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"My Name is Earl" Review

By Shawn McKenzie 10/23/2005

Is there ever a time when an overly-hyped show actually manages to live up to its hype?  NBC’s “My Name is Earl” is such a show, and I am going to be yet another TV critic who is going to heap praise upon it.

Earl J. Hickey (Jason Lee) is a scumbag who makes people nervous when he goes into a convenience store to buy a Tallboy and a couple of lotto scratchers at 10 in the morning.  He is the kind of lowlife that will steal anything that isn’t nailed down.  His life sucks though.  In 1999, he got drunkenly married to Joy (Jamie Pressly), a woman who was six months pregnant when he married her.  The baby was named Dodge (Louis T. Moyle), and soon they had a son of their own named Earl Jr. (Trey Carlisle)…or so he thought.  Earl Jr. was black and was actually the son of Darnell (Eddie Steeples), the owner of the Ernie’s Crab Shack where Earl drinks beer.  People wonder why he stays with his cheating wife and his two horrible kids that aren’t his, and he wonders why she puts up with living with him and his lazy brother Randy (Ethan Suplee), who sleeps all day on the couch.  One day three weeks ago, Earl wins $100,000 from a lottery ticket and celebrates in the street.  Ten seconds later, he is hit by a car and is put in the hospital unconscious.  Unfortunately, the winning lottery ticket blew away when the car hit him.  While in the hospital and doped up on morphine, Earl watches “Last Call with Carson Daly” on NBC.  Carson (playing himself) is interviewing country star Trace Adkins (also playing himself), when the singer asks him how he got all of his success.  Carson tells him that his success is a direct result of doing good things for other people.  “Do good things and good things happen to you.  Do bad things and it’ll come back to haunt you,” Carson says about karma.  Earl decides to take that advice and make a list of 260 things that he’s ever done badly in order to get a good life again.  Joining Earl on this quest to cleanse his karma are a few of his friends.  Along with Randy and Darnell, a.k.a. Crab Man, whom Earl seems to still like despite that fact that he fooled around with Joy, is a very sexy motel maid named Catalina (Nadine Velazquez), whom Randy has called dibs on (though she likes Earl), and Sonny (Leo Fitzpatrick), whom Earl plays beer can tag with and used to rob houses with.  The only one who does not want to help Earl is Joy, who had Earl sign divorce papers in the hospital, and now wants half of the $100,000 prize that he won (Earl found the ticket again while picking up litter, which was #136 on his list…a sign to him that this karma thing is working.)

In the first episode, Earl deals with karma list item #64:  help out a man named Kenny James (Gregg Binkley.)  When they were kids, Earl (Noah Crawford, Earl as a kid) used to torture poor little Kenny (Andy Pessoa, Kenny as a kid) relentlessly, but now he wants to help him.  He has Randy find out from Kenny’s parents (Frank Collison and Laura Gardner) where Kenny lives (but is almost arrested in the process when he drinks one too many beers), and Earl follows Kenny around for a few days.  He notices that Kenny has a good job as an assistant manager of the Copy-Hut and the nicest house on the block, but he is lonely, so Earl has a daytime hooker named Patty (Dale Dickey) come over to have sex with him.  Kenny rejects her, but gives her $10 to help baby monkeys (she pretended that she was from Greenpeace), and Earl and Randy go inside Kenny’s house to find out why.  Randy finds a gay magazine called Man’s Man in Kenny’s bedroom, and that is when they realize that Kenny is gay.  They flee, since his homosexuality is “special circumstances,” but after being hit on the head by Joy with a telephone because she wanted half of the $100,000, Earl decides to take another shot at helping Kenny.  He and Randy take Kenny to a gay bar, where Kenny gets his confidence back and thanks Earl for it.  Randy, drunk on 15 beers, dances with a gay man as the drag queen DJ (Willam Belli) plays Randy’s favorite song, Rob Base & D.J. E-Z Rock’s “It Takes Two.”

