The 1990s had a lot of genre shows, but most were space operas, and most of those were Star Trek spin-offs. Having come out of the tail end of shows like Quantum Leap, and heading into new ground with shows like the X-Files, there was now room for a gentle show with only mild supernatural elements. For example: Early Edition.
I’ve never watched this show before, but it was a favourite of a friend of mine when it first came out, so as I had some time before new TV restarts I thought I’d give it a try, and after a slightly rocky start, it’s growing on me.
The cat will not shut the hell up. Meow meow meow. Not as good a representation of God as Morgan Freeman.
Ordinary decent guy Gary Hobson, played by stunned mullet Kyle Chandler, wakes each morning to find tomorrow’s newspaper at his door, accompanied by a noisy cat. After reading about the day’s upcoming events in the Chicago Sun-Times, usually deaths or disasters, Gary races around the city trying to fix things.
Occasionally accompanied, or obstructed, by his friend Chuck Fishman, played by irritating idiot Fisher Stevens, and on rarer occasions nagged by his blind friend Marissa, acted initially very badly by Shanesia Davis, together they stumble through one disaster after another, ranging from the mild (rescue of a runaway teen), to the extreme (preventing a plane from crashing), even though Gary, king of the double-takes, never prepares a way to convince anyone of how he knows so much, and only gives a tight-lipped pleading look and a vague “I can’t tell you how, but I just know.” Quite frustrating, and leads to a lot of awkward aftermath.
Gary has a good heart, while Chuck has a selfish one.
I must say, I’m not sure why the character of Marissa is blind. The actress isn’t blind herself, so it’s a deliberate choice, but I can’t see any plot reasons to make her so. In fact it severely limits her usefulness. Her nagging is all she has if she can’t actively help with the disaster-aversion. That’s no way to write a character, and part of the reason why I don’t like her all that much. Maybe she’ll get better later.
Marissa has one character trait - she’s blind. Which shouldn’t count as a character trait.
As is typical of 90s TV, the pacing is slower than I’m now used to. It has long dramatic pauses that desperately need an edit, and storylines that draw out longer than they need to, but can’t be trimmed enough for a B story to fit in too without serious truncation, something common in today’s TV but back then seems to not be typical. Sometimes an episode seems to be forty minutes of Kyle Chandler’s goofy double-takes and sad puppy-dog eyebrows.
The writing, therefore, feels sophomoric, like they’re learning how to do it as they go. By the end of season 1, which is where I’m up to so far (there are four seasons in total), the dialogue has started to mellow and be less on-the-nose, the characters are starting to feel comfortable enough with each other that they can banter naturally, and the mythology is being drip-fed in enough directions that it leaves room for a lot more exploration. That is something I’m excited about as the series goes on, but it’s taking its sweet time getting to that point. Most current shows would be cancelled if they didn’t explore some concrete mythology by episode 6.
I assume that every big city also has a do-gooder getting tomorrow’s paper, also keeping it on the down-low, because there’s no reason Chicago should be any more privileged than Seattle, London, or Beijing. There’s a bigger set of events going on here than just Gary, I hope.
Kyle Chandler is king of the goofy double-takes.
One criticism I have to level at it is the dearth of female regulars. There have been many really good women introduced as potential love interests, or just secondary characters, but none ever get followed up, they just never reappear. Some were so good, with great performances and personalities, I can’t fathom why they’d remove them from the show. An occasional appearance from a girlfriend would add a much needed obstacle that would mix things up, rather than re-introducing that idea repeatedly with different characters every few weeks. In fact, there’s so few women, in one particular episode there is just one female character, and she only had two lines. Horrendous. Even Marissa wasn’t in that episode.
The guest stars help save it. Though the majority of them are unknowns who haven’t gone on to much else either, a few stand out or have gained additional fame since, including William Devane as Gary’s Dad (a way better character than I anticipated), Fyvush Finkel as a stubborn old man, Pauley Perrette as a mob boss’s feisty girlfriend, and especially Kathy Najimi as a Psychic who doesn’t like to admit she has real powers. Their appearances elevate the acting of the main trio, sometimes by quite a margin, making those episodes stand out. A cameo from Chicago Sun-Times movie critic Roger Ebert is awkwardly jammed in, though, presumably because that’s the eponymous newspaper used in the show.
The best episode so far stars Kathy Najimy as a Psychic.
They do a good job of addressing the “If I had a newspaper like that, this is what I would do!” story problems. Avenues that, if they explored them, would ruin the shaky premise. Instead of avoiding those questions, though, they have constructed a few examples where they cause more problems than they solve. Plus Gary has a, somewhat frustratingly righteous, moral streak where he knows what’s right, and that he was chosen for this task to do good, not to abuse it. Though as he can’t have a regular job while he’s out saving lives, the paper provides him enough income through judicious betting to live comfortably. The questionable morals of gambling conveniently overlooked by Gary using his winnings charitably.
It is interestingly dated. Aside from the 90s hair and fashions (skinny ties, red suspenders, baggy pants, loose t-shirts, shoulder pads, grey and pink), there’s a lack of cellphones, and storylines that would play out very differently if the characters had one. It’s kind of weird, because in my memory of 1997, most people were taking up cellphones by then, and they weren’t stigmatised as yuppie accoutrements anymore. It’ll be interesting to see how the final season (made in 2000) will evolve in that area.
If there’s any real criticism I can put forward, is that it feels like a religious show, like Touched By An Angel, without any overt reference to God, even though that’s the only “logical” explanation for the supernatural powers the newspaper represents, at least in how the mythology has played out so far. Not being a religious guy myself, I tend to find portrayal of Divine Intervention in that specifically Christian way annoying. But as they haven’t addressed it directly yet, I guess I can’t complain.
But I give it credit that, despite being sentimental and somewhat superficial in the way it portrays certain characters, this is a conscious moving away from the Highway To Heaven “very special episode” type of sentimentality; an attempt to achieve the same effect without being too cloyingly sweet.
It’s actually a great show, and I think I’ll enjoy season 2 better. Once Fisher Steven’s horrible voice-over is discontinued, and Marissa actually does something useful instead of nagging Gary all the time, things will start to fall into a better rhythm.
Set in hazy Chicago.