‘What if you had tomorrow’s news today?’ the tagline of the show pretty much covers the premise but not the underlying tension. It sounds like a simple question and things like lottery numbers perhaps spring to mind 😉 but what about issues that touch you deeply, that affect others, what about consequences and the practicality of changing events/lives? What could you do exactly and what would be your motivations for doing so?
Early Edition was a US family friendly drama that ran from 1996-2000 airing in the UK on ITV and the Hallmark channel consisting of 90 episodes approx 50min in length over 4 seasons. The show followed a simple format, mostly self-contained episodes presenting a dilemma within the overall mystery of a newspaper from the future (or is it?)
CHARACTERS AND STORYLINE
Gary Hobson (played by Kyle Chandler – also in Friday Night Lights and The Wolf of Wall Street) is recently separated from his wife and due to events about to unfold soon to quit his job. One morning he goes to collect the Chicago Sun-Times from the doorstep as usual and finds an unusual visitor, a tabby cat (played by Panther, Pella, and Carl) sitting on his paper and who has a way of uncannily appearing and disappearing. To add to the strangeness his paper has tomorrow’s date on it but surely it’s just a printing mistake? Gary and his closest friends Chuck Fishman (Fisher Stevens – Short Circuit, Cold Fever) and Marissa Clark (Shanésia Davis-Williams – Uncle Nino, Life Sentence) don’t know what to make of it until the events in the paper, things no one could surely know in advance, start happening before their very eyes. To make matters more confusing he keeps receiving it, every day an advance copy and every day the feline visitor. Is it merely a coincidence that as Gary came to a transitional phase in his life he’s now in receipt of this portent?
Only the paper, the cat and an old photo of a man called Lucius Snow with a very similar looking cat. That’s it, no instructions, no background or inclination as to why him or if he was a random choice and perhaps most unnervingly – what should he do about it, if anything?
This is sounding really serious and it is (or perhaps ridiculous) but it’s portrayed deftly with a balance of soul searching, action and humour. It’s not a dark, gritty show but at the same time it pays respect to the gravity of the situation and can get/maintain emotional investment from the viewer.
The main trio are great characters and friends with Gary being the ‘straight man’, Chuck the ‘funny guy’ and Marissa the ‘elegant lady’ so they all give their own input to the situations and bounce off each other, even if they disagree ultimately they are supportive and do their best. It’s never easy or fun and games; Gary decides that whatever the reason is for him receiving the newspaper the fact is he receives it and he can’t sit idly by ignoring all those articles which are the equivalent of pleas for help. He has no special training, skills or knowledge but he’s physically able and willing, an everyday hero without wanting to be, sometimes begrudgingly and resigned to his fate.
Chuck on the other hand is more clever he doesn’t want Gary to ignore the paper either but he also doesn’t want him to spend his life on it or perhaps suffer something fatal, forever the opportunist he figures if it’s fallen into Gary’s lap so to speak why not make the most of it. Sure do the do-gooder stuff but why not reap at least some of the benefits? Why work so hard? He and Gary are often at loggerheads over this – being a helper is time/energy/risk consuming, you can’t conveniently schedule rescues it’s a job in itself and no matter who you are in the societal structure we live in you need currency to manage. There are bills to pay for being born; air, water, food, shelter etc don’t come free or cheap. So they compromise – Gary helps as many as he can and wins enough on betting to get by. He’s not greedy and doesn’t ask for much, but hey if Chuck can make a bit on the side at least someone’s saving for a rainy day eh 😉
The third member of the equation has another perspective though; where Chuck has his eyes wide open yet narrowly focused Marissa is blind yet contemplating a bigger picture. She’s concerned about where the paper comes from, why it comes to Gary and the responsibility it carries – is it a message/warning from God and how should Gary go about dealing with it, should he be more wary?
Chuck and Marissa remind me of shows where you see a character’s conflicting conscience, generally one on either shoulder vying for attention and trying to persuade said character to their way of thinking. I wouldn’t go so far as to say these two represent an angel and devil but they debate and there is definitely some kind of higher (or at least more knowledgeable) power at work, newspapers don’t just print themselves let alone with stories that become reality and on an ongoing basis to arrive daily!
The cat is an interesting character, not quite of the acting prowess of Eddie from Frasier (1993-2004) but apt at portraying aloofness but maybe that’s just its innate ‘catness’… Either way it adds to the enigma with its seeming immortality or at least 9 very long lives…
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Season one doesn’t delve much into the who-what-where-when-why of the newspaper & cat, it’s basically setting up the characters, their behavioural patterns and giving examples of situations/difficulties they have to face by trying to tackle articles via prevention or cure.
Is it that unique?
The show does seem pretty unique, I can’t remember seeing something with the same re-occurring plot device but the newspaper can easily be replaced with all manner of things from technology to divination. If the character(s) or paper time travelled or the latter was instead a crystal ball, tarot cards, runes etc the issues would be the same. The storyline is guided or directed by a hidden hand/method and without information the people/players involved are somewhat hapless and dependent on it.