In the second episode, Earl deals with karma list #112:  make up to Donny Jones (Silas Weir Mitchell.)  Donny spent two years for robbing a donut store that had actually been robbed by Earl.  Earl wore pantyhose over his head and a football jersey that he had stolen from Donny.  The donut shop clerk (Joshua Levine) picked Donny out of a lineup, especially since he had a cold (Donny had gotten the cold from Earl.)  Earl feels bad about taking the wrap for Donny, but he also intimidates Earl, because Donny has “crazy eyes.”  Besides, Earl wants to concentrate something easier, like karma list #102:  quit smoking.  He figured that he has harmed or possibly killed people with his secondhand smoke, so he wants to do something about it.  Quitting is harder than it seems, even with the quitting-smoking cassette tape that Randy and Catalina bought at a garage sale.  One day, Randy and Catalina trick Earl into facing his fears and drive him over to Donny’s house.  He confesses his bad thing, and Donny forgives him, because Donny had found Jesus in jail.  His mother (Kathryn Joosten) wasn’t so forgiving though, and she hits Earl over the head with her large-print bible.  She tells him that he should add her to his list, since he took away two years of her life while Donny was in jail.  Earl decides that the only way to give her back those two years is by getting her to stop smoking along with him.  He decides to kidnap her, since she wasn’t willing to go voluntarily.  After practically hacking up a lung, Donny’s mom realizes that she needs to quit.  She and Earl try the tape, nicotine patches, and carrots (though the carrots were hard to light.)  After three days, Earl succeeds in helping Donny’s mom quit smoking.  Meanwhile, Joy finds a video will that Earl had made which stated that he would give her everything when he dies.  She goes to the gun store with the intent to kill Earl, but the gun store owner (Scott Lincoln) tells her that there is a three day waiting period to purchase a gun.  She buys a crossbow instead, but she is a lousy shot and fails to take Earl out.  She has Darnell deliver Earl some poisonous cookies, but Darnell tells him about the video will.  Joy finally gets her gun, but it is fruitless, since Earl has already changed his will.

In the third episode, Earl deals with karma list #58: make up for fixing a game and having Randy fumble his only touchdown in a football game back in high school.  Back in the day, Randy was a benchwarmer, until his coach had him play.  Earl seized this opportunity to make a bet with the local pawnshop owner/bookie Rosie (Cheryl Hawker) for Randy’s team to lose.  Randy did what Earl wanted him to do, but he was never able to experience the feeling of scoring a touchdown and being put up on someone’s shoulders.  Earl enrolls Randy in the worst high school around, and he has Kenny make up a fake birth certificate for him.  He also sets Randy up with a fake father (Jack Axelrod) to meet with the school principal (Bob Rumnock) and get him into the school.  Meanwhile, after spray-painting Earl’s car, Joy has it towed.  When Randy accidentally lets it slip out that the money is in that car, Earl and Joy race to get to the impound car lot first.  Earl gets there first, and the impound owner (Dennis Burkley) tells him that he won’t give Earl the car until he pays the $3000 in parking violations on it.  Joy finally arrives and receives the same story, so they both devise ways to get the car back.  Randy had been reading about the Trojan Horse, so Earl comes with a plan similar to that.  He borrows Kenny’s Le Car and has Kenny hide in the back while Kenny’s flamboyant friend and co-worker Bruce (Kevin Farrell) drives the car to the lot and has it impounded.  While inside, Kenny would get out and steal Earl’s car back.  Meanwhile, Joy pawns all of her stuff, but only gets $1500.  She tries to get a loan, but the loan officer (Kendall Clement) turns her down.  Darnell isn’t very effective at stealing, since his conscious always gets in the way, like the time he stole the purse from an old lady (Jeanette Miller), just to give it back.  She steals a homeless man’s shopping cart full of aluminum cans, but only manages to get $8 for them.  Since the recycling plant only pays per pound, she steals some aluminum guardrails and gets the rest of the money.  At Randy’s football game, Earl and Catalina show up to cheer him on.  He bets on Randy’s team to win this time.  On the last play of the game, Randy fumbles the ball again, and he leaves the field dejected.  Joy drives by and gloats that she has the money, and Earl tries to follow her on foot, but runs out of breath after a short sprint.  Just when Earl thinks that Joy has won, Randy pulls up in Earl’s car.  He explains that he also bet on the game and purposely fumbled the ball in order to get the $3000.  He loves his brother more than scoring a touchdown.  In a bit of bad karma, Joy had been on her way to the lot when she swerved her car to avoid hitting the same homeless man that she had stolen from before, and falls into an open trench.  Oh…Kenny was stuck in the car trunk all night because the lot’s Dobermans were holding him there, but he was rescued by a lot worker who happened to be gay, and they spent a lovely weekend together in wine country.

