To try to write in 2015 about Ed, a show that aired during the transitional time between VHS and DVD and well before Twitter, Netflix and podcasts, is to haphazardly sift through grainy YouTube clips, the Television Without Pity archives, and what’s left of the Web 1.0 era of fan tributes, like this photoset from the Stuckey Bowl filming site in New Jersey. (Thank you, Wayback Machine, for preserving Stuckeyville.com for posterity.) The show never had an official DVD release or even a soundtrack album, and it’s hard to find information on it when searching the title also yields results for the films Ed and EDtv.
We’re obviously in the midst of a ’90s nostalgia craze, with oral histories of everything from Clueless to Sports Night to the Space Jam website popping up everywhere you look. Somehow, I have a feeling no one will be getting the cast of Ed together for an Entertainment Weekly retrospective and photo shoot (although, to be fair, Pajiba.com is all over it), even though many of its stars – Tom Cavanagh, Julie Bowen, Michael Ian Black, Justin Long, John Slattery – have gone on to do fairly well for themselves. No, the 15th anniversary of the show’s debut will likely come and go on October 8 with little fanfare, save for this here Hot Take on its contribution to the proto-Second Golden Age of ’00s television dramas.
Ed ran for four seasons on NBC, from fall 2000 through spring 2004. I may have watched it occasionally during its initial run, which coincided perfectly with my high school years, but at that time I was much more interested in the goings-on of Dawson Leery, Rory Gilmore, and Seth Cohen than those of a bunch of 30-somethings in a Midwestern town not unlike my own. But during my freshman year of college, I somehow found myself running back to my dorm room between classes to watch Ed in syndication on TBS. Perhaps it was the fact that I was finally experiencing my first taste of adulthood, not to mention nostalgia for a home I’d never missed before, but something about it sucked me in.
The premise is familiar: Ed Stevens, a high-powered NYC lawyer, loses his job and his marriage on the same day and decides to make a fresh start back in his Ohio hometown, including trying to woo the woman he had a crush on back in high school. But because this is Ed, the devil is in the strange, hilarious details: The job loss involves a misplaced comma in a contract that costs his firm over a million dollars. The marriage unravels when Ed discovers his wife sleeping not with the mailman, but with a mailman. And his new career plan involves buying the old Stuckeyville bowling alley and running his law practice out of it, thus earning him a much-maligned reputation about town as the “bowling alley lawyer.”
These quirks in Ed’s story come back to haunt him over and over during the course of the series, as do myriad other weird inside jokes and running gags – Ed and Mike’s $10 bets, various characters all named Godfrey, the consumption of a local delicacy known only as “Suzeechios.” The “quirky small town” trope is in full force here (Gilmore Girls was, after all, one of Ed’s contemporaries), as is the Kelley-esque “case of the week” feel as Ed serves his clients, but the off-kilter tone of everything else happening around those cornerstones kept the show from feeling too corny or dramatic.
Most of all, I like how the show treats Stuckeyville (which you could replace with any real small town in the Midwest) itself. Via Carol and Molly’s students, we get to see what life is like for both teenagers and adults in Stuckeyville. The adults are not much different from present-day me and my friends: some are married with kids, some are still single, others in between; they get coffee and lunch and beers and talk about work and family and life. The high schoolers go bowling and worry about how they look and have unattainable crushes, just like I did as a teen. None of this is punctured by constant reminders that this is “small-town life” – it’s just life. Ed certainly has a sense of place, but I can easily picture my hometown and its landmarks as my own personal version of Stuckeyville. (Much of the show was filmed in various towns in New Jersey, rather than on a Hollywood set, which may well be a factor in its excellent place-setting.)
All this to say: I miss you, Ed and friends. My household may be the only one in America where references to “Burger me,” Godfrey, “let-tooce,” Suzeechios, and fine Corinthian turkeys still pop up on a surprisingly frequent basis. And although I could have never imagined living in Ohio until well after I started watching Ed in my Wisconsin dorm room, I now like to pretend that I’ve occasionally passed Stuckeyville on the highway – maybe it’s somewhere near Columbus, off Interstate 71, hidden beyond a rural interchange like a Midwestern Brigadoon, forever ready to beat Jaspertown at football and host the Festival of Ducks.