Season 1, Episode 8
Date of airing: November 16, 1996 (CBS)
Nielsen ratings information: 17.7 million viewers, 11.3/20 in Households
This is how you write an episode involving a shooting and domestic violence without going too deep into the moral side of things. If you think about it a little bit, this might be one of the better episodes of television in general, because it wasn’t on either side of the political spectrum, even though both sides of the political spectrum of the story would have given you every chance in the world to be as partisan as possible. Guns were already an epidemic, before it became a worldwide American-problematic problem, before this episode came to be in 1996, before the news hours were filled with images of the Columbine massacre, and Americans know it. The writers could have written an anti-gun episode here, or at least went straight into the moral of the week of guns being necessary, but still an evil thing in the world. And then the whole thing turned into a story about domestic violence and not gun violence. ER always made a topic with a social commentary out of beaten wives, partners and kids, and EARLY EDITION could have done the same — a dramatic story with an initial bad outcome, but because Gary Hobbs is now officially a guardian angel, therefore the show could have easily crossed over to TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL at one point (in fact, it’s quite easy now to have both shows set in the same universe, and both shows happened to be straight family entertainment), and the result is that everyone lives to see a happy end. Maybe even Kurt, who might have come to realize that his violent tendencies almost killed his kids. Will the almost accident at the end of this episode have changed his life for the better?
Gary is getting into the thick of things. Now he’s even pretending to be someone he isn’t, just to be the guardian angel he is destined to be, making me wonder if the paper is actually redefining Gary as a person. Yes, the show only had a few minutes of Gary before he got the paper, but I would have loved to see what Gary really was before, when he was still married, when he was still at his boring and disgusting tradings job, when he had no worries in the world because he knew he would get home at night and have wonderful sex with his wife. Now he gets the future a day in advance and because his moral is high up there, he decides to cut down on his life and help others. And now he has even gotten as far as creating an impromptu personality, just so he can be around the fateful people to begin with.
And it became noticeable how he didn’t even create the guidance counsellor character himself — it was all about how Nikki perceived Gary, believing who he was, because that’s who she needed him to be at this particular time in her life. If the episode would have gotten a little deeper into Nikki’s emotional minefield of a world, maybe this hour would have been able to leave the familiar field of light drama and become a little PG-13 rated, due to the mature content. In fact, maybe EARLY EDITION wasn’t a family show just yet, and because of the content of this episode, some viewers might have had a few minutes of worrisome feelings about what the episode could turn out to be, after it was promoted as a family show.
There was one impressive thing about this episode, and it had to do with Tommy. The boy knew where the gun was, he knew what it was and what he could do with it, and he knew that his father was trouble. When Kurt came to the house the first time around, Tommy saw him and ran back upstairs immediately, believing in an instant that he would be abused in a minute or two. And considering the thinking process inside Tommy’s mind, it must mean that Kurt was more than just the abusive husband, who believed that his wife was taking his sons away from him. If a little kid like Tommy believes that his father is the devil, then you can definitely believe the guy was never loving and caring. And Tommy knew this much about it, he knew the only thing that could help him was the gun. He even knew how to put bullets in it. When Tommy was shown with the gun for the first time, the scene turned out to be a WTF moment. When he was shown loading it with the bullets, it was yet another WTF moment. This kid has been traumatized, giving the story a whole different angle on domestic abuse, which was impressive to watch. It made the episode more important, and almost even timeless with its attempt at going into the premise. The gun epidemic and domestic violence are evergreen problems everywhere around the world. Which makes this episode an evergreen hour of television.
Best part of the episode: Tommy really hoped that Gary would marry his mother. That’s how much he was looking for a positive father figure and influence in his very young life. Damn, when you continue thinking about it, Tommy’s story is the one that hits the most.
Worst part of the episode: Nice try, writers, but Chuck’s attempt at being friendly with the magic cat was nothing but a bore of a story. This episode is an example of how Gary’s friends are a bit of a pain in the ass in this stand-alone episodic drama, in which Gary is supposed to be the only one in the focus of the camera’s attention, but because the show also has two more characters, they have to get screentime as well. And then they get meaningless stories like Chuck giving a cat a flea bath. It wasn’t even working for the sake of comedy.
Weirdest part of the episode: Kurt might have been a bit too villainous for the sake of the story. For the climax he comes into the house and the only thing he could think of was abusing his ex-wife. Damn, Kurt really must have been a sociopath in the making. This really is a family show?
Player of the episode: This time it’s a negative award, because everyone believed that Gary was employed by the city and came to help Nikki and her kids. No one checked up on the guy until Nikki apparently had the time to do so. The award goes to all the people who didn’t check out Gary’s credentials.