I have to say a few comments to say about My Name is Earl before I even see the pilot.
Every time a long running sit-com goes off the air (last season it was Everybody Loves Raymond) someone announces that, "The sitcom is dead". Trust me the sit-com is not dead.
When Desi Arnaz created I Love Lucy he described his idea simply. We are going film a stage play in front of a live audience with three cameras. Somewhere down the line we forgot that the plays the thing. Lately instead of a plot we have strung together one liners, zingers and sexual innuendoes. When we go back to the art of storytelling and showing that the comedy should come from the situation you will see that the sitcom is very much alive.
There are also single camera sitcoms, like My Name is Earl that is not shot in front of an audience. Instead of shooting a play this is more like shooting a 22-minute movie. Over the years some of the most popular shows in television history were single camera sitcoms includingThe Andy Griffith Show (Celebrating it's 45 anniversary this year), M*A*S*H and the first couple of seasons of Happy Days. Back then single camera sitcoms were required to use a laugh track (Although M*A*S*H* did not use the laugh track in the operating room).
Current single camera sitcoms include Scrubs, The Office, Malcolm in the Middle, The Bernie Mac Show and Arrested Development.
Did you notice that 3 of the 5 listed single camera sitcoms were on FOX? FOX also had another single camera sitcom called Oliver Beene that aired from 2003 to 2004. I have been told that this funny show failed not because it was a single camera sitcom, but because it was set in 1962 and period shows don’t do well (That '70s Show HELLO!). When FOX was in fourth place they took some creative risks and aired single camera sitcoms when the "Big 3" networks wanted to stick with the traditional three camera format. Now that NBC is in forth place, it's time for them to take some creative risks.
By now you've figured out that I am a fan of the single camera sitcom. In fact I wrote two pilots that were written for that format and was told that the networks were not interested in the single camera format, in spite of the above examples (don't confuse me with the facts). I love the three camera format as well. As a stand-up comedian I can tell you that there is nothing like working in front of a live audience, but sometimes the three camera format can be limiting to the confines of a sound stage. Not only is My Name is Earl a show that I think I might like as a viewer (Based on the promos). In a small way I feel that I have a vested interest in the success of this type of show.
I felt it important to tell you what is on my mind before I watched the pilot, but I will make a good faith effort to be objective.I judge a good pilot by if lets you know every thing you need to know about the show in that first episode. A good example of this is the pilot for The Andy Griffith Show (as a spin off from Make Room for Daddy) and Hogan's Heroes. Taxi let you know every thing you need to know about the show in the first couple of minutes. The pilot for My Name is Earl let you know everything you needed to know before the first commercial break (Taxi’s record is safe.)
Jason Lee as Earl, is likable, you may even know a guy like him. He is definitely not a role model. Earl spent his life doing bad things to people and having bad things happen to him (the last straw is loosing a $100,000.00 lottery ticket). Earl learns about karma by watching Last Call with Carson Daly and hearing Carson say that his success and good fortune comes from doing good things for other people. Now inspired Earl sets out to correct every bad thing he has ever done (250 in total) in the hopes that good fortune will fall upon him. His first project is Kenny (Guest star Gregg Binkley), whom Earl used to torture as a child. Earl thinks that he can make things up to Kenny by getting him laid only to find out that Kenny is gay.
The show is funny, edgy and is sure to make the Parents Television Council hit list, but I never judge a show by it's pilot.
The second episode was just as good as the pilot proving that in a situation comedy, the comedy should come from the situation. The story was not predictable nor did I see the punch line coming from a mile away. My Name is Earl show could quite possibly be the best new show of the fall season (I haven't seen every new show yet, but if I see a better show, I'll say so).
To quote Earl and his brother Randy (Ethan Suplee)
Randy: What's karma? Earl: I don't know, it's something Carson Daly came up with.