Thursday, 29 January 2009

Hi, My Name Is...

The most underrated comedy currently in production sneaked back into the schedules recently with little to no fanfare or press.

I’m talking about the wonderful ‘My Name Is Earl’.

His name is Earl and his show is damn funny.

That’s right; Earl Hickey is back and more importantly; back on form.

Let’s be honest, Season 3 wasn’t Earl’s finest hour; too many contrived plot devices and gimmicks (Earl in jail, Earl in a coma) left me wondering whether the writers had run out of ideas.

But for Season 4 Earl is back to doing what he does best; crossing items off his seemingly never-ending list and causing all manner of hijinx.

The unique ‘list’ aspect of the show should, in theory, guard against the need for contrived arcs and storylines, which is what made last season so frustrating. Earl’s list gives the writer’s a free pass to dream up crazy characters and situations and have them fit in perfectly with the show’s tone and pace.

This has already been seen in full effect at the beginning of this season’s run with the guest appearance of Seth Green, who seems to have developed a knack for stealing any scene/show he appears in.

In addition to Green, ‘My Name Is Earl’ has managed to secure a number of impressive guest stars in it’s previous three seasons; Burt Reynolds, Jon Heder, Christian Slater and John Waters have all appeared, along with a host of other ‘famous’ faces.

While this list of guest stars may not be on a par with that of say, ‘Friends’, Earl’s producers seem to plump for guest stars who seem a natural fit for the character they play; Slater as a stoner, Reynolds as a misogynistic nightclub owner, Giovanni Ribisi as a petty criminal - he needs the money people!

It isn’t just the guest stars in ‘My Name Is Earl’ though, that deserve credit for turning in consistently weird and wonderful performances. In addition to the five main characters, who we’ll get to later, ‘My Name Is Earl’ has built up a pretty impressive cast of minor, recurring characters who populate Camden County. I would say that in terms of eccentric townsfolk; The Camdenites are rivalled only by the residents of Springfield in ‘The Simpsons’ (incompetent lawyer Lionel Hutz was always my favourite Simpsons character) lofty praise indeed.

A special mention needs to go out to Tim Stack, also a writer on ‘Earl’, who’s exaggerated version of himself is pure genius.

Usually dressed in his Notch Johnson outfit from his dismal sitcom ‘Son Of The Beach’ Stack pops pills and drinks to excess while using his ‘celebrity’ to try and get his own way with Camden’s colourful residents. His dressing as a baby for his ‘date’ with Joy was definitely one of the highlights of the show so far. Other stand-out supporting characters include Patty the daytime hooker and Willie the one-eyed mail man, played by Ethan Suplee’s real-life dad Bill.

As for the main cast; Jason Lee has never been better than as the titular Earl. Jaime Pressly effortlessly manages to maker trailer trash sexy as the hot-headed Joy, bogarting most of the best lines in the process.

Eddie Steeples as laid-back, ‘crabman’ Darnell gives a brilliantly deadpan performance as Joy’s witness-protected husband.

And of course, Ethan Suplee always brings the laughs as Earl’s dim-witted but often profound brother Randy.

I remember Suplee from his early work on ‘Boy Meets World’ and he didn’t seem to age for about ten years as he appeared in other shows/films. It seems strange now seeing him as an ‘adult’, well, I say adult, Randy’s more of a man-child, but Suplee plays him to perfection; that scene in last week’s episode where he was nonchalantly eating cat food was gold.

The only gripe I have with the main cast is Nadine Velasquez’s role as stripper/maid Catalina.

Velasquez has proved that was well as being smoking hot she has impeccable comic timing and more than often does get some great lines.

Recently though, Catalina seems like an afterthought and the ways that she is crowbarred into episodes now seems to be getting more and more tenuous. She could easily be dropped from the show and not be missed and that’s disappointing.

The unrequited love storyline with Randy was actually quite an interesting subplot, but it seemed to be ended quite abruptly, dropped completely and then never mentioned again and now Catalina seems to just be ‘there’ with no real purpose, but that’s only a minor complaint. Overall the writing, casting and performances within this brilliant series are top notch.

‘My Name Is Earl’s crowning glory though is it’s great use of music. Week in and week out I’m continually amazed by the array of classic songs used on the show (usually from the hair metal or country genre.)

To feature so much licensed music must cost the show quite a few pesos but it’s more than worth it, anyone who saw Earl trying to psyche his Dad up for a fight by singing Survivor’s ‘Eye Of The Tiger’ will know what I mean, as will those of you who’ve seen Catalina’s strip club routine to House of Pain’s ‘Jump Around’.

I can’t think of any other show that uses such a vast array of popular music to such great effect other than ‘Earl’.

As this fourth season has already aired in the States, I’ve got a good idea of what’s on the horizon for Earl and the gang in the coming weeks; including an Erik Estrada guest appearance towards the end of the season. Fucking Ponch!

So if you don’t already know his name, tune in Thursdays at 9pm on E4 and let Earl introduce himself to you…

Other Televisual Musings This Week;

- Pure, unadulterated TV heaven for me at the moment continues to be the California advert that’s been running for a while now. Schwarzenegger’s delivery of his only line; “when can you start?” has me in stitches every time, it’s the most robotic performance of his career …and he played a cyborg in three of his films.

- ‘Lost’s return didn’t disappoint, but as anyone who’s seen the show before could probably have guessed; more questions than answers.

But let’s not take anything away from the two-hour season premiere, it still had some great moments; Sayid still managing to take out one of his and Hurley’s assailants after being shot with several tranquilizer darts, Hurley’s ‘I love my Shih Tzu’ t-shirt and the delicious irony of Michelle Rodriguez’s Ana-Lucia coming back in vision form to critique Hurley’s driving skills.

It was also nice to finally see an episode of ‘Making the Video’ with Dr. Pierre Chang or Marvin Candle as he referred to himself this time, his creepy orientation videos have been a delight throughout the past few seasons so to finally see him ‘behind the scenes’, so to speak, was a nice touch.

- Over on ‘24’ Jack buried someone alive, to keep them alive and nearly killed the former Sangalan Prime Minister and his wife with a gas he made from cleaning products he found under the sink - I think it’s pretty safe to say he’s past his little voyage of self-discovery now.

- Mickey Rourke appeared on ‘Larry King Live’ earlier in the week and was kayfabe joined by Chris Jericho via satellite to plug their potential ‘Wrestlemania’ battle.

But less than 24 hours later, Rourke’s people are now denying he’ll be stepping into the ring again. As I alluded to in a story on TV or not TV’s sister website The Minty Pocket; right or wrong, Rourke’s OSCAR chances would diminish considerably through any association with WWE. So they’re probably doing the smart thing distancing themselves from the WWE at the moment, but the cynic in me says this will all be back on again once the OSCAR votes are in.

- Lastly, I will never tire of watching Saturday night’s lottery show ‘In It To Win It’ no matter how irritating the contestants get and how blatantly obvious they make it that they’ve been told to string out their answers for dramatic effect; “Well Dale, my name’s not Barry, and it’s not Paul so in answer to the question ‘what is your name?’ I’m going to say B. Dick.

But in spite of all this show’s many, many flaws, the mere sight of Dale Winton inviting contestants into his “red area” just never gets old and continues to make my Saturday night week after week…


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