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TV Series Review

Instant karma’s going to get Earl/It’s gonna knock him right in the head/Earl had better get himself together/Pretty soon he’s gonna be dead.

That’s both a ragged rendition of a famous John Lennon tune and the oddball premise of NBC’s comedy My Name Is Earl. Not that Earl has any respect for the social consciousness of Lennon. Or any idea what karma actually is. A small-time crook, Earl steals, cheats, drinks and swears. And he’s just fine with that—at least until he hears MTV’s Carson Daly talking about karma.

On that fateful day Earl (Jason Lee) wins the lottery. Three scratches and the $100,000 prize is his. Ten seconds later a car plasters him onto the pavement. Instead of a champagne celebration and a new sports car, Earl ends up in traction watching Daly on the TV in his hospital room. That’s when he decides to make up for a lifetime of offenses: 259 by his own estimation. In each episode, Earl will attempt to right a past wrong.

Trying to review an entire television series based on its premiere can be like determining how long and angry a snake is by glimpsing only its tail. But this one has a rattle that’s shaking vigorously. Based on the way Earl goes about crossing the first transgression off his list, viewers get a clear sense of his heart and the direction series creator Greg Garcia is headed.

To pay back his first debt to society, Earl hires a call girl to service an old grammar school classmate he used to terrorize. The man refuses to sleep with the prostitute. Because he’s virtuous? No, because he’s homosexual. So Earl escorts him to a gay bar to find true love. Along the way Earl gets drunk, swears and drags the institution of marriage through the mud. With his mission accomplished, he triumphantly marks “bullying” off his list and heads into episode two. How does karma react? It rewards him by letting him find that lost lottery ticket with three matching scratches.

Such spiritual ignorance and sexual themes didn’t seem to bother test audiences. NBC reports that My Name Is Earl tested higher than any comedy in the past 15 years. Garcia sees that as a good sign. “I believe in karma,” he says. “I believe whether there’s a magical karma that gets you good things because you do good things, or whether you simply do good things as a way of living your life, then good things are going to happen to you.” If that’s true, why do decent, discerning families get punished by shows like My Name Is Earl?

Episodes Reviewed: Sept. 20, 2005

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Steven Isaac

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