Issues for seers – Catch 22
Having advance intel whether by visions, voices or print puts Gary et al in the place of seers imo or at least instruments and being a seer is a dangerous position. When they need help how do they get it, who can they trust, how do they know if the source is reliable? From the perspective of strangers characters knowing about situations before they happen and perhaps turning up at the scene or connected to it and repeatedly so looks suspicious. The general motto is ‘if you’ve got nothing to hid, you’ve got nothing to be afraid of’ but what if it’s easy for others to concentrate on you and not look at/for or miss other factors? Trying to warn people sounds noble but who wants to be burned at the stake and who is going to help if you end up incapacitated, trapped or dead? You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t since you can either be blamed for not being believable enough or not saying anything, or managing to help regardless but not efficiently enough (as well/quickly as you could have with assistance) or failing to help at all. Great. Depression and despair are always waiting at the door (not much space on that doormat, they’re practically falling over each other to get in) but even though hope is an ill that was in Pandora’s Box, it keeps us going whether setting us up for disappointment or waiting for improvement, it prolongs and if it didn’t do that there’d be no show ;-). Despite that it manages to have an uplifting spirit and I put that down to character strength and interaction.
If you don’t know much about a situation what if you make it worse, what if you’re not welcome or it’s a thankless job? (Remember what happened to the superheroes in The Incredibles (2004) after preventing a suicide that didn’t want to be ‘saved’?) Questions like these that can be draining even hindering and sometimes there are too many cooks in the kitchen but somewhere along the line we have to stop waiting for karma and take responsibility, no? There are plenty of professions that by default interfere in some way, if we aren’t in one of those does that mean we’re exempt? Documentaries/news present the same question, when the whole crew and specialists portray ‘nature as it is or should be’ watching and reporting as creatures live, smile, suffer before them and don’t get involved except for the major role of being there and presenting to the world. Is that ok, the right way, perhaps that’s the most/best they can do and might be enough? Would you like it if you were being watched, and then not directly helped perhaps even worse had circumstances orchestrated to make better viewing? That exposing your situation may help others perhaps in the same/similar situation but not you, you are an example either a trigger for change or easily forgotten? That’s what Gary, Chuck and Marissa have to keep asking themselves and re-evaluating but within a deadline.
There were 23 episodes in season one including the pilot; it began with stockbroker Gary being kicked out by his wife on their anniversary, moving into the Blackstone Hotel and then receiving the paper and trying to settle into a new way of life. As great as Chuck and Marissa are for advice and assistance Gary tries to engage the police as well so over the season we see a relationship between him and a Detective Crumb (played by Ron Dean – The Fugitive, The Dark Knight) who is obviously cynical but eventually learns to trust Gary. The episodes are action packed seeing Gary et al get involved in a vast array of situations and subjects from bank robbery, a plane crash, presidential assassination to domestic violence, homelessness and the ‘cyclical nature’ of life and death. Gary isn’t immune to injury and gets hurt frequently both physically and emotionally, and the non-hero part of his life is kept in the story via fluctuating love interests, one of which leads to the question of what happens if the paper ends up in someone else’s hands without his permission? It also isn’t limited to doorsteps.
Season one’s opening and closing sequences differed from the rest since it featured Chuck as narrator describing the episode in his jocular and sceptical way, something I found a welcome addition to the visuals and theme music. The colour would go from Black and White to colour as he spoke too which added to his ‘enlightening’ narrative. The voiceover later became erratically placed and featured other characters.
You may recognize a number of faces as guest stars right from the get go with Felicity Huffman (Desperate Housewives), Mark Vann (CSI) and Neil Flyn (Scrubs) in the pilot alone and many more throughout. The filming style i.e. colour, score, sfx weren’t anything to write home about but I’d say the picture quality was lifelike and sfx were realistic. It did rely too heavily on putting the main character in constant jeopardy but also had integral character relations, and was both thrilling and thought provoking.
Quantum Leap (1989–1993) – A classic show featuring a scientist trapped in time travel jumping from one time/place to another and as if that wasn’t enough doing so by jumping into other people’s body’s unable to leave until he can solve their turmoil. His only contact from his time being a holographic projection (think Red Dwarf 1988+) that only he can see.
Joan of Arcadia (2003–2005) – Another moving and thought provoking show, this time based on Jeanne d’Arc (c1412-1431). Modern every day teenager Joan Giradi starts talking to God though not just in her head but as various people who come into her life and know things she couldn’t getting her involved in numerous situations to help others.
Due South (1994–1999) – This is a detective show but the buddy relationship between the two main characters is very similar to Gary and Chuck featuring an idealist and a cynical semi-rogue though Fraser and Ray from Due South are more like brothers due to Ray’s Italian heritage and outlook. Both are serious but manage to be light hearted at the same time.