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"Early Edition" The First Season DVD Review

Chicago Sun-Times Header -- Early Edition DVD Review / June 21, 2008

Buy Early Edition: The Complete First Season on DVD from Amazon.com Early Edition: Season One (1996-97)
Show & DVD Details

Repeat Directors: Michael Dinner, Rick Rosenthal, Stephen Cragg, Daniel Attias, Randy Zisk

Regular Writers: Bob Brush, Alex Taub, John Romano, Norman Morrill

Creators: Patrick Q. Page, Vik Rubenfeld, Ian Abrams / Developed by: Bob Brush

Regular Cast: Kyle Chandler (Gary Hobson), Shanesia Davis (Marissa Clark), Fisher Stevens (Chuck Fishman) / Recurring Characters: Ron Dean (Detective Marion Zeke Crumb), John Watson, Sr. (Morris Sanford), Leslie Hope (Meredith Carson), Marc Vann (Phil Pritchard), Rya Kihlstedt (Marcia Roberts Hobson), Josef Sommer (J.T. Marley), Joe Grifasi (Harry Hawks), James Deuter (Boswell), Mark Morettini (Sergeant)

Notable Guest Stars: Felicity Huffman (Detective Tagliatti), Tom Noonan (Frank Price), Mae Whitman (Amanda Bailey), Eddie Jemison (Bystander), Cynthia Nixon (Sheila), Jane Krakowski (Dr. Amy Handelman), Fyvush Finkel (Phil Kazakian), Max Wright (Mayor Mike Garfield), Sharrieff Pugh (Michael Williams), Michael Warren (Connie Hooks), James Tolkan (Coach Phillips), Virginia Keehne (Samantha Butler), Peri Gilpin (Lenore), Ashley Crow (Nikki Porter), Mason Gamble (Bryce Porter), M. Emmet Walsh (Santa Claus), Jonathan Tucker (Tony), Pauley P. (Theresa Laparko), Neil Flynn (Kellaher), Lou Rawls (Hanratty), Philip Bosco (Bat Masterson), Kevin McCarthy (Judge Jake Wellborn), Mike Starr (Phil Deluca), Kathy Najimy (Claire), Marion Ross (Eunice Fadiman), Talia Balsam (Dr. Robin English), Jon Polito (Louie DeFozio), Roger Ebert (Himself), Adrienne Shelly (Emma Shaw), Robert Picardo (Doctor), Emily Ann Lloyd (Rachel Greenberg), William Devane (Bernie Hobson), Chelcie Ross (Nick Harper), Jeffrey D. Sams (Jeffrey Craig), Patricia Kalember (Dr. Price), Tara Lipinski (Herself)

Running Time: 1031 Minutes (23 episodes) / Rating: Not Rated
1.33:1 Fullscreen (Original Broadcast Ratio), Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: None; Closed Captioned
DVD Release Date: June 24, 2008 / Season 1 Airdates: September 28, 1996 - May 17, 1997
Six single-sided, dual-layered discs (DVD-9); Suggested Retail Price: $49.99
Clear standard-width keepcase

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Imagine getting tomorrow's newspaper today. I'm not talking about daily subscribers getting certain Sunday sections on Saturday. I mean the whole kit and kaboodle arriving a day in advance, filled with news on events that haven't yet occurred.
This creative concept drives "Early Edition", an hour-long drama series that seems to be well regarded by all who know it.

In spite of the esteem, the series never quite made it into pop culture's consciousness. It was no flash in the pan; "Early Edition" spent four seasons, from 1996 to 2000, airing Saturday nights on CBS alongside programs like "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman" and "Walker, Texas Ranger." Repeatedly deemed worth renewing regardless of an evidently significant budget, the series just never rose high in ratings and even syndicated afterlives on Fox Family and later ION Television proved to be fairly short-lived. Alas, the fervent fanbase hasn't forgotten their show. And so, this month, eight years after cancellation, The First Season comes to DVD from Paramount and CBS.

