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My Name Is Earl - Season One (DVD)
Member Name: ms_memory
My Name Is Earl - Season One (DVD)
Date: 12/04/10, updated on 13/04/10 (52 review reads)
Advantages: Laugh-out-loud funny, brilliant acting
Disadvantages: Politically incorrect humour
My Name Is Earl is a US sitcom about a small-time criminal, Earl Hickey, who decides to turn his life around and make up for all the bad things he's done. There are now 4 seasons; Season One was made in 2005.
The Season One DVD is a 4-disc box set containing 24 25-minute episodes plus a extra episode, deleted scenes, bloopers, a 'making of' featurette and a soundtrack promo. The total runtime is 501 minutes, and it's Cert 12.
** You know the kind of guy who does nothing but bad things and then wonders why his life sucks? **
That was Earl Hickey, petty criminal and general ne'er-do-well in a southern US backwater, until he saw the light. In episode one Earl wins $100,000 on a petrol station scratch card and is almost immediately mown down by a car. The scratch card blows out of his hands. Waking up in hospital, Earl decides his back luck is karma's way of telling him he's a bad person, so he writes an exhaustive list of all the bad things he's ever done, with the intention of making up for all of them and becoming a better person.
Once he's discharged from hospital Earl miraculously finds his lost winning scratch card and is able to put the money towards his quest to patch things up with all the people he's ever hurt. He moves into a motel with his childlike younger brother Randy, who used to be his partner in crime and is now set to become his assistant in doing good. The rest of Season One follows Earl as he attempts to cross his previous misdemeanors of his list, getting into plenty of scrapes along the way. He is helped by Catalina, a maid at the motel, and hindered by his horrible ex-wife, Joy.
** Is it any good? **
In my opinion this is one of the best US sitcoms of the previous decade. Each episode is consistently funny, mainly due to the watertight script and fantastic performances from the cast.
The idea of placating 'karma' by means of list of bad things to make up for is a great basis for a series as it allows the writers to be quite inventive with the plot in each episode, as long as it is list-related, so the episodes are very varied and not at all repetitive. Since each one starts with Earl's backstory you can dip in and out of episodes without having to watch them in chronological order, although I personally think it's better to watch them in order as there's the occasional reference to previous episodes and lots of running jokes and minor characters popping up again and again. A few of my favourite episodes are the one where Earl goes to visit an ex-girlfriend who thinks he's dead (he faked his own death to get away from her), the one where he goes to the Rotten Kids' Camp for children with behavioural issues (he was the first kid to ever be kicked out) and the episode where his almost-romance with a beautiful psychology professor is violently thwarted by fate. The best and funniest episode is the final one in the series, where we learn a little more about the background to Earl's scratch card win.
The script is fantastic, with the jokes (verbal and visual) sometimes coming so quickly that you need to go back and watch them again. There is a lot of violence, political incorrectness and toilet humour in My Name is Earl, which stops the subject matter from becoming too cheesy. Much of the humour also stems from the characters' lack of self awareness, such as Joy struggling to find words to describe her disappointment when she unwraps a Christmas present only to find a thesaurus, or her dismal attempt to get into art school by tracing a cartoon picture of a turtle.
The actors do a great job. Jason Lee manages to make Earl quite a lovable rogue, even though many of his previous misdemeanors were quite bad (e.g. arson, theft, assault). Earl's simple, obese brother Randy is played to perfection by Ethan Suplee who manages to make the character completely non-threatening, even though he too is a bit of a thug. The character is easier to play than Earl though, since Randy hardly develops during the series. Nadine Velazquez, who plays the feisty motel maid, Catalina, is also good in her role, but for me it is Earl's ex-wife Joy, played by Jaime Pressly, who really steals the show. I can't think of anyone less deserving of the name Joy: the woman is a bitter, twisted, thieving, manipulative, crass, lazy nightmare - and that's describing her kindly. Pressly's portrayal of her is hilarious, absolutely convincing and - pardon the pun - a joy to watch. The bit-part actors are also very good too - most of Earl's criminal buddies overact their heads off, but in this wacky show it fits. The young boy (Noah Crawford) who portrays Earl as a child in the frequent flashback scenes also deserves a special mention: I've never seen such a convincing portrayal of a malevolent child!
** Any negatives? **
I mentioned that the humour is not very politically correct and I can imagine some viewers wouldn't like the idea of laughing at drunks, prostitutes, illegal immigrants and suicidal people. The characters themselves also come out with some very prejudiced ideas (although Earl manages to overcome some of them in his search to placate karma). Most of Earl's friends are really bad, dishonest people, and I know my mum, for example, said she found it difficult to sympathise with such sleazy characters. In addition, I found the character of Randy a bit too childlike at times - he sometimes bordered on the creepy.
It is also arguable whether the season really needed 24 episodes, since the odd one is a bit weaker than the others. Though the format is not repetitive in Season One, I can imagine it would be in later seasons if Earl is still trying to cross things off his list.
** Conclusion **
Despite its few faults this series is superbly acted and scripted, original and very funny. Few recent sitcoms have made me laugh as much as My Name Is Earl, and that, for me, makes it worthy of five stars.
Currently available on Amazon for £13.99
Summary: Near the top of my sitcoms list
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