Early Edition went off the air less than a decade ago, but the series plays like a relic from a different generation.
Everyman Gary Hobson (played by television’s ultimate Everyman, Kyle Chandler) doesn’t rely on computers, cell phones or fancy scanning electron microscopes to prevent kidnappings, deaths and corporate espionage. Instead, he depends on a source of information that the electronic age is quickly rendering obsolete: the daily newspaper.
Of course, Gary’s daily newspaper is little bit different than most. He receives tomorrow’s edition a day early, when the news is still a prediction of the future. (Gary isn’t doing much to ensure a solvent future for the Chicago Sun-Times, however. He’s not a subscriber, at least as far as the audience knows. His paper arrives via a mysterious process somehow involving an orange tabby cat.)
Even so, anyone who feels a degree of love or nostalgia for the daily paper will become more than a little melancholy while watching Early Edition. It’s hard not to wonder what the same series would look like today. Instead of a newspaper, would Gary be gifted with the power to see tomorrow’s headlines on Google News?
The regard for newspapers isn’t the only thing about Early Edition that feels old-fashioned. Although the series often focuses on human suffering, each episode is infused with the sense that everything will come out all right in the end.
In the first episode of the second season, for example, a greedy corporate magnate and a little girl are held at gunpoint as part of a (rather convoluted) plot involving a parking lot set to be built on the site of a foster home. As Gary races to save them, it’s not just a given that he’s going to get there on time – there is also the inherent assurance that the evil thugs won’t harm a hair on either hostage’s head before the rescue party arrives. Compare that to an episode of CSI, or one of the Law and Orders, where grisly, last minute plot twists are pretty much routine.
The violence on Early Edition, such that it is, is mostly implied, but the other aspects of the plot aren’t quite so subtle. There are plenty of “wacky” hijinks (mostly on the part of Gary’s pal Chuck, played by Fisher Stevens.) The writers trot out just about every TV cliché in the book – including princesses from fictional countries and evildoers and meanies who turn into teddy bears once Gary (usually with the aid of rosy-cheeked children) help them overcome inner demons or hidden sorrows.
Although the series would later reveal limited details about its mystical premise, the second season offers no payoff to early hints about why Gary became the Chosen One. But Early Edition’s PG-rated tendencies make it truly entertainment for the entire family, a concept network television has pretty much abandoned along with the Saturday time slot the series once occupied.
Chandler deserves much of the credit for the show’s appeal. Early Edition was his “breakout” series and the earliest proof that Chandler is Our Hero whether he’s playing a hot bomb squad tech, a flinty high school football coach, or a kinda schlubby regular guy like Gary Hobson. He’s no male model, but Chandler has more charisma than a dozen himbos.
As Chandler’s Coach Taylor would say, Early Edition also scores a touchdown in its portrayal of Marissa Clark (Shanesia Davis-Williams), a former receptionist at Gary’s brokerage firm who just happens to be blind. Even today, Marissa is one of the few blind television characters I can think of who isn’t reduced to a plot device because of her disability. She’s Gary’s friend and confidant first, as opposed to being a patient waiting for a “miracle” surgery or a soap opera ingénue reduced to histrionics after losing her sight in a freak accident.
My only complaint is that I’d like to see some of Chuck’s scenery chewing time handed over to the far less annoying Marissa (and since the second season turned out to be Stevens’ last as a series regular, perhaps I’m not the only one that felt this way.)
Early Edition is equal parts sweet and old-fashioned. But when an episode clicks, the show feels as comfortable and soothing as watching an old movie on a rainy night.