At the end of last year, fans of the NBC dramedy “Ed” received quite a surprise at the end of the freshman show”s season finale. The long-awaited kiss between Ed Stevens and Carol Vessey was finally about to happen, only to be interrupted by the return of Ed”s former flame, that doe-eyed vixen Bonnie Hayne. But viewers would have to wait until October to see what would ensue. They got a real treat last week, when the season premiere of “Ed” arrived one week early to accommodate the shifting schedule of “The West Wing.”

Paul Wong
Courtesy of NBC

Last spring”s cliffhanger ending would be difficult to outdo, but “Ed” got off to a flying start, picking up right where it left off. As the inconsistent “West Wing” and quickly fading “Law & Order” wallowed in their mediocrity, last week”s season premiere of “Ed” stole the show right out from under NBC”s Wednesday night one-two punch.

Beginning with Ed, Carol and Bonnie”s hilariously awkward love-triangle, and concluding with a touching moment of consolation, we can see why the story of Ed Stevens turned out to be one of last year”s most enjoyable new TV arrivals. Unlike most shows, “Northern Exposure” comparisons be damned, “Ed” mixes just the right amount of clever comedy and heartfelt emotion to stay consistently fresh and funny.

Written and created by “Late Show with David Letterman” producers Jon Beckerman and Rob Burnett, the show tells the story of Ed Stevens, a big-city lawyer returning to his hometown of Stuckeyville, Ohio, to pursue the girl of his dreams. On an impulse, Ed buys the local bowling alley, which becomes his impromptu law office. In no time, Stuckeybowl becomes the center of town activity, allowing Ed to see his hometown and the crazy antics of its eccentric citizens.

Starring the affably charming Tom Cavanagh as the titular character, Ed has been surrounded with one of the finest comedic supporting casts this side of “Friends.” The remarkably likeable and talented cast features Julie Bowen (“Happy Gilmore”) as Ed”s focus of affection, the smart and beautiful Carol, “Spy TV”s” Michael Ian Hall as sardonic and effervescent Stuckeybowl manager Phil Stubbs, and Josh Randall as Ed”s low-key best friend, Mike.

Most notable are the youthful efforts of scene-stealing Justin Long as high-school student Warren Cheswick. Long impeccably showcases Warren”s socially inept behavior and nervous desperation with an assortment of awkward chuckles and gasps. Somehow through his misbegotten schemes and foibles, he maintains an air of charming appeal, and often reminds Ed of a younger version of himself.

What truly makes “Ed” so engaging is the razor-sharp chemistry of its centerpieces, Ed and Carol. The will-they-or-won”t-they tension is always apparent, whether it is lingering on the backburner, or is the focus of the episode, as was the case last week. While it is difficult to root against Rena Sofer”s Bonnie, as she inexplicably gets hotter every time she”s on screen, we know that Carol is truly the one Ed wants.

Apparently, in the world of Stuckeyville, it is possible for two gorgeous women to pine after a regular guy like Ed. But this isn”t exactly “Survivor”, and realism isn”t exactly “Ed”s” specialty. Its understated focus on themes of love and friendship are the reason this show is so endearing.

With wit, warmth and intelligence, it taps into a range of emotions, while proving there is still a place for fun, cheerful entertainment on television today. While it may not yet be a runaway ratings smash, “Ed” had already won our hearts.

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