‘My Name is Earl,’ urbane cornpone
NBC sitcom only looks dumb. That's by design.
September 21, 2005
On first description, My Name Is Earl sounds like an attempt by NBC to dumb down its heritage of classy, urbane sitcoms and improve its sagging ratings in the rural and conservative red states. Looks can deceive. This is a show so subversively, so outrageously cool that Larry David would appreciate it.
Jason Lee plays a blue-collar yahoo who drives a beat-up El Camino and steals from cars at convenience stores. He has a hot and trashy blonde ex-wife and a drunken and loutish brother who gets chased by cops a lot. When Earl’s not doing time himself, he’s scheming for a buck.
But this is not Hee Haw with a plot. Nor is it a hick version of the blue-collar According to Jim. Maybe it’s best thought of as a post-Seinfeld, post-modernist version of Dukes of Hazzard. Creator Greg Garcia’s show is hip and irreverent, sophisticated even when its characters do dumb things, and slyly winking at an audience bright enough to get its references and be intrigued by its stylishly cinematic production values.
In short, it’s another intelligent NBC comedy — only in disguise. And that makes this brave, clever attempt to shake up the staid world of sitcoms both praiseworthy and risky. This is a major departure from the network’s stale world of big-city-singles shows, yet its zippy aesthetic can be appreciated by those very educated singles who identified with Friends or Seinfeld.
Its problem may be that
it’s so offbeat that it may have trouble connecting with the demographic most inclined to get its humor. In that regard, it may have a problem similar to the one facing the equally hip and offbeat NBC sitcom that follows it on Tuesdays, The Office.
But then again, maybe not. Unlike the dry, droll Office, Earl has an earthy, sexy, sometimes-foul-mouthed natural exuberance that is winning to anyone who sees it. It also has a terrific actor in Lee, a one-time professional skateboarder who has made a name for himself in films like Vanilla Sky and Heartbreakers as a weirdly friendly sidekick who may or may not be smarter than he looks.
In Earl, he accomplishes being both shifty and sincere. His Earl is a reprobate but also a teddy bear with his thick mustache, messy shock of hair and bright engaging smile. He’s not exactly harmless but appears likely to hurt himself as much as anyone else. And proving a good foil for him is Ethan Suplee as his fast-drinking, slow-witted brother, Randy.
The opening episode is about Earl finding karma, an indication of how hip the show really is. No sitcom going after a hardcore NASCAR audience would base its first episode around a Buddhist concept about seeking balance in life.
He discovers karma by watching Carson Daly discuss the concept on TV. He then decides to right all his past wrongs and gain positive karmic standing by becoming kind-hearted. He is helped on his road to recovery by winning $100,000 in a scratch-game lottery. This somehow leads to Earl attempting to make up to a timid former childhood nemesis by sending him an ugly hooker as a gift. Complications ensue.
There’s a goofball, put-on aspect that those familiar with indie films like Bottle Rocket, Opposite of Sex or American Splendor will recognize. It also has the cinematic structure of such fashionably edgy movies with its fragmented narrative, deadpan narration and an active camera that whooshes and slides in and out of flashbacks faster than Earl can rev his El Camino.
One might detect in Earl a satire on the quasi-religious do-gooder TV series like Highway to Heaven, Touched by an Angel and Amy Grant’s new Three Wishes (also on NBC). But if that’s the genesis, so to speak, of the show, it’s not the point of it. The point is just to have a good time, but to be very smart and original about achieving it.
After nearly 18 years, it’s time to say good-bye
Yet more evidence native advertising doesn’t work
A new type of cord-cutting: Snipping broadband
Coming, the collapse of radio’s iHeartMedia
Weeklies: Surviving if not thriving in digital age
Tweeter in chief: How Trump could save Twitter
Shows Trump hates are seeing big ad gains
Broadcast vs. cable: How the top shows stack up
A sign that coughs at your cigarette smoke
The word: Time Inc. sale is imminent
Rundown: Which advertisers have jumped from YouTube
Media Life’s Digital Media Transparency Initiative
HBO does hard time with Dwayne Johnson
- Arun Kumar becomes chief data and marketing tech officer at IPG
- Jenny Campbell rises to managing director at 72andSunny
- Adam Crandall becomes director of strategy at mono
- Mark Wildman rises to EVP of partnerships at Westwood One
- Kevin Craig rises to SVP of newspaper relations at AMG/Parade
- Bill Corvalan becomes VP of West Coast partnerships at AllOver Media
- Richard Just becomes editor at The Washington Post Magazine
- Gemma Lawson rises to VP and design director at Nickelodeon
- Ashley Judd joins Epix' 'Berlin Station'
- Former NBC ad sales executive Robert Blackmore dies at age 90
This week’s broadcast ratings
This week’s cable ratings
This week’s top-rated movies, songs and books
This week’s daypart ratings
This month’s digital traffic data: December 2016
Ad sales rep for a digital-only magazine
Freelance media planner/buyer available for all markets
Wanted: Media buyer in Philadelphia
Paid social media planner wanted in Detroit
Opening for a media planner at a top OOH agency