darkly cheerful My Name Is Earl, a tale of obsession and redemption,
is told through the narration of a newly minted Dudley Do-Right who used to
be a backwoods badass. His actions are an exercise in how everything in the
universe is connected to everything else (everything is everything).
be wronged by Earl, and then to have him return to make his amends, is like
having your own personal Jesus. Your happy ending is guaranteed.
matter how you believe in your higher power, Earl nails the universal
basics: nothing is what you think, but you still must subscribe to an
unwavering trust in something you don't quite understand, and know without
question that this force is with you.
Archie Bunker once earnestly described faith: it's believing in something
that nobody in his right mind would believe.
boils down to, Earl believes, is karma. Karma – according to Wikipedia (and
who should know better about karma than Wikipedia?) –
is the concept of "action" or "deed" in Dharmic religions understood as
denoting the entire cycle of cause and effect described in Hindu, Jain, Sikh
and Buddhist philosophies.
Or to put it more bluntly, it's like a Johnny Cash song.
Seems like heavy stuff for such a merry lightweight, but
self-described bad egg, chooses karma as his return to redemption (as
revealed to him when he watches Carson Daly discuss his belief in it on a
television talk show).
that moment on, Earl gets religion and vows to make up for every bad thing
he has ever done. He devises a list of people he had wronged, numbering into
the hundreds (or at least until the series gets its five years of
syndication). For example: #186: stole a car from a one-legged girl. And
America tunes in to see how he will reverse the bad deed and ultimately
exchange the negative energy for the positive.
Earl, I'm on his list!" boasts a golfer who was once wronged by him. Though
his former victims are usually skeptical at first, they eventually go along
for the ride, and it's a wild one.
series receives its pass because of sharp writing and passionate acting. How
those writers work such high-minded academic principles into the simple
minds of the humble (the characters, not the actors, who are all amazing!)
is nothing short of a Christmas miracle.
true that the show is populated by the criminally minded, because every
character steals every scene he or she is in. Roles range from dumb to
mean to crazy, and in outward appearance are not far cries from those who
populate The Dukes of Hazzard, Li'l Abner, and
Smokey and the Bandit, which Earl considers to be the greatest movie of
all time (even the name – Earl Hickey – sounds like something straight out
of that genre).
Randy – a walking id – gets swept up in his sibling's enthusiasm for do-gooding,
and often waxes poetic in a strange stream of consciousness: "It's no fun to
be blind. Why is Stevie Wonder always smiling? Maybe he can't see that he's
smiling." Or "How was prison? Did they make you go to bed real early?"
dullard as genius, while Earl's ex-wife, Joy, is sexpot as beeyotch. Though
Earl wants to remain friends with her ("I want to be the Bruce to her Demi,"
he claims), we watch and wait as the oily wheels of her mind turn, and
dispense TV quotables. She attempts to get around the karma, to no avail,
and her ignorance of it makes us believe all the more. Of her high-school
nemesis, she ponders sentimentally, "I haven't thought about how much better
I am than her in years."
Catalina, the motel maid and illegal immigrant, has little to do, but does
much with it. When comforted over the fact that her mother is dead, she
shrugs it off with, "It's okay. It was either her or me." And when a
kidnapping turns out well, she sniffs, "This is the sweetest, most justified
kidnapping I've ever seen." And she claims to have seen five or six.
get A-grade character actors and other surprises (Clint Howard, Beau
Bridges, Giovanni Ribisi, Juliette Lewis) having a ball scumming it up.
also, karma is a character itself, with a determined mind and a major player
in the turning of the plot. Karma literally moves in with Earl, and moves
like the wind, blowing a winning lottery ticket in and out of his hands.
were to choose the Christian route (as opposed to the karma highway), his
list would be relatively unnecessary, since Jesus forgives believers for
their sins simply in return for their faith (the rest is simply repentance).
If Earl were more trendy and shifted toward the Jewish/Kabala direction, his
list would be considered mitzvot – he piles on the good deeds in
order to get himself closer to heaven, like racking up points on a pinball
Earl lives by his list as if it's his own personal Bible; his obsession to
right his wrongs becomes his own personal religion. As Earl said, his list
is a "roadmap to a better life."
course, the last minority group that is tortured on TV without consequence –
lower-middle-class white people – is taken full advantage of here ("I know
where your mama parks her house," Joy exclaims). For some reason,
discrimination against this group is considered easy pickin's and immune
from anticipated protest. However, Earl and Randy – whom you first assume to
be trailer trash – are later revealed to come from a humble but comfortable
also first appears to be racism is nothing of the sort; in fact, it's the
complete opposite, which ultimately shines through as an unbiased love for
mankind (watch people of all sizes, shapes and colors dance to "Bust A Move"
at a wedding). What characters may be dismissed as stupid eventually reveal
themselves to be borderline brilliant and insightful.
locale – naturally expected to be a rednecked, Dogpatch of a Hee Haw
set, is hardly that at all: we see a university, a golf course, a corporate
center and pretty suburban houses. Don't look down on Earl and his world –
because you're in it. Just make sure you're on his list.
two-dimensional characters can feel so real and dispense so much inspiration
is as marvelous and as mysterious as karma itself.
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Posted: June 4, 2007.