Friday, July 3, 2015

My Name Is Earl: Review of Episode One

            My Name Is Earl is a show that ran on NBC from 2005 to 2009, starring Jason Lee, Ethan Suplee, Jaime Pressly, and Eddie Steeples. The premise of the show was simple: Earl Hickey (Jason Lee) is a petty criminal who spent his whole life doing bad things. One day, he won a lottery ticket for $100k and was immediately run over by a car. While in the hospital, he learns about karma by watching Last Call With Carson Daly. He sets out to right his past wrongs and makes a list of all of his past sins. At first, Earl is mostly doing this so that bad things will stop happening to him. Along the way, however, he discovers that doing good things makes him feel good about himself, something he’s never experienced before. His journey turns him into a better person.

            I watched My Name Is Earl with my family regularly while I was growing up. It was one of our favorite shows. The writing was great, the message was uplifting, and the humor was very edgy, thanks to the characters. Re-watching the show, I’ve noticed the characterization was a little different in the first few episodes. Earl is more concerned with stopping bad things from happening to him than with genuinely helping people. Joy (Jaime Pressly), Earl’s ex-wife, is much crazier in the early episodes than from roughly the mid-point of Season One onward, being obsessed with getting the $100k Earl won. Randy (Ethan Suplee) is more of a lazy bum mooching off his brother Earl than he is a simple-minded man-child. He was only like this in the very first episode, though. The writers were quick to make him more likable. Darnell (Eddie Steeples), Joy’s husband, is shown with a few family members in the early episodes, and there is no hint of him being a former spy who is in the Witness Protection Program. That was not worked out until late in Season One. It was interesting to watch these characters evolve over the course of the show.

            In this blog post, I’ll be reviewing the very first episode of the show, simply called, “Pilot.” Most of the episodes will be named after things on Earl’s list.

            Synopsis: The episode begins with a shady, casually dressed man walking into a convenience store in the middle of nowhere. As he buys a pack of smokes and a beer, we hear a voice over narration from Earl, describing himself as, “the kind of guy you wait to come of the store before you and your family go in.” Voiceover Earl says that if you took the time to get to know him rather than stereotyping him based on his appearance, you’d be wasting your time because he’s exactly who you think he is. Earl looks around from the side of the store to see if anyone’s watching, and then quickly runs over to a car in the middle of the parking lot to steal the valuables inside.

            Earl continues his narration, explaining the important details of his life. Six years ago, he met a woman named Joy while drunk in the Crab Shack, the local bar that all the main characters hang out in. Joy got him even more drunk and then drove him out to Las Vegas, where they got married. He didn’t remember this when he sobered up the next morning, but he did notice that Joy was six months pregnant. Joy didn’t remember much about the baby’s father as the pregnancy was the result of a drunken one-night stand at a rock concert. The only thing she remembered about him was that he drove a Ford, so she and Earl named the baby, “Dodge.” Already you can tell that these people will be winning all kings of great parenting awards.

            A year later, Earl and Joy had another baby together, who Earl named, “Earl Jr.” Unfortunately, it turned out that Earl wasn’t the father of this kid either. Joy had cheated on him with a black guy. The guy in question was Darnell, the manager of the Crab Shack. Earl didn’t realize that this was guy Joy cheated on him with, even though Darnell is one of the four or black people that live in Camden County, the setting of the show. Yeah, Earl isn’t very good at deductive reasoning.

            We come back to the present, and we see the life Earl and Joy are leading. They live in a mobile home in a trailer park. Dodge and Earl Jr are running around and making a mess of the place while Earl just slouches on the couch and watches TV. Narrator Earl says that he stays with his cheating wife and two illegitimate children because he “believes in the sanctity of marriage.” I’m sure. The trailer is also home to Earl’s brother, Randy. Randy’s daily activities include sleeping, watching TV, sleeping, eating, and sleeping. Occasionally, he’ll join Earl and Joy when they’re stealing something. Which is usually every night.

            We return to the Crab Shack. Earl and Randy enjoy coming here because Darnell serves them things he’s not legally allowed to put in the crab cakes. For reasons unbeknownst to Earl, Joy likes to come here as well. It’s been five years and Earl has not figured out that Darnell is the man Joy is cheating on him with. Seriously.     

            After this exposition, we see Earl return to the convenience store and scratch off a lottery ticket. Seeing that he won $100,000, Earl takes off into the street shouting about how rich he is…straight into the path of an elderly driver. The happiest ten seconds of Earl’s life ends as he gets plastered. The ticket flies out of Earl’s sight as he loses consciousness.