"Early Edition" centers on Gary Hobson, an ordinary guy living in Chicago. On TV, "ordinary" means young, single, good-looking, smart, morally sound, and in good shape. Gary is all of those things, thanks to star Kyle Chandler ("Friday Night Lights", 2005's King Kong) and his believable, reactive acting. In the pilot episode, Gary is kicked out by his wife and quits his job as a thankless stock broker. His move into luxury hotel The Blackstone coincides with the arrival of the day-early copy of the Chicago Sun-Times, which is always accompanied by a chatty orange tabby cat.

Gary Hobson (Kyle Chandler) takes a close look at tomorrow's newspaper, which he receives for the second of many times on "Early Edition." Gary has a coffee cart chat with his two closest friends, Marissa Clark (Shanesia Davis) and Chuck Fishman (Fisher Stevens).

Gary's first impulse is toward personal gain, picking stocks and racehorses that are sure to win big. But by the end of our first installment, he has already chosen to use this remarkable gift to serve a greater good. As it is established that he won't be able to cancel his involuntary, magical subscription, Gary is to spend his days preventing local tragedies, an obligation he takes most seriously. Though not mulled over verbally, concepts of fate and intervention are at the heart of Gary's work, as headlines change sometimes right before his eyes.

From the start, the regular cast of "Early Edition" is small in number. Gary is given two friends (former co-workers), who are never featured prominently enough to challenge that this is essentially a one-man show like "MacGyver." Chuck Fishman (Fisher Stevens, Short Circuit) is opportunistic comic relief and also hardly needed unifying narrator. Blind black woman Marissa Clark (Shanesia Davis), a seemingly shameless effort to represent two minorities at once, serves as occasional sounding board and platonic pal. The standout among recurring characters is Ron Dean, who portrays the chief Chicago detective handling Gary's coy tips with varying degrees of flabbergast. Single-episode guest stars are played by a talented pool of performers familiar then or now, including Felicity Huffman, M. Emmet Walsh, Marion Ross, Kathy Najimy, Adrienne Shelly, and William Devane.

Concerned citizen Gary's efforts to help his fellow Chicagoans avoid death and disaster are appropriately engrossing. The series makes good use of its inspired original premise, which a few have sought to credit to little-known 1944 film It Happened Tomorrow. The episodes do follow a formula -- Gary's foreknowledge is almost always met with disbelief and skepticism -- but one which lends itself to unique, exciting encounters. One week, Gary will be helping a troubled kid; the next, it's an entire doomed public space. Most of the major calamities sidestepped are actually dealt with briefly, practically as a gag pre-opening credits. Ones that demand our time tend to be intimate human and domestic dramas.

Body language alone is enough to tell that Chuck Fishman (Fisher Stevens) is being a smart aleck here. With advance newspaper in hands, Gary looks to Chicago's L train tracks in anticipation of calamity.

Playing a fantastic premise with a realistic tone has repeatedly pleased crowds
in movies and television and "Early Edition" adds to that tradition. Though sometimes marked by contrivances, the show is well-played. It is a feel-good program and happy endings abound, but it's far from saccharine. The show welcomes fans of all ages and walks of life. Violence is practically non-existent, language is mild, and innuendo is sparse. Gary's romances are kept clean; a point is made that his one sleepover invite sleeps on the couch. Some will consider this show tame and unhip compared to today's tougher programming, but young people may view it as an edgy, suspenseful alternative to fare expressly designated as family-friendly.

And yet, the series falls a little short of excellence. As the first season progresses, the infrequent narration increasingly moves towards vague and cheesy. Cheesiness also emerges when the show seeks to expand its range. Ever treading a line as an often light drama, veering too much towards drama or comedy sometimes throws the show off-balance, as in the overdramatic two-parter aired during Season 1's February sweeps. Predictability is also an occasional factor, as generated suspense is inhibited by twists foreseen and inherent certainties.

"Early Edition" was created by a trio of industry novices (Patrick Q. Page, Vik Rubenfeld, and Ian Abrams), who weren't heard of before and haven't really been heard from since. They were aided in development and writing by TV veteran Bob Brush ("The Wonder Years"), who is credited with penning more than half of Season 1's episodes. Along with general public awareness, the series failed to claim any major awards. Much-employed W.G. Snuffy Walden was behind the series' only two Emmy nominations, which came after one season for the deserving theme music and underscoring.

