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Ed's Dead, Baby

The third season of Ed is over. Word on the street -- or anyway word as it leaks into the TeeVee offices -- is that this was probably the last season of the series, although we haven't heard anything formal yet. But this season finale sure smelled like a series finale, so we shouldn't be surprised if Tom Cavanagh and his bedhead and Julie Bowen and her smirk have been retired from series television, at least for now. Not that it would matter around our watercooler here -- or around the whiskey cabinet, for that matter -- since most of the staff pulled Ed from their TiVos halfway through this disastrous year.

But I feel something should be said about the show. We here at TeeVee were all over Ed at its inception, reviewing it favorably; and we even gave it our 2001 Best New Show Award. More recently we mentioned the show a couple of times, just to keep interest up, because it looked like the creators were going to pull the series out of its nosedive. And I watched until the bitter, bitter end, I sure did.

Let's look back on Ed's three seasons, shall we?

The show began on the ancient and rickety premise of Will They or Won't They. Which probably meant the show was doomed from the start, because any show based on Will They or Won't They must eventually answer the question, and pretty much after that all interest drains out of the show. Most of the time interest drains out of the show long before that, actually, since viewers stop giving a crap pretty quickly. But Will They or Won't They remains a popular premise because it's easy at first, and here it was again: Will Ed and Carol get together? That was the whole show for a bit.

But I held out hope that Rob Burnett and his team would be smart enough to find a way around the Will They or Won't They dilemma. The show was pretty smart, after all. And after the initial episodes of playing with the premise, it began to look as if Ed's creatives might have the talent to skip around the problem. They might even solve it, this Fermat's Last Theorem of TV.

After a few more episodes, though, they began to slip. For a while there it looked like Ed might get together with Molly -- does anyone remember the moony eyes Molly used to make at Ed? -- but that kind of fell off the script radar. The writers, who had worked so hard to get rid of Carol's first obnoxious boyfriend, invented a new obnoxious boyfriend. But then the writers got back on the wagon and they began to humanize the boyfriend and settle into a groove.

And I started thinking that Ed was going to turn around. After a season and a half of Will They or Won't They, it would explore in a mature way the development of a friendship between a man and woman who are not romantically involved. New territory! Well, new for an hour-long sitcom, anyway.

Then the boyfriend began to act like a jerk again, and I thought, crap, there it all goes. Then they got Ed a new girlfriend, and my hopes were raised. Then she turned out to be the crazy Kelly Ripa, and my hopes were dashed. I mean, she already had steady work, no way she'd ever rise above that "guest starring" credit.

As of the end of the second season, things were not looking so good. Instead of the mature exploration of friendship I had hoped for, Ed became downright creepy, with Ed becoming nastily fixated on Carol. By the last episode, I was pretty sure Ed was going to follow Carol and Dennis off on their vacation and kill them in some lonely arroyo in New Mexico.

The third season deserved my earlier use of the word "disastrous." The first half of the season saw the plots devolve to terrible depths of stupidity as the writers tried to keep mining the Will They or Won't They vein. At long last, it collapsed, as the writers shuffled Carol's boyfriend off unceremoniously and in two miserable episodes dragged loyal audience members through the worst slurry of Ed and Carol's dementia imaginable.

But then things picked up. Apparently realizing they had screwed the pooch on this one, Burnett and his team took a totally new direction, getting Ed a real, new girlfriend and finding a steady course of decent plotting as we watched their relationship develop.

And then here's what I think happened. I have no reason for thinking this, no inside knowledge, nothing to go on but the show. Here's what I really hope happened: Word came down that Ed was on the bubble. NBC started looking a little askance at the show. Trigger fingers got itchy. And Ed's creators, knowing or sensing that their show was in trouble, decided to wrap up the Will They or Won't They with extreme finality.

That meant, for the last few episodes of the season, deliberately sabotaging their efforts to turn the show around. Suddenly Carol had to decide that she really did love Ed, three seasons' of shows to the contrary. Suddenly Ed had to be ambivalent about his relationship with his new girlfriend. And suddenly his new girlfriend needed to get upset about Ed's previous relationship to Carol.

Script pages flew out windows in a flurry of rewriting at this point. That's what I'd like to think.

What we know, though, is this: They wrapped up the season, and possibly the series, finally getting Ed and Carol together. The end.

Not the mature end, not the best end, not the unpredictable end. Just the usual solution to the Will They or Won't They premise, after which the show is supposed to fold.

My only question is this: What if Ed isn't cancelled?

During its three years on the air, Ed sure has been disappointing. But the disappointments are in contrast to its high points. I mean, I don't ever tune in to Just Shoot Me and get more than I expect, and I never get less. I just don't expect a whole lot out of it. It performs. But Ed could be disappointing because Ed could be really, really good. It could be very funny and it could be touching. It could bring back memories and it could light up insights. Granted that Ed was never high art and a lot of its sentiments were more cloying than a religious Hallmark card; but it was good entertainment, entertainment we didn't have to feel guilty or cheap about enjoying. Those sentiments were sincere, and I'm glad someone is sincere in this world of hip irony.

I'm not ashamed to say I enjoyed Ed, right up to the end, right along as it was disappointing me, falling into the traps I'd hoped it would skirt. Right as it blundered into the ending we'd all been waiting for but which I, for one, had hoped would never happen in quite that way.

If Ed does return, hopefully it will be with a renewed sense of purpose. There's still time for Rob Burnett and company to turn it around, to turn the lead of Will They or Won't They into television gold. If Ed does return.

And if Ed does not return, well, I'll miss it.


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