Wednesday, September 21, 2005

TV: My Name Is Earl

It's not quite the rebirth of the sitcom, as a lot of critics have been saying, but My Name Is Earl is still the best new show I've seen so far this season.

Petty criminal and all-around scuzz-bucket Earl wins $100,000 in the lottery, and is instantly hit by a car and loses the ticket. While in the hospital, doped up on morphine, his slutty wife Joy (Jaime Pressly) tricks him into signing divorce papers and signing over the deed to the trailer, so she can get married to the real father of Earl, Jr. (Her cunning trickery consists of putting the papers in front of him and saying, "Sign next to the little yellow sticky things." "Okey-dokey!" says Earl.) When Carson Daly introduces Earl to the concept of karma, Earl decides to make a list of every wrong he's ever done, and make amends for each one. (My favorite transgression of the ones mentioned is "peed in the back of a police car." "I'm no longer proud of that," says Earl -- my favorite line of the episode.) As Earl begins his good deeds, he is rewarded with the return of the lottery ticket on a gust of wind. (He cashes the ticket, and then stores the money in the glove box of his junker of a car.)

The heart of the show, and the only reason why it works, is Jason Lee as Earl. He's perfect both as the dedicated lowlife he starts out as, and the flawed philanthropist he becomes. Even as pathetic and ugly as they make him look, Lee is still filled with charisma, and carries the show easily.

The rest of the cast is lacking, at best. Ethan Suplee is Earl's lump of a brother (or half-brother, I forget), who's always sleeping on Earl's couch. He's the best of the lot, but he's still not especially interesting or funny. Jaime Pressly is easy on the eyes, no question, but her character is a little too awful and shrill to be humorous. And Nadine Velazquez is the maid Catalina, who works at the motel where the brothers crash after Joy dumps Earl. She makes almost no impression whatsoever. I don't think they even tried to make her funny; she just exists to be the attractive woman who comes between the brothers.

I don't know if they tried to make any of the other characters funny, really. The show's creators know that everything hinges on Lee, and they wisely keep everything focused on him.

The show's premise is clever and sound, and should provide enough comic fodder to keep things fresh for a long while. And Lee is almost certainly on his way to becoming the next big thing on television. I've found the first new show of the Fall season that I can gladly add to my permanent viewing schedule.

Weblog Commenting and Trackback by