With the high amount of quality legal dramas focusing on catching and prosecuting killers, it’s easy to forget there is a legal world outside of capital punishment and the other sinister sides of human nature.
Launched on 8 October 2000, Ed set out to capture the life of a small town community with little knowledge or interest in the legal world. As its title suggests, the show was not a glamorous, slick, high budget production but instead concentrated on the seemingly trivial problems local people had with colleagues, schoolmates, friends, lovers, and even random strangers.
The show begins when the eponymous Ed Stevens is fired after misplacing a comma and costing his prestigious law firm $1.5bn. His life continues to unravel when he comes home to find his wife in bed with the milkman and so decides to head back to his home town (fictional town Stuckeyville in Ohio) for a bit to get his life together. Meeting up with his old friends and realising he is desperate to win back his high school crush Carol Vessey, he decides to stay and buys a failing bowling alley and set up a small legal firm.
It’s this setting that allows the show its depth and structured storyline continuance. Interlinking with storylines involving Ed and Carol, there are also issues with Ed’s best friend Michael Burton who aspires to succeed his boss and take over the GP practice and Molly Hudson, a teaching colleague and long-time best friend of Carol. At the school in which they teach, Warren Cheswick is the geeky kid who resembles how Ed was at his age, particularly in his lack of widespread popularity and obsessive crush on the hottest girl at the school, Jessica.
The hour long format (with ads) meant that it was common for there to be three or more storylines and, before shows like Ugly Betty and Desperate Housewives came along, showed it was possible to blend drama and comedy. Central to the comedic elements were the 10 dollar challenges, where Ed and Michael alternate between ridiculous challenges that usually involved approaching strangers and carrying out a ridiculous request.
But what gives the show its real distinction is the thought-provoking legal stories that prop up in each episode. With Phil Stubbs, always with a new madcap but impractical business idea, painfully shy Shirley Pifko and gentle giant Kenny Sandusky (later Eli Cartwright), mainly handling the bowling side of things, it leaves Ed largely free to focus on his legal activities. And it’s the distinct dilemmas Ed faces which give the show its reflective edge and separate it from other shows set in small towns with largely moral and sympathetic main characters.
Examples include a rival magician giving the secrets away of his oldest competitor (The World of Possibility), three guys who tricked their friend into thinking he had won $20m in the lottery (Losing Streak) and a pastor facing the sack for not increasing his congregation (Valentine’s Day). But there are two examples of what Ed was really about.
In the episode entitled “Window of Opportunity”, an extremely overweight man named James walks into Ed’s office and explains that his brother has been damaging his stuff in escalating levels of violence. The reason is that James was told by his doctor that if he doesn’t change his diet he will die and thus made a deal with his brother that any time he ate badly, his brother could do something drastic. Now however it has all got out of control. Turns out though there is a contract signed by both allowing his brother to carry out the stuff legally. Though the judge sides with James and Ed, his brother continues to find ways to mock his brother in the aim of getting him to stop overeating, raising all kinds of questions about how far a sibling can go if someone does not want to help themselves.
The other was ‘Exceptions’. Carol’s star student Clark Salinger fears he will lose his scholarship if he doesn’t get better than an F at gym, and with most of the grade made up of a fitness test, he will most likely fail. Carol rages at his gym teacher, Frank Kerwin, though he refuses to budge. Salinger’s parents threaten to sue, resulting in Kerwin going to Ed saying if he doesn’t promise to change the grade he will be sacked. Despite the pressure, he feels he is right and wants to make a stand. As well as being complicated as he will be going up against Carol, things get more uncomfortable when Ed finds out the gym teacher once had a star basketball player who was refused to play in a match watched by scouts as he had failed Carol’s English class. What, argues Kerwin, is the difference between a student who tries his best in English or maths but isn’t bright enough to understand, and a kid who is naturally no good at sport? Though things are soon amended for Salinger, it is far too late for the basketball star, Sean Ellis who missed his big break and works at a dead end job. Carol goes to apologise, but sometimes apologies will never be enough.
And no, the show wasn’t perfect.
Changing its theme tune from Foo Fighters’ ‘New Year’ to Clem Snide’s ‘Moment in the Sun’, only to change back to its original choice hinted at a lack of structure, especially as outside the US the latter choice continued to be used. Due to the expense of musical copywrite, it is still unavailable to buy on DVD.
Josh Randall (Mike) though he clicks perfectly with Ed (Tom Cavanagh) as long time buddies, is a far from a convincing doctor. His dull wife’s character Nancy was never really given any depth of a personality and Ed’s ineffectiveness in courting a date with Carol gets tiring sometimes. Though nominated, it didn’t win any Emmys or Golden Globes, won’t end up on any polls and was kicked off the air for poor ratings, finishing after only four series.
But in capturing a small town community, for capturing the eccentricities of life, for making us root for a Jimmy Stewart kind of good guy, and for reminding us of how there are always possibilities to change without losing who we are, it had it nailed. With a final episode entitled ‘Happily ever after’ you can guess how it all ends, but as with some things in life, it was the journey that was the fun bit.
Carol: Oh, God, this is gonna sound so stupid. All right. Nick and I were having breakfast at my house.
Ed: Came over for breakfast. Gotcha.
Carol: No, Ed. He did not come over. He was there. He slept there.
Ed: Crashed on your couch. Gotcha.
Carol: No, Ed. He slept with me.
Ed: You sleep with Nick? Eeeeewwwwwwwwwww!
Ed: I was wondering, how much power does the prom queen actually wield? Could you have like, say, bombed Belgium?
Molly: Mr. Nowell, your son is a geek. He’s smart and he’s witty and he’s sensitive. All rare and wonderful qualities to have, but when you’re 15 they get you duct taped to a locker.
Ed: The first time I ever laid eyes on you was ninth grade. Mr. O’Roarke’s Biology class. I looked across the room and you were pouring water into a test tube. You were wearing a blue shirt with white criss-crossed strings right down the sides. And the moment I saw you… I just went…
Carol, from the day I came back here to Stuckeyville and I walked into your classroom to ask you out, and all the other times I asked you out, it seemed you just kept telling me the same thing over and over and over again. That I didn’t fall in love with you, but rather some high school kid’s fixated version of you. And I went and I thought about it… and I thought about it and I thought about it and I thought about it and I thought about it. And I decided… you’re right. I didn’t fall in love with you. I fell in love with that girl wearing that blue shirt with the white criss-crossed strings down the side that I never said a single word to in high school. So I decided to be with Frankie. So I went to look for you, I went to look for you to tell you. I looked all over. I looked at the Smiling Goat, I looked at your high school, I looked at your house, I looked all over, all over. And a funny thing happened. Everywhere I went… I saw us. Laughing, crying, arguing. And I realized, yeah, maybe I fell in love with that girl wearing the blue shirt with the white criss-crossed strings down the sides in high school. But now… now… I love you. I love you; I love every part of you. And we have to be together.
Cast and Awards
Tom Cavanagh…. as Ed Stevens
Julie Bowen…..as Carol Vessey
Josh Randall…. as Michael Burton
Jana Marie Hupp…. as Nancy Burton
Lesley Boone…. as Molly Hudson
Justin Long…. as Warren Cheswick
Michael Ian Black…. as Phil Stubbs
Rachel Cronin…. as Shirley Pifko
Mike Starr…. as Kenny Sandusky (45 episodes)
Daryl Mitchell…. as Eli Goggins (39 episodes)
Years: 2000 – 2004
Created by: Jon Beckerman and Rob Burnett
Number of series: 4
Number of episodes: 83
Emmys: 0 from 3
Golden Globes: 0 from 1