“My Name is Earl” may be the best new show on television this season. Which is convenient, because NBC needs a hit like New Orleans needs wet/dry vacs.
With old series disappearing, new series failing to catch hold and ratings falling off a cliff, NBC was desperate to rebuild itself after the loss of “Friends.” Frankly, NBC hasn't been itself since the loss of “Seinfeld” and the resulting dissolution of “Must See TV” Thursdays. To top it all off, the new fall season doesn't seem to be helping any as ABC and CBS continue to pile up the hit shows.
But there is a bright spot on NBC's schedule. Personally, I think it's one of the bright spots of the entire TV week. “My Name is Earl” is an anomaly among television shows. It's a sitcom with an original premise. It doesn't look quite like anything else on television. And it makes you feel good without coming across like a “Family Circus” cartoon.
Charismatic skater-turned-actor Jason Lee (Chasing Amy, Mallrats, Dogma) stars as the titular Earl, a white-trash good-for-nothing who has spent his entire life doing, well, nothing good. One day, he wins $100,000 in the lottery, but promptly loses the ticket after being hit by a car. Recuperating in the hospital, he learns the meaning of the word “karma” from--of all people--TV host Carson Daly. Resolving to turn over a new leaf, Earl pledges to right every wrong he ever committed in his life. As soon as he does, he finds the missing lottery ticket--proof in his mind that karma works wonders.
Aiding Earl in his quest is his lazy brother Randy (Ethan Suplee, Lee's costar from all those Kevin Smith movies) and an attractive motel maid named Catalina (Nadine Velasquez). Earl's ex-wife (Jamie Pressley) is around too, but she's more of a hindrance than a help, scheming to get her hands on Earl's money. Unfortunately for her, that money is earmarked for doing good deeds.
“My Name is Earl” comes across as an endearingly offbeat slice-of-life comedy. It makes unending fun of America's redneck community without ever seeming mean-spirited. The show, in fact, has a massively good heart. Hard to believe that a show this funny can be so sweet-natured. Given the cloying, manipulative tone of other “feel good” shows (like NBC's “Three Wishes”), it's a testament to the creators of “My Name is Earl” that the show's positive moral message (“Do good things and good things will happen to you.”) never sticks to your skin.
“My Name is Earl” has been earning respectable ratings. They aren't the highest rating on Tuesdays, but--along with NBC's solid “Law & Order: SVU”--they're enough to land NBC a nightly win in the all-important 18-49 demographic.
So here's hoping Earl will continue to do good deeds and, in return, good things will happen to him--in the form of higher ratings and a renewal order for next season.