Wednesday, September 21, 2005

New TV Season: My Name is Earl

Yeah, the ads are everywhere, and there was even that talking ad in Entertainment Weekly. That was startling, but it didn’t bother me too much. Anyone dumb enough to try to keep reading the magazine without simply tearing the talking ad out the first time it went off deserves the frustration he gets.

For those who haven’t seen the constant ads, Jason Lee plays Earl, a ne’er do well petty thief who wins $100,000 on a lottery ticket, gets hit by a car, decides it must be karma, and (once recovered) sets out to right every wrong he’s ever done in order to set his life in balance. As soon as he starts (by picking up litter to make up for being a litterbug), he finds his lottery ticket and plans to use the money to support himself while doing all the good deeds and such. Ethan Suplee is his brother, Jaime Pressley is his trailer-trash ex-wife, and there’s a hot Latina motel maid who ought to be out of the league of Earl or his brother.

The show is actually pretty good. It’s not hilarious, but it’s a really pleasant way to spend a half-hour. Jason Lee is a great presence as always, and even though I’ve soured on Kevin Smith these days, that disdain hasn’t stuck to Lee in my mind. In fact, I think Kevin Smith movies were successful largely because Smith managed to find actors with distinctive, unconventional voices to deliver his lines—Jeff “Randal” Anderson, Jason Mewes, and Jason Lee deserve a great deal of credit for making Smith’s wordy dialogue sound smart and witty (okay, the opposite for Mewes, but the point is he does the job). I’m totally off track now, but the point is, Jason Lee is all right in my book.

Lee is, of course, best when he’s not forced to play a bland leading-man type, as in the talent-waster A Guy Thing. This role is even more of a departure for him—there’s an accent.

You can see some Arrested Development / Family Guy influence in the use of flashbacks and voice over in the storytelling. But mostly, the show is surprisingly heartwarming. The message of earning good karma, and watching Earl redeem himself, just gives you a warm fuzzy feeling. He's making people's lives better, and you can't help but aww. At the same time, Earl’s crooked past and sleazy lifestyle keeps things from getting too saccharine. It’s just the right balance of edginess and heartwarmingness to appeal to an audience, I would think, and apparently that’s borne out in its high focus group scores. The advertising seems to have brought the ratings, too, so we’ll see if that holds up.

3 comments:

Sarah said...

I liked it. I wasn't sure about watching it at first, but I like Jason Lee. Also, the SF Chronicle's critic, Tom Goodman, liked it, and I generally trust him, given that he's the reason I watched Arrested Development in the first place.

Unfortunately, it and the Office are on at the same time as House. Fortunately, it appears that Bravo is rerunning the shows, so if I don't catch them in real time, I can record them then.

C said...

I haven't had the pleasure of hearing the EW ad, but I have heard the radio spot that won't shut up. The second time I heard it i was mildly suicidal. And every time after that it was all I could do to keep from hitting the gas and crashing into the nearest thing that would kill me.

They really shouldn't subject people to that early in the morning.

Sarah said...

TIM GOODMAN. Damn it, why am I a moron?