[07/11/05 - 12:00 AM]
The Futon's First Look: "My Name Is Earl" (NBC)
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

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With the official start of the 2005-06 season less than two months away, the drumbeats have begun by the networks to tout their new comedies and dramas. What should you keep your eye out for? What should you avoid at all costs? While it's still a little early for full reviews (some recasting and reshooting will be done on a good chunk of them), we thought we'd spend the next month previewing what's in store for the upcoming season. Each day we'll look at two of the 47 new series set to premiere this season and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot.

There's no particular order here, just whatever's next on the stack of tapes. So without further ado, here's today's entries:

(Tuesdays at 9:00/8:00c this fall)

The network's description: "Earl (Jason Lee, "Almost Famous," "Chasing Amy") has taken one too many wrong turns on the highway of life. A bully and a low-rent crook, Earl wins a lottery and after an epiphany, he is determined to turn his good fortune into a life-changing event as he sets out to right all the wrongs from his past. Despite his seemingly limited intelligence, he is oddly effective -- and ultimately, the comedy series, like Earl himself, has a voice and style all its own. Written and executive-produced by Greg Garcia ("Yes, Dear"), "Earl" also stars Jamie Pressly ("Not Another Teen Movie") as Earl's wife Joy, Ethan Suplee ("Cold Mountain") as his hapless brother, and Nadine Velazquez ("The Bold and the Beautiful") as a hotel maid whom the brothers befriend."

What did they leave out: This is by far and away the best of the comedy pilots this season, and probably the best on NBC since "Scrubs" in 2001.

The plot in a nutshell: "You know that guy you see going into the convenience store when you stop off in that little town on the way to grandma's house. Sorta shifty lookin' fella who buys a pack of smokes, a couple lotto scratchers and a Tall Boy at 10 in the morning. The kind of guy you wait to come out before you and your family come in. Well, that guy is me. My name is Earl," begins the show's opening narration. "And if you took the time to really get to know me, find out what kind of person I truly really am, instead of just stereotyping me because of the way I look. Well, you'd be wasting your time. Because I'm exactly who you think I am." And so we're introduced to the world of Earl (a perfectly cast Jason Lee), a petty thief and general dreg on society. Among the colorful cast of characters that orbit Earl are his layabout brother (Ethan Suplee) and his wife Joy (Jamie Pressly), whom he married drunk in Vegas, not realizing she was six months pregnant at the time. But Earl gets a wake up call as after he wins $100,000 from his latest lotto scratcher he proceeds to get hit by a car and land in the hospital, losing the winning ticket in the process. It's there he gets a little lesson in karma from Carson Daly (who appears in a brief cameo) and decides he needs to start changing his ways. So to make up for all the wrongs he's done in his life, he makes a list of his transgressions (everything from littering to peeing in a cop car to picking on a nerdy kid in grade school) and decides he's going to set them right. It's best not to spoil any more than that, but suffice it to say things do change (for the better and worse) as he embarks on said quest.

What works: I hate to turn on the gushing but everything just plain clicks in this show - the goofy premise, the casting, the references to 1980s one-hit wonders (Rob Base & DJ EZ Rock's "It Takes Two" in this case) - it's just a genuine pleasure to watch. Even better is that there's nothing here that's been on TV quite like it. At best it can be described as "Raising Arizona" done by the producers of "Arrested Development" with a dash of "Scrubs" for good measure. No excuses here kids, you simply have to check this one out.

What doesn't: That I have to wait two months for the next installment.

The challenges ahead: Will viewers embrace such an un-NBC show? On Tuesday nights where NBC has struggled no less? Let's hope they will this fall on NBC.

  [july 2005]  


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