CBS/Paramount's 6-disc The First Season DVD release reaches stores next Tuesday. The studios have been known to save money by substituting music in the past, but that doesn't appear to be the case here based on the lack of a disclaimer and the featuring of songs like Naughty by Nature's "Hip Hop Hooray", Barrett Strong's "Money (That's What I Want)", and Fontella Bass' "Rescue Me." A few selections sound like generic replacements of uncleared songs but research suggests that's not the case.

Succinct, spoiler-free synopses of the set's 23 episodes follow, with a star () accompanying the ten episodes I consider the season's finest.

Atop the roof of a bank, Gary obeys the pilot episode's would-be robber (Tom Noonan). Gary keeps both young car hit victim Amanda (Mae Whitman) and his special newspaper safe in "The Choice." Stuck elevator: check. Very pregnant woman (Cynthia Nixon): check. Chuck Fishman finds himself in a tense situation familiar to television episodes.

Disc 1

1. Pilot (44:27) (Originally aired September 28, 1996)
Not noticing at first, Gary eventually realizes he has received tomorrow's paper a day early. After an initial inclination toward personal gain, he discovers his true calling to help those in need.
He tries to talk a down on his luck man out of committing a deadly bank robbery. Gary's closing efforts to halt his fantastic subscription prove futile.

2. The Choice (44:16) (Originally aired October 5, 1996)
As rampant traffic jams prevent him from getting to the airport to stop a plane destined to crash, Gary tries to save a 6-year-old girl (Mae Whitman) hit by a car by getting her the necessary attention at the hospital.

3. Baby (44:38) (Originally aired October 12, 1996)
Chuck is highly bothered by the news that he'll single-handedly help a pregnant woman deliver. Gary pursues an alluring woman while dealing with his indecisive ex-wife (Rya Kihlstedt) and trying to prevent a water main break.

4. The Paper (44:05) (Originally aired October 19, 1996)
Gary visits the Chicago Sun-Times offices to shed light on the origins of his gift. There, he gets close to Meredith Carson (Leslie Hope, "24"), an investigative reporter whose work on union mobsters puts her life in jeopardy.

Chuck's uncle Phil (Fyvush Finkel) and Chicago's mayor (Max Wright) compare their darkened car visages. High school basketball star Michael Williams (Sharrieff Pugh) and all-knowing concerned citizen share a playground exchange in "Hoops." A distressed teenaged mother (Virginya Keehne) and her son earn our sympathy "After Midnight."

Disc 2

5. Thief Swipes Mayor's Dog (44:07) (Originally aired October 26, 1996)
Gary looks into a front page dognapping involving Chuck's uncle (Fyvush Finkel) and the mayor ("ALF" father Max Wright). But there's a bigger issue afoot surrounding the city lottery that's attracting attention with a rising jackpot and no winners.

6. Hoops (46:05) (Originally aired November 2, 1996)
Gary tries to prevent a high school basketball star (Sharrieff Pugh) with major aspirations and a heart condition from suffering an on-court attack. Sometimes called "Hoop Dreams", this episode features appearances from the two young subjects of that award-winning 1994 Chicago basketball documentary.

7. After Midnight (44:28) (Originally aired November 9, 1996)
Gary tries to stop a single teenaged mother (Virginya Keehne) from abandoning her young son. With tomorrow's weather report on his side, Chuck pursues a caterer (Peri Gilpin, "Frasier") with whom he shared a cab.

8. Gun (46:02) (Originally aired November 16, 1996)
Gary spends time with a divorced woman (Ashley Crow) whose young children are destined for a fatal firearms accident. Chuck and Marissa take the enigmatic cat to the vet.

Investigative reporter and love interest Meredith Carson (Leslie Hope) returns for a second episode in "His Girl Thursday." Chuck's fellow jailbird (M. Emmet Walsh) claims he's Santa Claus and he somewhat looks the part in Season 1's Christmas episode. When the heat goes out in his own apartment, Chuck takes over Gary's hotel room, conducting business in bed with a Blackhawks jersey and headset on.

Disc 3

9. His Girl Thursday (45:42) (Originally aired November 23, 1996)
Reporter/flame Meredith steps back into Gary's life, and the advance newspaper cools their relationship. It also raises insider trading suspicions around Chuck, when he uses it to guide his stock deals.

