My Name Is Earl: Season One review, My Name Is Earl: Season 1 DVD review

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Buy your copy from My Name Is Earl: Season One (2005) starstarstarstarhalf star Starring: Jason Lee, Ethan Suplee, Nadine Velazquez, Jaime Pressly, Eddie Steeples
Director: Various
Category: Comedy
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“You know the kind of guy that does nothing but bad things and then wonders why his life sucks? Well, that was me. Every time something good happened to me, something bad was always waiting around the corner. Karma. That’s when I realized I had to change. So I made a list of everything bad I’ve ever done, and – one by one – I’m gonna make up for all my mistakes. I’m just trying to be a better person. My name is Earl.”

The idea of a guy trying to redeem himself by making up for all the bad deeds he’s done in his life sounds more like the plot for a drama on the Family Channel, not a sitcom on NBC. Funny how a few specific details can change that perception.

Like, for instance, let’s say the guy is the textbook definition of white trash, his brother’s a moron, his ex-wife’s so classy that she looks to guests on “The Jerry Springer Show” for etiquette tips, and she’s married to a waiter down at the local seafood restaurant who’s just slightly cleverer than the aforementioned brother.

Voila! Instant comedy!

“My Name Is Earl” is, along with “Scrubs,” “The Office,” and “30 Rock,” part of NBC’s kick-ass comedy line-up, and just in case you didn’t get in on the show on the ground floor, 20th Century Fox quickly hurried Season 1 onto DVD so you could play catch-up in time to properly enjoy Season 2. Not that you have to see Season 1 first; after all, the above italicized paragraph is the monologue that’s delivered over the opening credits, along with a montage of clips to further clarify the show’s premise. All you need to know is that Earl’s got a list of things he’s done wrong over the years, and each episode finds him trying to cross another item off the list.

Jason Lee’s portrayal of Earl is funny and subtly dramatic, the latter occurring when he finds himself dealing with the repercussions of crossing something off. Like, for instance, he regularly finds that his list takes precedence over doing things with his brother, Randy (Ethan Suplee), and Lee manages to capture Earl’s hesitation. “Do I keep karma on my good side, or do I screw over my brother?” Usually he finds a way to keep karma at bay and make Randy happy…but, then, Randy’s a man of simple needs, to say the very least. The supporting cast of Jaime Pressly as Earl’s ex-wife, Joy, and Eddie Steeples as her new husband, a.k.a. the Crab Man, is perfect. Steeples has a way of delivering complete vapid lines with such naïve sincerity that you have to laugh, but it’s Pressly who’s the show’s tour de force, presenting the most perfect portrayal of a white trash wench that you almost feel as though you should stand and applaud at the end of each episode. Catalina (Nadine Velazquez) is the calm in the eye of the storm, staring blankly at Earl and Randy more often than not, but just when you think she’s smarter than they are, she turns around cheers on a battle between two earthworms; that having been said, she’s so smoking hot that, like Randy, you tend to sit around waiting for her to find an excuse to dance. (Thankfully, she finds many such excuses.) The recurring characters are also well-developed, like Earl’s dad (Beau Bridges), Ralph Mariano (Giovanni Ribisi, who has the series’ best freeze-frame to date in “Teacher Earl”), and Gregg Binkley as Earl’s gay friend, Kenny.

Of the special features – which include deleted scenes, a gag reel, and several audio commentaries (including the mothers of the cast and crew on “Dad’s Car,” the show’s oddly-titled Mother’s Day episode) – the one that’ll be worth the price of admission for diehard fans of the series is “Bad Karma,” described as an “extra Earl misadventure.” Jason Lee introduces the mini-episode by claiming it’s the show’s original pilot…one where Earl, instead of being inspired by Carson Daly’s words of wisdom about karma, flips over to an episode of “Family Guy” and hears Stewie talk up the value of getting revenge on those who’ve screwed you over. In short, it takes everything you remember from the first episode and turns it on its head…and the results, while a bit darker than your average “Earl” episode, are still pretty damned funny.

“My Name Is Earl” is filled with so many hilarious lines, often as throwaway jokes, that DVD is the perfect medium for it; you need to watch each episode more than once to figure out what you missed while you were busy laughing.

~Will Harris