Despite the fact that I live in a beautiful neighborhood and have very nice neighbors, I have had the urge to move for the last few weeks. I want to move to Stuckeyville, Ohio. Even if the fact that Stuckeyville is fictional makes that rather difficult, at least I can visit there every Sunday night at 8. Stuckeyville is the home of Ed Stevens, the main character of NBC’s new dramedy Ed, and is filled with the quirkiest cast of characters to come along since the citizens of Cicely, Alaska, roamed the streets in Northern Exposure. Comparisons between Cicely and Stuckeyville are a staple in reviews of the new show, with good reason. Both towns provide interesting situations and characters, represent rural America, and must adjust to the arrival of a cute, likeable man who has become the focus of the local gossip mill.
The cute, likeable man in Ed is not the fish out of water that NE‘s Dr. Joel Fleischman was. Ed Stevens (Tom Cavanagh) grew up in Stuckeyville, and his arrival marks his return home. Ed left his quaint Ohio hometown for the big city life of New York, where he apparently achieved a certain level of success. He is married to an attractive woman and works as an attorney with a top law firm. After leaving one comma out of a 500-page report, a mistake that costs the firm $1.6 million, Ed is fired. At home, he finds his wife in bed with the mailman. What do you do when you are a big city lawyer whose life has fallen apart? Go back to the town where you grew up. After all, it worked for Amy Gray in Judging Amy.
Rob Burnett, Jon Beckerman, David Letterman
Thomas Cavanagh, Julie Bowen, Josh Randall, Jane Marie Hupp, Lesley Boone, Michael Ian Black, Rachel Cronin, Mike Starr
Regular airtime: Wednesday, 8pm EST
The premise does sound frighteningly like Judging Amy, but that is where similarities end. I wish that I could provide more explanation of the events that led to Ed’s trip home. However, in a brainless move on someone’s part, the pilot episode, which lays the foundation for the series, was condensed into a five-minute synopsis at the beginning of the first aired episode. This means that viewers must pick up Ed’s story without knowing much about his motivations or emotional state at the time of his move back home. And yet, despite this omission, it quickly becomes obvious that Ed is largely inspired by his attraction to Carol Vessey (Julie Bowen), a local schoolteacher and former high school classmate whom he has admired from afar for years. This attraction inspires Ed to buy the local bowling alley, so he has a reason to stay in Stuckeyville. However, business at the alley is less than booming, so Ed also sets up a law practice there as a promotion to increase traffic—bowl three games and get free legal advice. The ploy works and soon, Ed finds himself back in the courtroom with the undesirable label of “the bowling alley lawyer.” Unfortunately for Ed, his efforts to grow closer to Carol are less successful, as she is dating one of her colleagues, the obnoxious, intellectual Nick Stanton (Gregory Harrison). Ed is determined to win Carol’s love, which leads him to show up in her classroom dressed as a knight in full armor and make an MTV-style music video devoted to her. The choice between the personable Ed and the pretentious Nick seems so obvious that one can’t help wonder if Carol is a glutton for abuse.
As a matter of fact, Carol appears to be the only one in town who fails to see this clear choice. All the other people in Ed’s life cheer him on in his efforts to woo the beautiful schoolteacher and (as if to underline his appeal) Carol’s best friend, Molly (Lesley Boone), has developed her own crush on Ed. He gets frequent advice from his own best friend, Dr. Mike Burton (Josh Randall), as well as from the odd mix of people who work at the bowling alley. Everyone in Stuckeyville seems to have an anomalous background and perspective on life, so the advice that Ed gets ranges from the practical to the absurd. All of these supporting characters are drawn in such a manner that viewers can’t help but be intrigued, though the show wisely hasn’t revealed much about them yet, so viewers will be inclined to come back to learn more. For instance, Kenny (Mike Starr), one of Ed’s employees at the bowling alley, appears at first glance to be fairly shallow, but he recently revealed that he had previously been a pediatric nurse. Given Kenny’s gruff demeanor, this came as a shock, but one that makes him more than just another stereotypically bulky small-town loser who is the butt of others’ cruel jokes.
Eccentricity is not always a good thing. (I always found Michael Richard’s Kramer on Seinfeld to be so annoying that I could never watch the show.) But Ed’s acquaintances are subtly seductive. Like the people we see every day—the elderly man who lives around the corner and sings to himself as he saunters down the street or the woman next door who assumes the role of Block Mother—these are characters we want to know. Moreover, they’ve been given some of the show’s wittiest dialogue (Molly to her distracted friend: “Carol, honey, if I’m going to make fun of you, I need you to actually pay attention”) and most intriguing behavior (one of Ed’s male employees uses his bare chest to wash the windows of Ed’s office while the lawyer counsels a gorgeous female client inside). Ed indulges in some idiosyncrasies as well. One running gag has he and Mike continuously betting each other ten dollars to perform inane stunts, such as drinking an entire bottle of maple syrup. This is hardly the behavior one would expect from two professionals, and that is what makes these stunts fun to view.
This diversity in the supporting characters might keep the show from becoming Ed and Carol: A Love Story, which might give it some longevity. Creators Rob Burnett and Jon Beckerman (former writers for The Late Show with David Letterman) have intelligently invested significant time in developing other storylines, but truth be told, Ed and Carol are going a familiar tv-series process: two likeable characters share a sexual tension, and keep running into situations that keep them apart. Think of Maddie and David in Moonlighting, Lee and Amanda in The Scarecrow and Mrs. King, Lois and Clark on the show of the same name, or Tony and Jeannie on I Dream of Jeannie. It’s a ploy that television history tells us is a dead-end street. Each of the shows mentioned above did eventually allow their couples to consummate their relationships, and in so doing, signed their own death warrants. Without the tease, viewers found they no longer had anything to root for.
By placing primary focus on Ed and Carol’s relationship, Ed looks to be headed down this dead-end street at full throttle. After just four episodes, Carol has already begun to sever her relationship with Nick and succumb to Ed’s charm, although the two have agreed, for now, to be “just friends.” How long they will remain friends and how much long-term appeal the supporting characters will have rests in the hands of Burnett and Beckerman and their staff of writers. With a new business, a new law practice, a new love, and some new friends, Ed has a lot to look forward to. If Burnett and Beckerman can remain true to the tone set in the first few episodes, then Stuckeyville should remain a delightful place to visit for years to come. If they can’t, however, Ed and Carol might find themselves sharing a retirement bungalow with Maddie and David sooner than they had anticipated.
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