10. The Wrong Man (44:53) (Originally aired December 7, 1996)
Gary learns that his ex-wife is remarrying and that his arrogant ex-boss (Marc Vann) is the "lucky guy." Drama at the old workplace complicates Gary's obligations.

11. Christmas (44:21) (Originally aired December 21, 1996)
Gary reteams with the weary police detective (Ron Dean) to stop an elusive mad bomber. Parking tickets catch up with Chuck, sending him to jail, where he breaks out with his cellmate who claims to be Santa Claus (M. Emmet Walsh).

12. Frostbit (44:58) (Originally aired January 11, 1997)
As cold grips Chicago, a heat-less Chuck temporarily moves into and works from Gary's hotel room. After his help efforts are repeatedly spurned, Gary tries to aid a doomed homeless boy (Jonathan Tucker).

Chuck enjoys the company of mob boss wife Theresa Laparko (Pauley Perrette) on an exciting El Train ride. Government official John Dobbs (Josef Sommer) demonstrates why he should be investigated in the dramatic two-parter "The Wall." This crazy old guy (Philip Bosco) thinks he's 19th century sheriff Bat Masterson, an argument aided by his transportational horse.

Disc 4

13. Mob Wife (44:45) (Originally aired January 25, 1997)
While trying to save the wife of a mobster boss (Pauley Perrette), Gary and Chuck are thrown into the world of organized crime, with multiple parties on both side of the law out to get them. In the process, Chuck falls in love.

14. The Wall, Part 1 (45:00) (Originally aired February 1, 1997)
As Gary looks further into the early edition's past (discovering suggested ties to the Kennedy assassination), he is investigated by a Washington, D.C. government official (Josef Sommer).

15. The Wall, Part 2 (42:56) (Originally aired February 8, 1997)
The highly dramatic turns continue, with Gary on the run from the law, eager to clear his name and a decades-old mystery.

16. Bat Masterson (44:21) (Originally aired February 22, 1997)
Gary befriends a man (Philip Bosco) claiming to be 19th century lawman Bat Masterson. In reality, he's Mike Killebrew, an institutionalized schizophrenic haunted by a fatal mistake made years ago as a Chicago cop.

Gary serves as foreman of a jury in a 12 Angry Men-ish episode. Gary and his roamer of a cat meet Mrs. C (Marion Ross), pretending here to be Eunice Fadiman. Gary surprises museum artist Emma Shaw (Adrienne Shelly) in her paint-splashed smock.

Disc 5

17. The Jury (45:38) (Originally aired March 8, 1997)
Gary has to serve on the jury of a court case. While deprived of his newspapers, he becomes the only one of the sequestered twelve convinced of the defendant's innocence. Chuck helps out by pretending to be Gary's gay lover.

18. Psychic (46:14) (Originally aired April 12, 1997)
A psychic woman (Kathy Najimy) looks to establish a business relationship with Gary. Skeptical, he nonetheless works with her to solve a kidnapping.

19. The Cat (45:06) (Originally aired April 13, 1997)
Gary meets a veterinarian's mother (Marion Ross, "Happy Days"), whose company raises the spirits of his otherwise down cat. The woman holds a secret of great concern. Also, Marissa hesitates while registering for college courses.

20. Phantom at the Opera (45:57) (Originally aired April 19, 1997)
After saving her from a potentially deadly museum robbery, Gary enters into a relationship with an artist (late Waitress auteur Adrienne Shelly). His daily duties prove to be an obstacle for the couple.

Gary looks on as his new friend (Emily Ann Lloyd) cries in the hospital-flavored episode "Faith." Like son, like father... Gary's Dad (William Devane) gets into newspaper-aided community service. Marissa's college classmate/love interest (Jeffrey D. Sams) talks with her as danger looms.

Disc 6

21. Faith (44:20) (Originally aired April 26, 1997)
Gary is hit by a car and brought to the hospital, where he encounters Rachel (Emily Ann Lloyd), a faith-filled 11-year-old girl in need of a heart transplant. With Gary laid up, Chuck tries to stand up to two teenaged criminals.

