Judge Mike Rubino writes tomorrow's DVD reviews today.
Our review of Early Edition: The First Season, published July 9th, 2008, is also available.
"There's all kind of courage out there. Hey, that person standing next
to you on the subway car, in the supermarket, take a closer look next time. Who
knows, it might be you're standing next to a hero."
Early Edition was one of my favorite shows in the latter half of the '90s. It's the kind of respectable, family-oriented series that would probably never get made today (this may be due to the fact that it's not about crime investigation or doctors); however, in my fond memories of the show, I had forgotten just how many changes the series went through in its sophomore season.
Facts of the Case
Gary Hobson (Kyle Chandler, Friday Night Lights) gets the Chigaco Sun-Times a day early. Rather than play the lottery or make stock investments, he uses it to help people. Each morning, Gary receives the newspaper at his hotel room door thanks to a mysterious orange cat and he sets off to do some good. With the aid of his friends Chuck (Fisher Stevens, Short Circuit 2) and Marissa (Shanesia Davis-Williams), he tries to stop catastrophes before they happen.
The second season kicks off with quite the surprise: even getting the newspaper a day early isn't enough warning for Gary to stop his hotel room from catching on fire. With all of his belongings gone, Gary is forced to hit the streets. By the end of the first episode, "Home," Gary is the new owner of McGinty's Pub, and the new tenant upstairs.
Early Edition is a show defined by its optimism, sentimentality, and non-denomenationally Christian values. In other words, it's certainly not for the modern cynic. Gary Hobson's about as clean and Boy Scout-ish as MacGyver (well, before Mac had that love-child in the series finale), and his motives don't usually go beyond wanting to help people. It's a refreshing show, really, even when it veers towards sappy Hallmark territory.
Each episode follows roughly the same formula: Gary wakes up at 6:30 with the sound of a newspaper hitting his door. He prevents some simple accidents, fends off Chuck's lame attempts to get the sports scores or stocks, and gets some vaguely encouraging advice from Marissa. Eventually he stumbles upon the major incident for the episode, sometimes involving a terminally ill person, a big time politician, or some convoluted conspiracy. The subject matter for each episode varies enough to keep things interesting.
This season ushered in a number of changes to the show, some of which may qualify as various forms of shark jumping. The biggest change is the switch in locales. While Gary, Chuck, and Marissa spent a lot of time at McGinty's Pub in the first season, they're actually running the place this time around. It gives the show a better sense of cohesion when all the characters can convene at a home base, rather than at various apartments, hotels, and bars like before. It also adds a new source of conflict as they struggle to run the place while solving Chicago's problems.
Another major addition to the show is the return of Detective Crumb (Ron Dean, The Dark Knight), who shows up in just about every episode in the latter half of the season. Crumb turns into another a sidekick for Hobson, and takes of the role of the "'Why that?' Guy." He goes on adventures but doesn't know about the paper, therefore he gets to ask all sorts of expository questions so Gary can explain things (to the audience). Sometimes he can get a little overbearing, but he's a nice addition to the cast. This season also ends with another fairly big, and surprising, cast change…but I'll avoid spoiling it.
Early Edition: The Second Season may have been enjoyable for me on a nostalgic level, but the quality of each episode isn't as consistent as the previous season. Some episodes are touching and well-written, like "The Medal," featuring Lou Gossett Jr. (Iron Eagle) as a Vietnam vet who is ashamed of his past. With Gary's help, the vet is able to avoid suicide and redeem himself by saving a Vietnamese woman being threatened by a gang. Or "Walk Don't Run," where Gary has to serve as a councilman and deal with corrupt Chicago politicians. It rang of a little Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, but in a good way. There's also a fair share of episodes so absurd they feel like cartoons: in "A Regular Joe," Gary and Chuck try and save the quarterback for the Chicago Bears by knocking him out and taking the field in his place. In "The Fourth Carpathian," Gary gets trapped in a warehouse, and it's up to his parents to help him by finding a group of failed trapeze artists to get him down. Of course, this season also features an obligatory dream episode, "Hot Time in Old Town," where Gary gets bonked on the head and dreams he's in 1871 on the eve of the Great Chicago Fire.
Variety in episodes aside, this season seems to all but abandon the idea of finding out the true history of the magical newspaper. Any momentum built up around the paper's historic past, Mr. Snow the newspaper printer, and his mysterious cat, seems to be gone now. One episode tries to randomly tie the cat back to ancient Egyptian mythology. Another episode brings back the enigmatic red haired woman from last season. The final episode has Marissa seeing psychic visions. Aside from the changes in scenery and personnel, this season largely ends up where it started: Gary Hobson gets tomorrow's paper today, and has no real idea why.
Like the previous release, this five disc set comes crammed into a flipper-laden, clear amaray case with the episode descriptions on the inside of the jacket. The only special features in the set are promos for each episode (in case you want to get yourself psyched up before watching the next installment). While the video and audio are excellent, I really wish CBS would take the time to at least include a couple interviews or something.
Early Edition isn't going to be for everyone; it's a sentimental series that embodies a much simpler time in television entertainment. There's a little bit of Fourth Estate time travel, some cheeky humor, and plenty of heart. It's kind of like Season Six MacGyver mixed with a little Quantum Leap (without the cross-dressing).
If you're a fan of the series, you've been anxiously awaiting this second season—and hoping Paramount picks up the pace for the remaining two releases. For curious on-lookers, start with the first season and then move on to this one.
Guilty today, not guilty tomorrow.
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