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My Name Is Earl: Season One

My Name Is Earl could have been a disaster. A sitcom about a reformed (mostly) petty crook with a porn-star mustache and a really ugly car who goes around with his dim-bulb brother trying to right a lifetime of wrongs in the name of karma could very easily have ended up being either way too sappy or painfully condescending. Instead, it's a delicate, often-hilarious balance of both, tempering its warm-fuzzy messages about making amends by taking standard-issue white-trash stereotypes and tweaking them just enough to be funny instead of patronizing. Much of the show's success can be attributed to its uniformly strong cast. Frequent Kevin Smith collaborator Jason Lee gets top billing as affable Earl Hickey, whose aimless life is changed after he wins $100,000 in the lottery, loses the ticket, sees Carson Daly explain karma on TV, decides to make a list of all the bad things he's done and correct them, and promptly gets the winning ticket back. But, like a flannel-shirted Robin Hood, Earl wouldn't be much without his crew of quirky Merry Men. At the top of the heap is his loyal, clueless brother Randy (Ethan Suplee), a faithful sidekick who doesn't ask for much more out of life than a cold beer and "It Takes Two" playing on the jukebox. Also along for the ride are Earl's hard-as-nails ex-wife Joy (Jaime Pressly, who deserves an Emmy, stat), gamely capable hotel maid Catalina (Nadine Velazquez), and easygoing buddy Darnell/Crab Man (Eddie Steeples). Creator/executive producer Greg Garcia's sharp scripts land Earl and company in some pretty bizarre spots (participating in a knife-throwing act, dangling from ropes in an empty water tower, setting up camp in a discount megastore, dodging a vindictive bounty hunter, and so on), but they always come out okay in the end, usually improving someone else's life along the way as well. One of many non-traditional sitcoms to get green-lit at least partially thanks to the critical success of ground-breaker Arrested Development, My Name Is Earl is a refreshing comedy with appealing characters, a premise that's clever but not brain-bending (alas, "Arrested," you were too complex for the masses…), and, when it comes down to it, a feel-good message — which all adds up to some pretty nice TV karma. Fox's four-disc My Name Is Earl: Season One set includes all 24 first-season episodes, many accompanied by commentaries featuring various cast and crew members (there are eight commentary tracks in all). About 10 minutes' worth of deleted scenes are spread out across the four discs; other extras include a so-so "alternate pilot" called "Bad Karma" in which Earl decides to pursue vengeance instead of atonement, a 38-minute behind-the-scenes featurette, a 20-minute blooper reel, and a soundtrack promo. All of the episodes are presented in anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio and English, Spanish, and French subtitles. Two dual-disc slimline cases in a paperboard slipcase.
—Betsy Bozdech

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