Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
Support independent student journalism. Support independent student journalism. Support independent student journalism.
The Dartmouth
June 17, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

NBC drama-comedy 'Ed' strikes the perfect balance

Ed Stevens gets fired from a high-powered New York law firm for misplacing one comma in a 500-page contract, comes home to find his wife sleeping with the mailman, drives back to his boyhood home (the small town of Stuckeyville), kisses his high-school sweetheart, purchases an ailing bowling alley.

All this happens within the first ten minutes of the first episode of "Ed," the first good idea to come out of the major networks this fall. Judging by the almost incessant advertising of the show during the recent Summer Olympics -- faithful viewers could probably piece together most of the pilot episode's footage from a single day's worth of "Ed" promos -- NBC knows it has something different on its hands here.

But just as bowling looks like a drop-dead easy sport upon first glance, the distinctness of "Ed" deceivingly makes it look like a sure-fire winner. The hour-long "dramedy" features a likeable main character (Thomas Cavanagh, previously known as Doug on "Providence"), a kooky supporting cast, a fun premise and a pervasive but light romance. Set up the pins and knock 'em down, easy.

Well, not so easy. That ball has to hit the pocket at a good angle with the right timing -- it's a fine line between a strike and a nasty split. The creators of "Ed" have a number of these fine lines to tread.

Take the romantic tension. It depends on Ed's desire to date Carol (Julie Bowen), who now teaches at the high school Ed and Carol attended. But Carol already has a boyfriend, teacher/author Nick Stanton (Gregory Harrison), whose classes Ed and Carol attended.

There are two major "lines" here. The audience needs to sympathize with Ed, so in order to justify his girl-stealing tendencies, Nick needs to be a jerk -- but not too much, else you think there's something wrong with Carol for dating him in the first place.

Also, Ed needs to make his love clear to Carol lest we lose interest, but he can't be overzealous about it, or we wonder why Carol should bother with this maniac after all. In fact, Ed constantly runs a risk of just being too damn wacky.

Then there is the oddball cast. "Ed's" creators have revived the tired sitcom idea that everyone who lives in a small town is inherently zany. In doing so, they run the risk of overpopulating the show with one-dimensional, one-joke characters that never develop and whose gags wear out -- fast.

That's the good news, though. "Ed" shows no signs of wearing out. The weirdos are well-written, for the writers set time aside for them to grow beyond their surface quirks. In the most recent episode, they employ a clever device when Ed "interviewes" his three bowling alley staffers for the job of alley manager. We learn that gruff-looking-but-sensitive Kenny (Mike Starr) graduated from Tufts with a 3.7 GPA and studied to be a pediatric nurse. It was a nice moment, and director James Frawley let it be just that. The camera doesn't linger, the music doesn't swell; we just have the moment and move on. Perfect.

The danger of the weird small town setting-- which hasn't been done this well since "Northern Exposure" -- is also offset by the show's other "regular" people. Ed lives with his high-school pal Mike (Josh Randall) and Mike's wife, Nancy (Jana Marie Hupp), who provide engaging B-plots to Ed's shenanigans. Carol's friend and fellow teacher, Molly (Lesley Boone), serves as a mediator between Ed and his object of desire.

Nick's a jerk, but not an overbearing one. Carol's not nuts, she just looks a little too sensible next to Ed -- but once again not so unyieldingly sensible that we dislike her for it. And Ed does indeed come close to making us squirm when he shows up in Carol's English class wearing a suit of armor and calling for his "fair maiden," or when he makes a video of himself lip-synching an '80s rock ballad to declare his love to her.

But Cavanagh plays the role ideally. His manner has just the right amount of reservation to make the character believable. Ed makes a fool of himself, but he feels the embarrassment that any sane person would. He is a full-blown romantic on his first "date" with Carol, but when she invites him in at the end of the night, he sobers and calmly refuses, knowing that they're both rebounding from miserable relationship troubles. Cavanagh always finds the right balance between goofy and straight-laced.

This isn't to say that there aren't problems with the show. Cavanagh's grin is a bit too Berle-esque, and he flashes it so much that his mouth must ache when he goes home after a day of shooting. The three leading ladies look too similar and homogenized, such perfect matching suburbanites that they might have been played by Patty Duke, Patty Duke and Patty Duke.

Yet the creators of "Ed" have put together a fresh, solid show. It walks the fine line, and does so without much flashiness or star power. I like the "reality TV" of "Survivor" and "Millionaire," but it's nice to see that once in a while, the networks can still use storytelling to roll out a quality program in a season of gutter balls.