Saturday, January 07, 2006

My Name Is Earl

It's a rare event that I see trailers for a new show on TV and think "I'd really quite like to catch that". With My Name Is Earl, however, I made a rare exception. Partially, this is because I was in America throughout most of September, and was thus subjected to endless trailers promoting the various channels' new shows. Not that I watched much TV, you understand - these things are plastered across billboards everywhere. Add to the mix the good write-ups it got over there, and the fact that I returned home the day it premiered, and my interest was well and truly piqued.

It certainly gets off to a great start. "But if you took the time to look beyond crude stereotypes and get to know the real me... you'd be wasting your time." Of course, the whole show then turns on the fact he is desperate to leave such stereotypes behind, with his Carson Daly epiphany and a new-found belief in karma. And Jason Lee certainly brings enough charm to the character that the turnaround is convincing. You get the feeling that Earl wasn't delinquent through malice - more the sort of guy who stumbles through life and attracts mischief because it seemed the easiest thing to do.

That makes his Damascine conversion believable, because he has a genuine desire to put things right. That gets seen right from the start - it would be easy for him to avoid picking up litter when the maid asks him not to. But he's on a mission to change his life, and he's going to do it. The point is emphasised even more when he realises he has to help poor Kenny James with his confidence, no matter how uncomfortable he may be with what he has to do.

So for all that the basic line of the show is feel-good, it's not overly saccharine. Doing good involves doing things that may seem unpleasant. Although Earl's broad smile in the gay bar showed that it brings its own rewards. I guess an upbeat ending will become the staple of the comedy, and after all, it is light entertainment. My one big hope, though, is that the crude link drawn in the first episode between good deeds and rewards, and vice versa, doesn't remain so crude throught. It would be nice to see him battle with slim pickings.

What, then, of the comedy? Well, there were moments that were brilliant, but overall it was more pleasant than laugh-out-loud funny. Then again, that's to be expected from the first episode of a comedy, where establishing the characters is vital if maximum humour is to be achieved. And the humour was certainly well-written; it avoided signposting, which to my mind was the curse of Friends. At times it was also impressively subtle. And it was certainly a lot of fun to watch. I just hope Earl can stick with his mission.