Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Here, Mr. Ed poses with Wilbur (Alan Young), who put up with his terrible behavior for reasons unknown.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
When you blaze through an entire season's worth of television episodes in rapid succession on DVD, certain things stick out a little more plainly than they might have otherwise. For Mister Ed's first season (out today), there's the fact that nobody seems to question the presence of a one-horse stable in the backyard of a middle-class home in suburban Southern California. There's next-door neighbor Kay's continual references to her husband Roger by his (and their) last name of "Addison." There's the charming way that star Alan Young, in both the pilot commentary and the extensive interview in the bonus features, refers to the program as "the Ed show."
For me, though, the biggest revelation was a simple truth that became obvious after several episodes: that horse is a jerk. Popular imagination generally remembers Mister Ed as a wisecracking curmudgeon. In reality, he's an obnoxious pill, a raincloud determined to make Wilbur's life as miserable as possible. If he weren't a talking horse, he'd just be a phenomenal jerk.
We get even more annoyed with that horse, after the jump.
Nearly every word out of Mister Ed's mouth is either sarcastic or self-pitying. He does whatever he wants and doesn't care that the only human he trusts enough to speak to is constantly covering for him. After drinking Wilbur's lemonade, he complains "Not enough sugar" to the very person he just stole from (insulting his wife in the process)! Bitter over being handed over to the local college to act as a mascot for the big game, he melodramatically tells Wilbur, "Just keep the services dignified and simple."
In one episode, thanks to his ability to work the stable phone (which Wilbur should just move away from the freakin' stall already), Mister Ed calls the local SPCA to turn Wilbur in for neglect. Is his owner starving him? Beating him? Making him dive from ridiculous heights into small pools? Nope. He's just going on vacation with his wife ... and without his horse.
Mister Ed is an emotional bully. He demands constant attention, throwing tantrums and sulking whenever his needs are made secondary to anybody else's, and he actively works to ruin any activity that he's not directly involved in.
He could easily help Wilbur out of countless jams -- often ones for which he's personally responsible -- if he'd just say something, but he'd rather Wilbur look like a fool or lose a job than reveal his secret speechifying abilities in the interests of someone he claims to consider a friend.
Mister Ed's unpleasantness isn't limited to his relationship with Wilbur. He spends an entire episode making unwelcome sexual advances towards Princess Helen, who flees the United States to get away from him. (It is here that I should mention that Princess Helen is a horse.) True, his conscience gets the best of him from time to time, as when he makes Wilbur lose a big radio contest so that a poor couple can win the big prize instead. But, of course, there's that whole "makes Wilbur lose" bit. It's only afterward, when Wilbur's been publicly embarrassed, that Mister Ed bothers to explain the situation.
I will grant you that we are talking about a horse. Whether the product of genetics, environment or equine cultural tradition, I'd have to imagine that personalities develop differently among the hooved. What I can't figure out is why Wilbur put up with Mister Ed's self-centered mean-spiritedness for so long without shipping him off to the glue factory. But of course, you can't get 143 episodes out of that.
Then again, maybe it can be explained by my theory that the whole "talking horse" thing was simply Wilbur suffering from Donnie Darko-like delusions, which stemmed from brain damage caused by a blunt trauma to his head, which totally happened in the very first episode.