- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 18, 2000

Fine Corinthian turkeys.

The phrase "fine Corinthian" exudes luxe quality — such as Tiffany or Ritz — yet there's something odd about using it to describe turkeys. But in this Thanksgiving scam on NBC's new series "Ed," ordinary turkeys will be resold at a handsome profit as "fine Corinthian turkeys."

As the character Phil puts it, "I'm not selling turkeys; I'm selling dreams."

That scam is merely one thread (albeit the most bizarre) in the Thanksgiving episode of "Ed," but it illustrates part of the offbeat charm of the dramedy. The episode airs tomorrow night.

The series premise is that Ed Stevens (Tom Cavanagh) has returned to his childhood home of Stuckeyville, Ohio, after losing both his wife and his job as a lawyer in New York City. He has bought a bowling alley, but still takes cases out of his Stuckeybowl office (shades of "Green Acres" here).

In this episode, Ed gets left alone for his first Thanksgiving since his divorce and resolves to begin some Thanksgiving traditions of his own. These include inviting all his friends and their families to the bowling alley for a dinner that is not going to conform to the traditional meal. Other Stuckeyville Thanksgiving traditions — the homecoming game, the halftime cannon, in-law awkwardness — are explored.

Another thread in the plot includes Ed's representing a supercilious teen in a lawsuit against the owner of a lakeside home, which traditionally gets broken into by Stuckeyville teen-agers so they can get sloshed there on Halloween. The frustrated owner injured the student by rigging a booby trap that threw a huge fruit at intruders.

Overall, Ed exudes a nonsaccharine sweetness and charm that are earned, not just assumed. Mr. Cavanagh as Ed has a rambling, easygoing quality that's easy to mistake for being nondescript, but is really the style of a young Jimmy Stewart Everyman. But Mr. Cavanagh spices things up with a perverse knowingness, which was unthinkable in that era.

As his character's would-be girlfriend Carol (Julie Bowen) puts it, he's teetering on the line between adorable and creepy. Carol, whom Ed is pursuing, was the most popular girl in his high school class.

The more-comic characters also have a fine shading. When Phil (Michael Ian Black) the bowling-alley manager talks about selling dreams, the look in his eyes gives him the appearance of a demented Christian Slater.

In this particular episode, the performance of Max Rosemarin as the litigious teen is and isn't caricature. He's over the top, but that's how a middle-aged snob trapped in a teen's body acts.

The easiest comparisons to make are, of course, to "Northern Exposure" and "Newhart." "Ed" definitely fits the mold — it is a laid-back show about a group of small-town eccentrics. But the Thanksgiving episode, at least, strives to be a bit less outlandish than those other two shows could sometimes be.

This episode isn't extremely funny and it isn't trying to be — it's more a sort of wryly amusing slice of life. The series shows the influence of its production company, David Letterman's Worldwide Pants. Mr. Letterman is one of the credited executive producers of the show.

The thread about fine Corinthian turkeys is the sort of gonzo stunt you can imagine Mr. Letterman pulling on the streets outside the GE Building (General Electric owns NBC). Yet, the plot thread balances the tones perfectly. The way that fine Corinthian turkeys stunt works out in this episode isn't exactly what you might expect.

To avoid spoilers, let's just say that it successfully walks the tightrope between being a snobbish, predictable sneer at the rubes and being a hymn to small towns and pink houses. This episode is about traditions, but, thankfully, never feels it has to make some definitive statement about tradition.

At the end, when Ed is depressed — and calls himself a man without tradition because the old ones are fading and he cannot create new ones — he expresses angst we all have felt in some way. But then he finds, in a really moving last scene, that he isn't so unmoored after all.

"Ed" has not been a great ratings success in the very ornery 8 p.m. Sunday time slot. NBC will move the show to Wednesday on Dec. 6, in hopes of letting it find its audience. The network has a real treasure on its hands and let's hope it doesn't bury it.

WHAT: Thanksgiving episode of "Ed"WHERE: WRC (Channel 4) and WBAL (Channel 11)WHEN: 8 p.m. tomorrow

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