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My Name is Earl: Season 1 DVD Review

My Name is Earl: Season 1

November 15, 2006

Director: Marc Buckland, Chris Koch, Tamra Davis, Ken Whittingham,
Starring: Jason Lee, Ethan Suplee, Jaime Pressly, Nadine Velazquez, Eddie Steeples,

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DVD Review

The rest of the world has finally realized what fans of Kevin Smith’s movies already knew for years – Jason Lee is a very funny guy. He established his comedic credibility with classic performances in Mallrats (1995) and Chasing Amy (1997) and had many other decent ones under his belt before dong My Name is Earl, but it was the success of this television program that finally brought him mainstream attention. It is the perfect vehicle for his talents, allowing him to do slapstick and verbal humour while his good-natured charm shines.

Earl Hickey (Lee) is your basic, good-for-nothing piece of white trash whose life changes when he wins a $100,000 playing the lottery. He is subsequently run over by a car driven by a little old lady. While recuperating in the hospital his wife Joy (Pressly) divorces him and kicks him out of their trailer home. While laying in bed, channel-surfing, Earl comes across Carson Daly’s late night talk show and finds a couple of the man’s pearls of wisdom particularly illuminating: “What goes around comes around,” and “You do good things and good things happen to you, you do bad things and it’ll come back to haunt you.” Karma.

So, Earl and his good-hearted but dumb brother Randy (Suplee) move into a motel where they befriend the good-looking maid Catalina (Velazaquez) while Earl mulls over Carson’s sage advice. He figures out that if he wants a better life, he needs to become a better person. So, Earl compiles a list of everything bad he’s ever done and tries to fix them with the help of his lottery winnings and Randy.

On the surface, My Name is Earl may seem a little like Raising Arizona (1987): the movie and the pilot episode feels and looks a little like that. You could almost imagine these characters existing in the same world. Beau Bridges makes an appearance as Earl’s long-suffering father in “Cost Dad an Election.” It’s a semi-redemptive story as Earl tries to make up for constantly disappointing him over the years culminating when he inadvertently sabotaged his father’s run for mayor. So, he decides to help him run for office again… whether he wants to or not.

In “The Professor,” Earl tires to return a laptop and accidentally knocks over a bus stop sign. Once on campus, Randy learns to drink beer upside down at an all-day frat party while Earl finds himself attracted to a cute college professor (Christine Taylor) who kicks him in the balls when they first meet (in all fairness, she thought that he was stalking her). She becomes fascinated by how he lives his life through karma and invites him to speak at her class the next day. However, karma keeps reminding him about the bus stop sign that he promised to fix. It’s nice to see Earl get a chance at romance but he has to sacrifice this for his list. The writers also get a lot of comic mileage out of Randy rushing a frat house.

The show’s premise is simple but surprisingly effective: Earl picks a wrong on his list that needs to be righted and does so with the episode concluding with a poignant moral message that is never too preachy. Jason Lee and Ethan Suplee make an excellent comedic team having already honed their chops together in Mallrats and (to a lesser degree) in Chasing Amy. Earl is the brains of the duo while Randy is the simple one, child-like but with a knack for funny non-sequiters. Joy tends to be Earl’s recurring antagonist, always trying to get his money and Jaime Pressly plays her to white trash perfection. Crabman (Steeples) is the Randy to Joy’s Earl – only smarter. He has a nice, understated relationship with Earl. Even though Crabman is now married to Earl’s ex, there are no hard feelings and they are always nice to each other. Crabman is a decent, easy-going guy which begs the question, what’s he doing with Joy?

While the show is hardly groundbreaking in terms of technique, it is quite a novel idea and executed very well, proving to be both entertaining and thoughtful at the same time. My Name is Earl also helped rejuvenate the sitcom which had become stagnant in recent years with the exception of a show like Scrubs. In this day and age where reality shows glut the market, it is nice to have a show like Earl provide a much needed respite.

Special Features:

The first disc features an audio commentary on the “Pilot” by creator Greg Garcia, director Marc Buckland and actors Jason Lee and Ethan Suplee. Everyone recounts filming anecdotes and little bits of trivia. Garcia says that at one point it was going to be John Stamos dispelling the wisdom of karma but Carson Daly worked for NBC and it seemed right.

Garcia, Lee and Suplee reunite for the commentary on “Teacher Earl” and are joined by guest star Giovanni Ribisi. Earl’s teaching gig in this episode was inspired by a public access show that Garcia saw in passing. Everyone laughs and jokes at many of the gags in the episode and Lee points out how much weight he had put on at this point in the season on this entertaining track.

Also included are deleted scenes from “Pilot” and “Broke Joy’s Fancy Figurine” with optional commentary from Garcia and Buckland.

Disc two features a commentary on “Joy’s Wedding” by Garcia, Buckland, Lee and actor Eddie Steeples. This episode was intended to show the softer side of Joy because the network thought she was too harsh. Everyone tends to get caught up in watching and laughing along with this episode.

There is a commentary on “White Lie Christmas” by Garcia, producer Tim Stack and actresses Jaime Pressly and Nadine Velazquez. Pressly is very funny on this track as she points out little details about her character and recounts anecdotes about making the episode.

Also included is a commentary on “O Karma, Where Art Thou?” by Garcia, Lee, Suplee and guest star Jon Favreau who, incidentally, is very funny with his dry sense of humour that constantly cracks the others up. He points out the “man boobs” that he, Lee and Suplee have in this episode. He also “praises” Suplee’s background in “object acting.”

There are deleted scenes for “Monkeys in Space” and “O Karma, Where Art Thou?” with optional commentary by Garcia and Buckland.

The third disc features a commentary on “Dad’s Car” by Garcia, Buckland, their moms and the moms of Jason Lee and Ethan Suplee. This is a funny kind of novelty track in honour of the Mother’s Day-themed episode. Gracia moderates and asks them questions like when their children started acting and so on. It’s all very sweet as the moms are clearly proud of their children.

Also included are deleted scenes for “Something to Live For” and “The Professor” with Garcia and Buckland.

The fourth disc kicks things off with “Bad Karma: An Earl Misadventure” which is an exclusive to the DVD. It’s introduced in a tongue-and-cheek fashion by Lee in a parody of Masterpiece Theatre. This mini-episode basically inverts the original pilot. Instead of listening to Carson Daly, Earl listens to Stewie Griffin on the Family Guy instead and decides to get vengeance on everyone who screwed him over in life.

Accompanying this extra is a commentary by Garcia, Buckland, Lee and Suplee. Lee talks about how a lot of the crew members didn’t recognize him without his moustache while Garcia talks about the origins of this episode: the desire to do a what if? story exclusively for the DVD. He had worked on the Family Guy before and decided to use it in the episode. Lee was excited to play a jerk after playing a nice guy all season.

There is a commentary on “Number One,” the season finale by Garcia, Buckland, Lee and Suplee. They talk about how this episode brings everything full circle with the pilot. They also recount the usual filming anecdotes.

There is a deleted scene for “Stole a Badge” with optional commentary by Garcia and Buckland.

“’Karma is a Funny Thing’ Blooper Reel” features the cast goofing

J.D. is a freelance writer who is currently doing research for a book on the films of Michael Mann. He likes reading anything written by Jack Kerouac, James Ellroy, J.D. Salinger, Harlan Ellison or Thomas Pynchon. J.D. is currently addicted to the T.V. series 24 and enjoys drinking a lot of Sprite. This is not a blatant plug for the beverage but if they ever decided to give him a lifetime supply he certainly wouldn’t turn them down.
view all DVD reviews by JD Lafrance

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Rating: 90%

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