In the forth episode, Earl deals with karma list #84:  make up to Natalie Duckworth (Beth Riesgraf), a girl that he faked his own death for to get out of a relationship with her.  One night, many years ago, Earl had gone into the Crab Shack while they were having a biker-themed costume party.  Earl didn’t know that it was a costume party though, and was immediately attracted to who he thought was a tough chick named Natalie, sporting leather and a tattoo on her lower back that said, “Wanna Ride?”  He drunkenly fools around with her, and in the morning, he discovers a very different person.  She is a good girl with stuffed animals and a cheery demeanor.  He only stuck around because the sex was hot and that she had a satellite dish.  Soon, they were going on picnics, taking hikes, doing arts-and-crafts (her specialty is paper mache), and other cultural (i.e. boring) things.  She was also needy and clingy, and Earl couldn’t take it anymore.  He had Randy tell Natalie that he was lost at sea, and he gives her Earl’s AC/DC T-shirt.  While putting back all of the stuff he had stolen out of a Quickstop convenience store in the past, he runs into her, but he hides (she hadn’t seen him.)  Under Catalina’s advice, he goes to her house and tells her the truth, telling her that her perfection made him nervous and hoping that her forgiveness will let him cross the deed off his list.  She does forgive him, and he meets her new boyfriend named Dirk (Dax Shepard) as well.  Earl is happy that Natalie has moved on and found herself a good guy.  He asks Randy to find him a pen to cross the item on the list, but Natalie knocks on his motel room door and tells him that Dirk is dead (apparently, the police found blood in his car and the body missing.)  On the way to get her a drink, Earl runs into Dirk, who is staying at the same motel.  He got the idea to fake his own death from Earl, and that fact was the reason why he couldn’t find a pen to cross the item off the list.  He considers telling Natalie about Dirk, but Catalina thinks that two fake deaths would be too much for her.  She suggests that Earl just be nice to Natalie in her time of need.  Earl does just that, but unfortunately, it ends up becoming a relationship.  He goes to Catalina again for advice, and she suggests that he pretend to be a bad boyfriend so that she will dump him.  He tries being a jerk, including kicking pretty flowers, insulting her chest size with paper mache, pretending to shooting smack into his veins, and finally pretending to be in bed with another woman (he and a fully clothed Catalina pretend to be in bed together), but nothing works.  He finally tells Natalie that she is clingy, which makes her upset.  She takes her own life, and at the funeral, Earl, Randy, and Catalina visit her.  Suddenly, a very much alive Natalie wakes up, freaking them all out and making Randy and Catalina run away.  Natalie explains that this was payback for having to go through this herself…twice.  She finally stands up for herself, and karma finally finds Earl a pen to cross the item off his list.

