Monday, February 8, 2010

My Name is Earl: A Recap (2005-2009)

Creator: Gregory Thomas Garcia
Starring: Jason Lee, Ethan Suplee, Jaime Pressly, Nadine Velazquez, Eddie Steeples

Karma. What can you say about it? Well, some might say that it is a complex Buddhist concept that is worth studying and learning about, but really, in the words of Earl Hickey, it's just "do good things and good things happen. Do bad things, and bad things happen." He learned this from Carson Daly while doped up on morphine after being hit by a car, and what followed formed the base for the hit sitcom My Name is Earl.

I mean, it's just such a cool idea for a show. A guy makes up for all the bad things he's done in the name of making his own life better. Hey, I can dig that. It's really enjoyable, and right from the first episode it entertains. Earl, played by Jason Lee, is a good protagonist, lending his laid back, simplistic world view to a number of situations and providing a level-headed backdrop for his kooky, insane and often criminal friends and acquaintances. It's a good contrast. His brother Randy, played by Ethan Suplee, is the typical dumb, happy-go-lucky character, but his lines are always funny and the acting is really good, too.

So, along with his cantankerous, wily ex-wife Joy, who birthed him two illegitimate children, her new husband Darnell, who is in the witness protection program and their maid, Catalina, who is an illegal immigrant from Mexico, we have the set up for the show. Earl does list items that lead to wacky, unbelievable situations that all have some kind of moral or lesson to them. Sometimes these morals seem hamfisted or childish, but I don't think they deter from the show at all. You don't always have to take it as a lesson, or talking down to you, or anything. Just let the lighthearted, good natured humor and essence of the show soak its way into your bones.

There were a lot of really good episodes, but for the earlier ones, I think one of my favorites was the one where Earl tries to atone for stealing the hot dog cart of a local merchant. It really spirals out of control after their friend Ralph, played by Giovanni Ribsi, is paid by a big corporation hot dog chain to burn down the cart for good. The gang, wanting vengeance, hatches a convoluted and hilarious plot to steal from the corporation to pay for a new hot dog cart - all in the name of karma. It's really hilarious and really worth watching.

Or how about "Y2K," where the gang relives their memories of the last day of 1999, where they apparently thought the world was going to end, leading to them creating a 'new world' inside an abandoned supermarket?

See? I love this show. And I'm not even done with season one yet. Season two is along the same lines, packing some really good episodes like "South of the Border," which follows Catalina's deportment back to Mexico, where Earl and Randy have to overcome a series of hardships on their ways to bring her back. I won't spoil it all for you if you haven't seen it - just go watch it now.

It's just a really good, solid set of episodes; the whole show is. It's not going to change your life, or make any philosophical statements. It's just a lot of fun. Everything is always done tightly and hilariously, and you can tell everyone involved was really enjoying what they were doing. The acting is great all around, too. Nothing ever feels half-assed for television.

Even when the show gets too crazy for its own good - like in season 3, where Earl gets in and out of jail, gets into a coma, has a fantasy of a sitcom inside his head, and then proceeds to chase a girl he barely knows because he thinks they're destined to be's still so goddamn gripping! I mean, it fucking keeps you watching. Some of the episodes where Earl's in prison get a bit shaky at times, but then it just blazes straight ahead at full blast for the last half of the season. The ones where he's in a coma are just fantastic, and the forty-minute double-header "The Camdenites" that closes the season is hands-down the best one this series ever churned out. Triumphant, suspenseful and still hilarious, this is just better than I ever expected this show to get. I think the presence of a more coherent, long-running story is what sells this, along with the more dramatic elements. It's just fantastic; it really is.

As one would imagine, the last season can't quite measure up, but it damn well tries. The first few episodes really didn't seem as good, but it eventually got better, kicking the quality back up to that of the older episodes. I think my favorite episodes here are "Quit Your Snitchin'," which starts out with one of the funnier exchanges between Earl and Randy in the show's history, "Little Bad Voodoo Brother," which is fresh and fun as all get out, "Nature's Game Show," a wild ride full of tornados and mayhem abound, "Reading is a Funda Mental Case," which feels the most like an older Earl episode and "My Name is Alias," which features a hilariously lop-sided take on secret agent movies. "Pinky" is also notable for the token tear-jerker episode, and it does well enough for all that.

But alas, all good things must come to an end sooner or later, as Earl's time had come to be taken off the air. The season sadly ended on a cliffhanger in "Dodge's Dad," which infuriatingly showed potential for a huge new breath of fresh life into the show, if it had continued. I know studios don't do this to harm anyone, but fuck, I wish they had continued it. Damn you, corporate America; damn you and all your wretched ways!

Ahem. Excuse that. Well, My Name is Earl had a good run. I've dragged this review on for a while now, and I still don't think I've really covered everything I could have said about this show, but that will just leave you with more surprises if you do decide to check it out. My Name is Earl is just a bucket load of fun, always interesting, always engaging and always funny. Go check it out.