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Ed: Strangle the Oboist

Leaning on the emotion button counteracts the romantic thrillride

I'm among a dwindling number of Ed viewers who retain a soft spot for Carol Vessey. Most likely it's because of my own views on lifelong love and the agony of turning away from someone that you feel you're meant to be with just because circumstances, reason, logic, and physics say it won't work out. Sure, it's aggravating how the show goes back and forth, on again/off again, will they/won't they. But that's how love is. It feels overwhelmingly important all the time, and you're often fighting within yourself between reason and romance, intellect, and intuition.

So, despite the fact that I long ago gave up looking to the show for advice on how to handle my own situation, I still enjoy the experience because it reminds me of that feeling. I'm still in love every day, but it has been a while since I've had the good fortune to be in anything even remotely resembling what I would optimistically refer to as a romantic relationship. So, I get from Ed some of the excitement that I'd get from the relationship, which I would guess is why most people, single or not, enjoy romantic shows. The ever-changing romantic entanglements on the show evoke the same thrill we get from our own love lives, fantasy or otherwise.

The creators of Ed have done a fantastic job of providing love interest for their leading character. Rena Sofer's Bonnie Hane was elegant and successful and more recently the ebullient charms of Jennifer Bradley (Kelly Ripa) and Frankie Hechter (Sabrina Lloyd) have caused most viewers to question whether the titular Ed would even continue to carry a torch for Carol. These viewers are clearly lightweights when it comes to torch-carrying. Anyone who's been there can tell you that it's perfectly reasonable. Well, unreasonable to a fault, but exactly the way it would really go. It's unsettling to watch, because as a viewer you have to question what you would do. Would you drop the adoring and adorable Frankie like a bad habit as soon as Carol batted an eye? If not, can you really say that you have feelings for Carol? If so, how can you ever expect to commit to any non-Carol relationship? It's a fascinating conundrum, and although the concept of "love triangle" is anything but new to the medium of television, Ed seems to be achieving it more engagingly, possibly because of its truth. The show portrays love as it really is, something with hazy boundaries in constant flux. Your feelings are very often unrequited. You're very often friends with the object of your affection even though that's pure agony. Every time you think you know what you want, you realize you have no idea. Damn, what a shame this show's been moved to Friday nights following another poorly-planned NBC foray into "reality TV." The on-deck circle to "cancelled."

Just when I was starting to realize that I can't live without it, too. And this week, Lesley Boone delivered a line that made me laugh out loud in prime time for the first time in months. Curious why Carol's date with the new teacher (Chris Isaak) went poorly, Molly speculates – as girlfriends often do – that perhaps he's gay. "Is he gay?" she asks. Carol shakes it off. "Is he married? Is he married AND gay? Is he married to a gay married gay guy??" Moments like these are the ones when Ed shines. Taking the familiar comedy moment and extending it. Like when Molly was tutoring Phil (Michael Ian Black), and pulled down the chemistry book he was holding to reveal a copy of Mad magazine hidden behind it. Phil dropped the Mad to reveal a second copy of the chemistry book, giving Molly a knowing look. Molly responded by pulling aside the second chemistry book to reveal a second copy of Mad that Phil had been reading all along! Priceless.

But it's moments like the next one that frustrate me about Ed. Carol says no. She says it's nothing about the new guy. She looks at Molly good and hard and says... No, first the camera pushes in slowly, and the music swells. Then Carol says "I want Ed." It's happening two or three times an episode now! When Ed and Frankie are looking at each other and it's clear that they're about to kiss for the first time. When Frankie realizes that Ed is still hung up on Carol. When Carol realizes that she is still hung up on Ed. Every damn time, we hear that slow, mournful oboe note (it's probably a clarinet; sue me) and the camera pushes in nice and slow. Guys! We get it! It's a moment of high drama! By this point in the series, we've learned how to pick them out!

I think it's the aforementioned grounding in reality that makes the super-heavy emotional cues so frustrating. The show does such a good job of subtly indicating the tumult that is constantly just beneath the surface of the many relationships. The smallest moments resonate with such raw emotional truth. It makes it all the more glaring when the show doesn't trust you to see that something big is happening.

If anything good can come of the show's ramp-up to cancellation, it's this: they can be expected to want to go out with a bang. The frenzy of Ed-Carol/Carol-Ed passion can only escalate. Here's hoping that it gets so heated that there's no time to schedule push-in, oboe-up moments for everything, without the whole show just being one single sustained mournful note. They'll have to forgo the dramatic music and just do what they do best show the mushy, funny, agonizing, life-affirming love stuff. Just show it happening.

onebee