In the fifth episode, Earl deals with karma list #29:  making fun of people with funny accents.  Earl had been making fun of people with accents all of his life, from a Hindu doctor (Sunkrish Bala) to Scandinavian tourists, so he decides to teach the American language to a class of foreigners.  One night at the Crab Shack, and old friend of Earl and Randy named Ralph Mariano (Giovanni Ribisi) shows up.  He just got out of prison after 18 months for stealing, and he wants to get right back into it.  Earl and Randy tag along with Ralph while he does his stealing (including a wedding dress out of the backseat of a car), but he doesn’t want to tell Ralph about the karma thing yet.  He feels bad about the way Ralph acts, because when he was a kid, he and Randy (Phoenix Smith, Randy as a kid) taught Ralph (Tanner Maguire, Ralph as a kid) how to steal.  Meanwhile, Joy is ticked off at Earl for teaching a student of his named Kim Lee (Wahn Lee) English.  She has been running a nail decorating business out of her trailer, but Kim set up a competing nail business next door.  Joy’s only edge is that she speaks English, and she doesn’t want Kim to do so.  She goes over to Earl’s motel to chew him out, when Ralph overhears the conversation.  She tells Ralph about the karma list, and he isn’t interested, until Earl mentions the $100,000.  Ralph decides to go on the straight and narrow, and Earl sets Ralph up with a job in a lamp store.  Earl thinks that Ralph has cleaned up his act, but he notices that Ralph has been stealing lamps from work.  Ralph explains that he tried the karma thing by buying 20 lottery tickets, but not one of them won, so he went back to what he was good at…stealing.  Earl decides to call off their friendship, but Randy decides to hang out with Ralph more.  While Earl teaches his students “1 Block right then 2 Blocks left” is how to get to his house, Joy teaches Kim English in the wrong way on purpose, so that she will lose all of her customers.  Ralph tricks Earl by calling him on the phone and telling him that Randy became stuck in a chimney while they were robbing a house.  Ralph breaks a lamp over Randy’s head and ties him up.  He puts Randy in the shower and tortures him with hot water pointed onto his crotch until he tells Ralph were Earl hid the money.  Randy tells him that the money is in a safe deposit box at the bank, and that Earl has the only key on him.  When Earl comes back to the motel after not finding Randy, Ralph hits him over the head with a lamp and ties him up with Randy.  After regaining consciousness, Randy tells Earl that he took Earl’s key and is headed to the bank, dressed like Earl.  Randy suggests that Earl should call out to karma, as if it were Lassie.  Earl thinks that it is a stupid idea, but he tries it anyway.  Suddenly, Earl’s class, a.k.a. “Karma’s Army,” shows up and frees Earl and Randy.  They had come because Earl hadn’t shown up for class, and they went looking for him using the “1 Block right then 2 Blocks left” directions.  Earl calls the bank, and the policemen stop Ralph from coming to get Earl’s money.  Ralph manages to escape, and he comes to the Crab Shack, where Earl is treating his class to dinner for rescuing him, and gives Earl back his safety deposit key.  Earl forgives him and crosses the “making fun of people with funny accents” off his list.  Joy is busted for falsely teaching Kim the wrong English words.

I could have been skeptical about the over-hype of this show, but I kind of predicted it.  Okay…maybe that was wishful thinking, but I’m glad for its success.  While it isn’t the highest rated new comedy on TV (that honor goes to CBS’s “Out of Practice” for some reason), it is the highest rated new comedy on NBC.  The network needed this, because they haven’t had a commercial and critical hit since “Scrubs.”

There are many reasons why the show works.  First and foremost, it is Lee that makes the show.  He has been one of my favorite actors, particularly in Kevin Smith’s movies, and he is always the best thing in some pretty bad movies.  He plays a believable scoundrel with a heart of gold that has redeemed himself.  He also has a great supporting cast.  Suplee (another alumnus of Smith) plays the dimwitted brother role to perfection.  Pressly plays the redneck ex-wife role to perfection…and looks good doing it.  Velazquez and Steeples aren’t in it very long, but they do their jobs adequately.  I’m still wondering if Earl and Catalina will explore their attraction to one another which was hinted at in the first episode.

Greg Garcia created “My Name is Earl” as a cross between the 1987 Coen Brothers movie Raising Arizona and FOX’s “King of the Hill.”  Garcia doesn’t think that his show is all that original, since there have been plenty of single camera, non-laugh track shows that have narration by the main character, but it is through the stellar performance of Lee that the show is so good.  Apparently, FOX passed on the show, because they didn’t want another quality show that would suffer bad ratings.  I guess they intended it to follow “Arrested Development” on Sundays (until they had recently made the decision to move that show to Mondays), so they decided not to pick it up.  FOX’s loss is NBC’s gain, and I hope that people who watch the show will also stick around to watch the American version of “The Office” starring Steve Carell, because I personally think that it is better than the Ricky Gervais version.  Since Earl has so many bad deeds to atone for, I can see him following karma for many years to come.

Ratings System:


Try to catch this show every week...

If a better show is on, tape this one...

If nothing else is on, maybe this will be good...

If this show is on, change the channel immediately!


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