As its makers cheerfully admit, "Ed" (NBC, Sundays, 8 p.m. ET) has the quirky mooseprints of "Northern Exposure" all over it. Hence the yuppie "Green Acres" premise: man (Tom Cavanagh) is cuckolded by wife, loses Manhattan law-firm job, buys bowling alley in Stuckeyville, Ohio, opens a legal practice amid the tenpins and romances his high school love (Julie Bowen). Hence too the oddball characters: the preening slacker selling Kobe beef behind the bowling-shoe counter, the doddering magician suing a rival for revealing his secrets.
So is "Ed" an "Exposure" rip-off? Try "improvement." Instead of precious magic realism and urban condescension, it radiates a loving optimism and goodwill toward its Midwestern goofs. Surprisingly, this sweet comedy comes from the crusty David Letterman (through his company Worldwide Pants). Dave's involvement is limited, but "Ed" deftly captures the genial, absurd side the sunny underbelly of his humor, as when a friend bets Ed, apropos of nothing, that he can't meow loud enough to make an old man turn around.
A heart-melting romance with guy talk for the fellas and a mellow alt-rock soundtrack, "Ed" fits the 30-ish heterosexual-couple demographic like a comfy pair of Dockers. Maybe too much so: Funny but safe, it's TV's answer to the date movie. But the laid-back Cavanagh is winning as a Quixote determined to win his love by making "a complete ass" of himself. He's the male version of the beautiful blond with glasses a handsome guy we can pretend will have to work to get the girl. Whether you hail from Springfield or SoHo, you'll want to take him home.