You should give ‘Earl’ a chance

Today’s TV landscape is a wasteland of reality shows and washed-up dramas. If you’re looking for new comedy on TV, your choices are pretty slim. With ratings for comedies in trouble, networks are quickly dropping the few they have left.

FOX recently canceled arguably one of the best recent sitcoms on TV, Arrested Development, much to the dismay of its fans. Meanwhile, its replacement show and a strong majority of new shows for the 2005 fall season are either action-based dramas or reality shows. However, all hope is not lost.

One new sitcom has received high ratings and positive reviews by critics since its recent debut earlier this fall: NBC’s My Name Is Earl. In this post, I provide an overview of the show, talk about its ratings and reviews, and hopefully convince you to take a half-hour to check it out.

Overview

According to NBC’s official My Name Is Earl website at NBC.com, the show debuted on September 20th as part of NBC’s new season for fall 2005. Jason Lee, best known for his roles in Mallrats, Chasing Amy, and Almost Famous, stars as the main character, Earl Hickey.

As transcribed for an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Earl described himself in the first episode as “that guy you see goin’ into the convenience store, when you stop off in that little town on the way to Grandma’s house. Sort of shifty-lookin’ fella, who buys a pack of smokes, a couple of Lotto scratchers, and a tallboy at 10 in the morning. The kind of guy you wait to come out of the store, before you and your family go in.”

In the pilot, Earl wins $100,000 from one of those scratch-off lottery tickets, and then gets hit by a car less than a minute later, which also causes him to lose the ticket. While recovering in the hospital, he watches Last Call with Carson Daly while still mostly out of it from the morphine that was given to him. He hears him talk about the concept of karma — do bad things and then bad things happen to you; do good things and then good things happen to you — and thinks that Daly himself invented karma.

At this point, Earl decides that losing the lottery ticket and being hit by a car happened to him because of karma — he did bad things to people his entire life, so this extremely bad thing happened to him.

This inspires Earl to write out a list of everything he’s ever done wrong to anyone — he comes up with 259 entries. He sets a goal to make up for every one of them, reversing everything he’s done wrong, turning his life around to become a better person, making life better for himself and all the people he negatively affected in the past.

After Earl leaves the hospital, he finds the winning lottery ticket — the same one he lost when he got hit by the car — on the ground. He attributes finding the list to karma, and from that point forward, vows to complete everything on his list one by one. With the help of his brother Randy and their new friend Catalina, who works at the motel at which they are staying, Earl completes at least one item from his list in each episode.

As described in the My Name Is Earl episode guide at CNET’s TV.com, some of the topics he has made up for include letting a friend serve jail time for a crime he committed, manipulating the outcome of a high school football game, faking his death to break up with a girl, neglecting his brother, and costing his dad an election for mayor.

Ratings & Reviews

The unconventional plot of the sitcom, the topics covered, and the charm of the characters have all made My Name Is Earl a success for NBC so far. According to Metacritic, over 15 million people watched the pilot of the show, with following episodes drawing in a similar amount of viewers. This makes My Name Is Earl the most popular sitcom on any network, both in overall ratings and in the 18-49 year old demographic which networks and advertisers attempt to target the most.

The show has also gathered many positive reviews from critics. In a review for the Orlando Sentinel, critic Hal Boedeker writes, “Under a rough, rambunctious exterior lurks a life-affirming show. Yet series creator Greg Garcia balances the goofiness and the uplift, so the show avoids being too mushy. Earl can be ridiculously ignorant, and then reveal wisdom.” He also goes as far to say that “My Name Is Earl should change the fortunes of struggling NBC” and single-handedly bring the network out of fourth place in ratings.

Tim Goodman of the San Francisco Chronicle shares similar feelings. He says that My Name Is Earl is a show of “big, ridiculous laughs,” and that the creator of the show has promised not to produce an entire series where Earl can take care of everything on his list successfully. Earl sometimes fails, and he will have to add new bad things he does to his list.

Goodman does criticize NBC for not promoting the show enough and placing it in an obscure timeslot, and says, “The problem will be finding Earl on the island NBC has dumped him on. But if you care about good sitcoms, hunt down this show.”

Glenn Garvin of the Miami Herald also enjoys the show and says that “half the fun of the show is watching Earl, and his band of merry morons, try to get a toe back inside the door of polite society, from which they’ve been exiled so long that they barely remember the concept. In deadpan innocence, they rampage over just about every societal restriction.”

Most other critics echo these opinions as well, with Metacritic listing it as the third highest reviewed show of the fall 2005 season on any network.

Check it out

So, now you know the premise of My Name Is Earl, the ratings the show has received, and a sample of what critics have to say about the best new sitcom on TV. If you haven’t watched it yet, what are you waiting for? Take out a half hour next Tuesday night, December 6th, at 9:00, and give Earl a chance.

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