The a simple premise: a hillbilly criminal (Jason Lee) decides to turn his karma around by righting the wrongs he’s committed in his 30-odd years. There is a lot of back story to tell us how he got here, though. The first thing that strikes me about the pilot is that the creators communicate a ton of information in very concise packages. Having voiceover by the protagonist helps, of course, but in under ten minutes we have a picture of Earl’s whole life up to the present moment. For example, a quick close-up of Joy’s belly, and Earl looking over at it from his position before the porcelain god, tells us all we need to know about their marriage.
We’re introduced to lot of colorful characters; there’s Earl’s ex-wife, Joy (Jaime Pressly), his brother, Randy (Ethan Suplee), Randy’s love internet, Catalina (Nadine Velazquez), Joy’s old/new man, Darnell (Eddie Steeples), an old schoolmate, Kenny, and a couple of kids with questionable parentage. They’re so white trash, the jokes spawn like microorganisms. They’ve never even heard the word karma until Carson Daly explains it, and they figure he made it up. Yet, by the time it’s all over, we’ve come to like a guy who, as he describes, you would wait to exit a convenience store before you and your family go in.
Earl’s transgressions range from robbery to “harmed and possibly killed people with second-hand smoke.” We get a little commentary on gay issues, since the first person Earl chooses to help is a closeted gay man who has never had the confidence, thanks to Earl’s childhood taunting, to come out. It all brings us to a feel-good ending that is at once funny and slightly bizarre. Rob Bass and DJ Easy Rock are an unlikely unifier. The ending is so quirkily sweet, it’s almost a tear-jerker.
So we get a great one-off story as well as a great set-up with potential for many seasons to come. Each actor shines in his or her own way, with great costuming and tons of hilarious and character-revealing one-liners. They’re stereotypes, sure, but we want to revel in their mistakes and hope for their futures; except maybe Joy’s. She’s such a bitch.