s Undercover Brother, which was basically Austin Powers (i.e., a spy movie spoof) for African-Americans.  His role, specifically that of the head of a secret spy agency named The Brotherhood, is your standard spoof of the odd tendency of buddy cop action movies to feature an African American police chief whose sole purpose is to verbally berate the loose cannon stars of the film.  Last Action Hero spoofed the same thing before, and Starsky and Hutch did it afterward.  However, McBride displays impeccable comedic timing throughout the film, managing to make potential groaners (e.g., a line about having had to hire one Caucasian office worker due to affirmative action, a sight gag comparing him to Danny Glover from Lethal Weapon) somehow work. You can see a clip from the film featuring McBride in irate boss mode here.  As discussed by McBride himself in the comedy vs. drama video, it was Undercover Brother which reminded Hollywood of his abilities as a comedic actor.  This would lead to him starring in the comedic film Let’s Go to Prison in 2006.  However, more memorably, this led to Pushing Daisies and his pitch-perfect performance in the role of Emerson Cod.  

Pushing Daisies:

Pushing Daisies. Notice how they all seem kind of happy while he somewhat grimaces?  That’s usually how it went down on the actual show.

Featuring a third-person, omniscient narrator reading storybook-style text to describe the actions and a distinct visual design characterized by consistent usage of patterns and bright colors, the show shall forever be the yardstick by which all shows ever described as twee are measured.  The story at the heart of this storybook is that of Ned the piemaker (Lee Pace) and a girl named Chuck (Anna Friel).  Ned owns and operates a pie shop (the Pie Hole), but possesses a secret ability wherein through his touch he can bring something back to life.  However, if he does not touch this thing or person again within 60 seconds of the initial touch then they will remain alive but something of equal value in the vicinity will drop dead. McBride’s private investigator character partners with Ned, whose ability allows them the option to solve murders by interviewing the actual murder victims.  In the course of an investigation Ned re-animates his childhood sweetheart, Chuck, but refuses to force her back into death.  Reunited, the two face a permanent barrier in that if he is to touch her even once she shall die.

There’s only so long you can kiss through saran wrap or hold hands through oven mitts before the idea of a threesome in which one party simply watches is proposed, but that wasn’t this show’s style.

Kristin Chenowith (a Broadway star breaking out on tv for the first time here), Swoosie Kurtz, and Ellen Greene were also along for the ride, the former as a Pie Hole employee hopelessly devoted to Ned and the latter two as Chuck’s shut-in aunts who had previously in life been successful circus performer mermaids (the mermaid  fins being fake, of course).  The show largely succeeds because of Chi McBride.  With such a whimsical tone and Tim-Burton-if-his-color-palette-extended-beyond-black-grey-and-red visual flair, Pushing Daisies was consistently at risk of being too much storybook  for its own goood.  McBride’s performance is what kept the show from teetering over the twee edge, as one should not overlook the importance of his character’s consistent annoyance with and willingness to crack wise about the nonsense transpiring around him.  This is not to suggest Emerson Cod was above it all and did not possess his own share of quirks, such as his side-career and true passion for authoring children’s pop-up books.  However, he was the grumpy presence always quick with a cloud-bursting line (e.g., “Where did I put that rat’s ass I could give” in response to a non-profit related concern voiced by Chuck) which kept the show balanced.  Sadly, the show only lasted for 22 episodes, aired over two seasons, with the cause of its death mostly attributed to its inability to regain its early hit-status ratings after returning to the air post-Writers Guild of America (WGA) strike.

 Below are some of McBride’s best moments from the show.  You can also view best moments from the show, in general, here and here.

Human Target:

Adapted from a long-running DC Comics character, Human Target centered around a private investigator and bodyguard (Mark Valley) and his two business associates (Chi McBride, Jackie Earl Haley), with the second season cast expanded to incorporate two female characters (Indira Varma, Janet Montgomery).  It aired for two seasons on FOX (in the United States).  Although the show could not have been more different in tone and look than Pushing Daisies, the familiar set-up of a private investigation partnership in which McBride played the economically-inclined brains behind an all-star partner (Pace on Daisies, Valley here) worked equally well.  As you can tell from the below promotional video for the second season from FOX, the show was rather action-packed (and the network wanted to make that perfectly clear).  However, many of the same line delivery quirks and grumpiness from Emerson Cod found their way to McBride’s character here, and his comedic chemistry with co-stars Earl Haley and Valley made for episodes featuring equal amounts tense, tightly choreographed action and small character beats with pithy asides and witty banter.  One of the show’s better running gags was the nicknames the team would use for certain spy maneuvers and McBride’s lack of excitement over the prospect of using the tactic, as he would understand that to which the characters were referring whereas the audience had yet to see it put into play. Proving ultimately far too expensive a show to produce considering its mediocre ratings, Human Target should not be forgotten, and it is a shame McBride did not have more time in the role and with that cast (just as with Pushing Daisies before).

Why Welcome Back?

Human Target was only cancelled two years ago, and McBride was rather recently a recurring character on the TNT medical drama Hawthorne in addition to voicing Nick Fury for The Ultimate Spiderman for the past two years.  However, he has built up such good will with me through Undercover Brother, Pushing Daisies, and Human Target that any time he returns to television is cause for celebration.  So, Chi McBride — welcome back!

Undercover BrotherPushing Daisies,  Human Target are currently available in the US, digitally, via pay-per-episode services such as Amazon Instant Video and Vudu.   Physical copies should be available through traditional outlets.  Neither The John Larroquette Show nor Boston Public have been made available, either through digital or physical channels.  Golden Boy premieres in the US on 2/26 on CBS at 9 PM CST.

What about you?  Are you happy to see McBride’s return?  Does seeing him again more make you want to check out Pushing Daisies than check out Golden Boy?  Is there a significant performance of his you like better and/or just as much as the ones I highlighted?  Let us know in the comments.

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