            Earl spends the next three weeks in the hospital doped up on morphine. Joy tricks him into signing a divorce paper and tells him that she and Darnell are moving in together because Darnell’s parents threw him out of the house for growing weed in his closet. This might seem like it contradicts all of the later revelations that Darnell is a super-intelligent ex-spy trained by his own father who he hasn’t seen in years, but that’s because it does. Joy also says that Earl Jr, “really needs to be with his daddy,” and Earl finally learns who Joy has been cheating with. Seriously Earl, I know you didn’t finish High School, but a GED was really not required in order to figure that one out.

            As the days go by, Earl is flipping through the channels when he comes across an episode of Carson Daly. Daly explains to his guest why he was such a good life. “What goes around comes around. If you do good things, good things will happen to you. If you do bad things, it will come back to haunt you. Karma.” Earl sits up and his eyes go wide. “There it was,” his narration continues, “Karma. The secret of life coming straight from Carson Daly’s lips through my morphine-laced ears.”

            When Earl is released from the hospital, he and Randy, having no where else to go, check into a motel. Randy immediately develops a crush on the maid, Catalina (Nadine Velazquez), and calls dibs on her. Earl is thinking about what Carson Daly said, and explains to Randy and Catalina that he wants to change his life because it sucks. He made a list of all the bad thing’s he’s done and wants to make up for them because he’s afraid karma will kill him if he doesn’t.

            Randy reads from the list as Earl goes down to the motel pool to pick up the trash, as littering is on the list. Randy wants to know how Earl is going to make up for all of it while Earl decides to start with the easy ones. Randy tells Earl to cross littering off of his list, but Earl replies that he needs to pick up as much as he’s littered. Randy complains that the list is stupid but Earl insists that it’s his road map to a better life. As Randy complains that’s he not cutting into his beer money for some “stupid-ass crusade,” the $100,000 lottery ticket rides the wind right onto Earl’s shoes.

            Earl has the ticket cashed in and stores the $100 grand underneath the dashboard in his car. You might think that this isn’t a safe place to store all of your money, but that’s because it isn’t. After buying the thing he’s always wanted for his car (a lock), Earl picks the first item on his list to make up for; “Picked on Kenny James.”

            Earl and Randy drive to house belong to Kenny’s parents, as they don’t know where Kenny lives. Earl is not a good liar, so he sends Randy in. Randy is an excellent liar, but only after he’s drank exactly four beers. Randy gets Kenny’s address from Kenny’s parents. Unfortunately, he agrees to stay after Kenny’s dad offers him a beer. After nine beers, Randy sees Kenny’s mom bending over and tells Kenny’s dad that he’s calling dibs on her. Randy escapes through the back yard as four cop cars arrive on the scene.

            After the escape, Earl and Randy find Kenny’s house. Earl is feeling guilty about the way he treated Kenny James. In a flashback to grade school, we see Earl torment Kenny in a game of kickball. When Kenny kicks the ball, Kenny tries to run to first base. Earl catches the ball, but decides that isn’t enough. So he kicks Kenny in the groin, pushes him to the ground, and throws the ball onto his head screaming, “you’re out!”

            Back in the present, Earl watches Kenny for the next few days, unsure of how to make things up to him. It turns out that Kenny had a decent life. He was the assistant manager of the local Copy Hut, owned a nice car, and had the nicest house on the block. A major contrast to Earl, who is unemployed, owns a shitty car, and lives in a motel. But Earl notices that Kenny isn’t very happy. He lives alone. He’s missing something special in his life. So Earl hires a hooker in order to get Kenny laid. I don’t think Earl understands what relationships are.

            The hooker in question is a daytime hooker named Patty. She’s middle-aged and not very attractive. Despite this, she still seems to get more action than most of the other prostitutes in Camden County. Earl and Randy send Patty into Kenny’s house, hoping that one afternoon of loveless, paid-for sex will be able to cure Kenny’s loneliness. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t. In fact, Patty and Kenny never have sex at all, even after Patty pulls out her good boob.

Irritated, Earl and Randy decide to go into the house themselves. Randy wonders if Kenny will remember Earl. He does, and freaks out upon seeing him. Earl tries to calm Kenny down and offers to find Kenny a woman, but Randy notices several gay magazines in Kenny’s table drawer. Earl and Randy back out of the bedroom slowly and then freak out and run away from the house.

             Back at the motel, Earl says that Kenny is off the list, claiming that since Kenny is gay, it’s a special circumstance. Randy is happy, but Catalina protests that it’s against the rules. Earl claims that since he made the list, he makes the rules, and that means that he doesn’t need to help gays. I don’t think karma has a gay exemption policy, Earl.