22. Dad (44:21) (Originally aired May 3, 1997)
Gary tries -- in vain -- to hide his work from his father (William Devane), who visits while his marriage is on the rocks. Upon his discovery, Dad is all too eager to "help" out his son.

23. Love is Blind (44:13) (Originally aired May 17, 1997)
Repeatedly, Gary rushes to protect a college professor (Patricia Kalember) being targeted for testimony she gave. Meanwhile, Marissa and Chuck begin tricky relationships with students at the college.

Gary and the cat are among the handful of characters who appear on the train platform in front of the Sun-Times building in the stylized Early Edition opening credits sequence. Recurring character Detective Crumb (Ron Dean) and Gary look up for trouble in their Christmastime pursuits of an elusive bomber.


A product of the last few years that television dramas were filmed for standard 4x3 dimensions, "Early Edition" appears in its original aspect ratio, 1.33:1 fullscreen.
Picture quality can't be deemed much better than adequate. The visuals are somewhat grainy and shortcomings to the film stock are surprisingly easy to find in motion. Nevertheless, this isn't an old series and the element is quite clean and sufficiently sharp. On the whole, those used to ION Television's oft-interrupted, low-frequency reruns would find the DVDs to be noticeably better, but there is also some room for improvement.

The Dolby Digital stereo soundtrack merits fewer complaints. It's a solid, level audio presentation. Subtitles are disappointingly absent, but at least closed captions are there to elucidate any dialogue uncertainties.

Night falls on Gary Hobson at the end of each of the 23 half-minute episodic promos provided. The foreground pictures and listings are all that vary on the static menus of each disc. Disc 3's main menu matches the number of episodes with characters in this nice promotional photo.


The only bonus feature is what the DVD authoritatively calls "episodic promos." As you can imagine, they're short previews of the episodes. Running 30 seconds apiece, each promo appears on the same disc as the episode previewed, and can be viewed as an episode lead-in or as a group, holding definite value but not enough to overlook the lack of any other supplements.

When inserted, Disc 1 gives a choice to watch previews before going to the disc's main menu. A composite ad touts a variety of Paramount dramas available on DVD (including "CSI" and "Medium"), while individual spots promote "Ghost Whisperer": Season 2, "Criminal Minds": Season 2, "Jericho": Season 1, and "Twin Peaks": The Definitive Gold Box Edition.

Silent, static menus offer a variety of character shots in front of a stylized Chicago location backdrop. Episodes are divided into six chapters, allowing for quick scene selection without dedicated menus. Those would have been easy to provide since each episode gets its own page for the option of playing with or without corresponding promo. With the paucity of listings here, some may lament the lack of a "Play All" feature.

The packaging of "Early Edition": Season 1 offers an education in shelf space conservation. All six of the discs fit into a standard-width keepcase, thanks to two swinging flaps. Par for the studio, the case is clear, allowing short episode synopses to be read by removing the first and last discs from the inner sides.

The mysterious orange tabby cat and the enchanted early newspaper simply show up outside Gary's hotel room or wherever else he's staying. Though Gary plays it cool, Chuck can't contain his excitement at being given winning lottery numbers for once.


Though not quite as poignant or exciting as it sets out to be, "Early Edition" generally succeeds with its depiction of a reluctant everyday superhero. Gary Hobson lacks extraordinary powers but wields a major gift/curse in getting the newspaper a day early. The series has fun exploring that fantastic concept in the noblest way. It's not legendary, but it's undeniably good and deserves to be viewed as more than one of television's well-kept secrets after four years on the air and nearly a decade in scattered reruns.

CBS/Paramount's First Season DVD is not the fully loaded set that fans may have dreamt up, but that it arrives at all after so many years seems to qualify it as a dream come true. With fine picture and sound, welcome episode promos, compact packaging, no apparent edits or woes, and a fairly reasonable list price, this 6-disc collection easily garners a recommendation for those who appreciate the show. Everyone else is encouraged to discover "Early Edition" and see the entertaining drama they've missed.

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Reviewed June 20, 2008.

Text copyright 2008 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1996-97 TriStar Television, CBS Television Distribution & DVD, and 2008 Paramount Home Entertainment.
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