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Earl, Your Job Here Is Done

NBC's My Name Is Earl (premiering Tuesday) is getting a lot of accolades as one of the best new comedies of the fall. I haven't seen any to compare it to, but I'd grade it as an incomplete -- it's got potential, but as with many shows, its pilot's got some flaws.

Jason Lee is Earl, a ne'er-do-well who wins the lottery and gets hit by a car in short succession, teaching him (with a synergistic assist from Carson Daly) a little about Karma. Thus changed, Earl decides to right wrongs -- in his case, the wrongs he has caused others in his years as a ne'er-do-well.

Not a bad premise for a sitcom, and Lee's up to the task of playing earnest-but-dumb. In the first episode, he devotes himself to helping a kid he used to beat up in school, and although his plan of getting the guy a prostitute veers wildly off course, in the end he's done right by his past victim, who sweetly discharges him of his duties.

Not so successful are the show's supporting characters, who are broadly drawn and in many parts, poorly acted. Earl's brother Randy is an idiot, which could be fun, but Ethan Suplee seems strangely uninspired. Catalina (played by Nadine Velazquez and sadly described in NBC's press materials as a "very sexy maid" -- ouch!) is a cipher who shares one particularly poorly-acted scene on a hotel bed with Randy. Jaime Pressly plays Joy, Earl's skanky ex-wife, and she's a shrill, one-note golddigger that isn't remotely funny. Eddie Steeples, on the other hand, has some promise as "Crab Guy" Darnell, Joy's longtime boyfriend and the father of Earl Jr.

So, to sum up: Earl is worth a shot, and for more than just the pilot episode. Whether it's worth it in the long haul remains to be seen -- it largely depends on if the supporting cast either figures it out or fades into the background, and if the writers can manage to keep the show slightly more sweet than sour. As for Earl himself, he's pretty solid. Jason Lee's worth watching, even if the jury's still out when it comes to the people surrounding him.


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