My Name is Earl: Season One review by Mike Long

I've always been an avid TV watcher, but I honestly can't remember what the new television season was like in my childhood. I'm fairly certain that it didn't consist of the endless hype and promos that we have today. I try to limit the amount of TV that I watch these days, so I pick and choose shows very wisely. With every new show promising to be the best thing ever, I'm highly skeptical of everything. My Name is Earl was a show that was touted as being funny and different, but I wasn't ready to take the plunge. I like Jason Lee in his early Kevin Smith films, but the show's premise just didn't sound promising. Now, that I've viewed the My Name is Earl: Season One DVD, I now have a new show to watch.

Jason Lee plays the titular character in My Name is Earl. Earl J. Hickey is a life-long petty criminal who only looks out for himself. When we meet Earl, he's at a very low point. We learn that six years earlier, he'd met and married Joy (Jaime Pressly) when she was pregnant with another man's baby. A few years later, she had a second child, which was clearly fathered by someone else. Joy and Earl constantly bicker and she hates the fact that Earl's shiftless brother, Randy (Ethan Suplee), lives on their sofa. One day, Earl buys a lottery ticket which is revealed to be a $100,000 winner. Upon learning this, Earl is immediately hit by a car and loses the ticket. While in the hospital, Joy tricks Earl into signing divorce papers so that she can marry Darnell "Crab Man" Turner (Eddie Steeples). Earl feels that he's at rock-bottom until he sees Carson Daly on TV discussing karma. This changes Earl's life.

Earl decides that his life is bad because he's spent his life doing bad things. Following his interpretation of karma, Earl decides that he will now spend his life doing good things. He makes a list of all of the bad things that he's done and decides that his mission in life will be marking things off of that list. Right after making the list, Earl finds his lost lottery ticket. Armed with a lot of cash, Earl and Randy move into a hotel, where they meet and befriend the maid, Catalina (Nadine Velazquez) (to whom Randy is immediately attracted). Earl is now free to seek his karmic destiny and work on the list, despite the fact that Joy is constantly trying to find a way to get the money.

Again, on first inspection, My Name is Earl isn't very promising. Any sitcom must have a concept which will set up many episodes to come, but this show seems to be nothing but concept. The list of bad things allows Earl and Randy to go on a new adventure every week, and this allows new characters to move in and out of the show.

Yet, the list is simply a springboard to unleash its wackiness. To put it mildly, I was quite surprised by just how funny and clever My Name is Earl is. The "just another sitcom" exterior, with its deceptively clever list concept, hides a show which is very loose and creative. The show is a fantastic combination of funny stories and memorable characters. While watching the show, I got the feeling that creator/executive producer Greg Garcia and executive producer Marc Buckland crafted a list "redneck/trailer park residents" personality traits and one-by-one they insert them into the show. (Most of these moments involve Joy and the episode "Joy's Wedding" is full of them.) While the conceit of the list does grow wearisome at times, it also gives the writers the freedom to put Earl into many different situations, from a college campus to a gay bar. The jokes on the show are a nice combination of slapstick, broad humor, and subtle comedy. While the humor isn't as sly or subversive as Arrested Development, the show is consistently funny.

The writing on the show is quite strong, but it's the unique nature of the characters which truly give the show life. Earl is like no one else on TV. He's a true white trash redneck and the show never tries to hide that fact. Earl knows very little about popular culture, technology, or the world in general, but he's very sincere about turning his life around, and that makes him endearing. Randy is somewhat slow, but he's not the stereotypical dimwit. Randy appears to be a genuinely nice person who is simply a step behind everyone else. Joy truly steals the show, as her brash, outspoken character overtakes any scene in which she appears. Joy says whatever is on her mind, and she quickly becomes the character that you love to hate.

Of course, it's the actors who inhabit these characters who carry the show. Jason Lee always seemed at home playing laid-back, cocky characters, but Earl is a somewhat new turn for him. Earl is apathetic, but in a somewhat intense way, and Lee pulls it off with well. Suplee has played not-so-smart characters before, but they always had a dark side. Randy is simply a free spirit, and Suplee plays the very dumb Randy in a smart way. Pressly is no stranger to white trash roles (see Joe Dirt), but she takes things to a new level as Joy. Like Suplee, Steeples (whose face is plastered all over Office Max) plays someone who isn't very bright, but Darnell is determined to be nice to everyone and the strange joie de vivre that Steeples brings to the role clicks. I normally don't comment on how pretty the women in movies or TV shows are (I'm not Kim Dubuisson after all), but I find Nadine Velazquez far more attractive than say, Eva Longoria, and the spunk that she brings to Catalina makes her a fun character.

Maybe it's because I live in the southeast and have daily run ins with people similar to the characters on the show, but I really liked My Name is Earl: Season One. The show is able to be clever and smart while never talking over the audience's heads. So, for the moment at least, my name is impressed.

My Name is Earl: Season One apologizes to DVD courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. This four-disc set contains all 24 episodes from the show's first season. The episodes are letterboxed at 1.78:1 and are 16 x 9. The transfer is quite nice as the show's quality rivals that of a digital broadcast. The picture is sharp and clear, with only a minute amount of grain and no defects from the source material. The colors are fine and the image is quite stable. I noted some video noise at times, but it wasn't overly bothersome. The DVDs carry a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track. This tracks brings us clear dialogue and sound effects with no hissing. The stereo effects are fine, but the surround and subwoofer effects are a bit too subtle. I noted some musical cues and occasional sound effects from the rear speakers, but it was never overwhelming.

The My Name is Earl: Season One DVD set contains several extra features. The following episodes sport AUDIO COMMENTARIES; "Pilot", "Teacher Earl" (Both Disc 1), "Joy's Wedding", "White Lie Christmas" "O Karma, Where art Thou" (All Disc 2), "Dad's Car" (Disc 3), "Number One" (Disc 4). These commentaries feature creator/executive producer Greg Garcia and Jason Lee, along with a variety of guests. The commentary on "Dad's Car" is unique as it features the mothers of Garcia, Buckland, Lee, and Suplee. There are DELETED SCENES from the following episodes; "Pilot", "Broke Joy's Fancy Figurine" (Both Disc 1), "Monkeys in Space", "O Karma, Where art Thou" (Both Disc 2), "Something to Live For", "The Professor" (Both Disc 3), "Stole a Badge" (Disc 4). These scenes are often funny, but they don't add anything new to the shows. (The deleted scenes can be viewed with or without commentary from Garcia and Buckland.)

The remainder of the extras are on Disc 4. "Bad Karma" (13 minutes) is a re-imagining of the show's pilot where Earl seeks revenge instead of redemption. (As opposed to Carson Daly, Earl receives his inspiration from another TV personality.) The short re-uses a lot of footage from the pilot, but the new scenes are funny, especially when Lee shows up playing another character. "Karma is a Funny Thing Blooper Reel" is 20 minutes (!?) of gags from the show. "Making things Right: Behind-the-Scenes of My Name is Earl" (38 minutes) does a good job of detailing how the show came to be and it's here that we learn that Earl is based on Greg Garcia's father.

8 out of 10 Jackasses

blog comments powered by Disqus