            As Randy goes to get a cheeseburger from the vending machine, Earl and Catalina walk into the motel room to find that it has been ransacked. Joy comes out of her hiding place and smacks Earl upside the head with a rotary phone. Joy is furious that Earl won a $100,000 in the lottery and didn’t tell her, and demands to know where Earl is keeping the money. Earl refuses, and Joy storms out, determined to find a way to get Earl’s lottery money. As Joy drives away, Earl realizes that karma is mad at him for refusing to help Kenny. He may have made the list, but karma makes the rules.

            Earl returns to Kenny’s house at night and waits for Kenny to come home from work. Kenny is startled to see Earl in his house, and warns him that he bought mace. Earl tries to calm Kenny down, but Kenny panics and tries to spray Earl with the mace. Unfortunately, the can was facing the wrong way, and Kenny sprays himself by mistake.

            After Kenny recovers a few hours later, Earl asks Kenny why he doesn’t have a boyfriend. Kenny asks him why he wants to know, and Earl explains to Kenny that he is on his list. He tells Kenny about the list, about how his life sucks because he’s done bad things that he wants to do some good things so that good things will start happening to him. Kenny tells Earl that he doesn’t have a man because he lives in a small town in the South and is afraid of how they would react. He tried going into the city to find a gay bar, but he didn’t have the nerve to go inside.

            Earl, realizing what he has to do, reluctantly offers to accompany Kenny into a gay bar so that he’ll be less scared. Randy comes along after Earl tells him that there would be bubbles. Earl is about to go up to gay and ask if he is interested in Kenny when Kenny stops him. Kenny has finally worked up the nerve to ask another guy out and tells Earl that he’s helped him regain his confidence after taking it away when they were kids. Kenny goes off to dance with another man as Earl crosses him off of his list. The episode ends with Randy jamming to his favorite song.

            Best Quotes:

            Randy (about Kenny’s sexual orientation): “Earl, I think you’re trying to sell a cat to man who fancies dogs.”

            Earl: “You got great boobs, Peggy!”
            -Joy glares at him-
            Earl (narration): “Her name was not Peggy.”
            Joy: “My name is Joy”
            Earl: -shrugs- “You got great boobs, Joy!”
            -Joy smiles, and then she and Earl start making out-
Earl (narration): “She kept buying me drinks and then she drove me to Vegas. By the time we sobered up, we were married.”

            Earl (narration): “There he was…(Earl gives Joy a confused look; Joy forces a smile)…Earl Jr.”
            -the next shot reveals that the baby is black-

Earl: “I’m talking about karma.”
Randy: “Who’s karma?”
Earl: “I don’t know…something Carson Daly came up with.”

Patty the Daytime Hooker (to Kenny): “Hey sweetie, I’m from Greenpeace. I need to talk to you about the sky and the whales and all that crap.”

Joy: “I want half that lotto money, Earl!”
Earl: “Yeah, well I want a legitimate baby and wife who doesn’t huff paint on Thanksgiving! But, I guess life’s full of little disappointments now, ain’t it!?”

Kenny: “Thanks for pinning me down to the ground, prying my eyes open with your fingers, and then pouring the milk in. I think that really helped a lot!”
Earl: “Yeah, well, when you steal enough purses you learn a thing or two about mace.”

Kenny: “You’re talking about karma.”
Earl: “You’re a Carson Daly fan too, huh?”

Additional Notes: A few shots of Earl’s List can be seen from time to time. The items are numbered, but the numbering of some of the list items have a tendency to change between episodes. Of note is Number 62 (“Threw Carol’s alarm clock out the window”). Number 62 is changed to “siphoned gas” in a later episode of Season One, and “Carol” is never mentioned again in the entire show.

-Trace Adkins, who is talking to Carson Daly on the tv that Earl watches in the hospital, was one of the actors who auditioned to play Earl

-The man Randy dances with at the gay bar is Greg Garcia, the show’s creator and executive producer

-There were initially 259 items on Earl’s list (Earl says, “one down, 258 to go” after he crosses Kenny off). Earl will add items to the list as the show goes on because he still occasionally messes up and does bad things.

Conclusion: Watching the first episode of the show after watching the later seasons is something of a strange experience. It lacks much of the zany and whacky antics that later defined the show’s humor. Still, it shows some character development from Earl. Initially, he is uncomfortable when he finds out that Kenny is gay, but after going back to get to know him, he learns that Kenny is a pretty good guy and they become friends. The pilot is solid entry in the series and good start to My Name Is Earl.

No comments:

Post a Comment