Tuesday, September 20, 2005

My Name Is Earl Debuts Tonight: Well Pleased to Meet You

I think it's prudent, even wise, to take in any new television comedy – even a highly touted one with a dynamite lead actor – with a degree of skepticism. It's just that we've been burned so many times in the past: the putrid concepts, the yawn-inducing set-ups, the forced anxious trials of attempted hilarity. It's almost enough to make one shudder, especially when we're talking about the broadcast networks.

Earlier this year, NBC did me and the rest of the comedy-loving world a solid, however, by successfully translating the virtuosic genius of the BBC's The Office into American digs. It worked due to sharp writing, dynamic pseudo-documentary camera work, and a bang up and spot on cast fronted by Steve Carell.

I'm going to go out on a limb and say that the peacock network has pulled off another great feat by banging out a honky-tonk comedic gem in My Name Is Earl. It premieres tonight, Tuesday, September 20, at 9:00 (8:00 Central) on NBC.

What makes a great comedy? Lots of charts and graphs and explanations all really boil down to the old axiom of: when it works, it works, bubba!

And Earl works, beginning first and foremost with Earl himself, played by the great Jason Lee. On the DVD audio commentary track of the vastly underrated Vanilla Sky, director Cameron Crowe complimented Lee by saying that his comedic roles hold a strong underbelly of drama, and likewise his dramatic roles play off his comedic talents. And that's why we buy into Earl's story; we believe in Earl straight away. We want to see him succeed (even in often ridiculous circumstances), and we're therefore emotionally invested in the big time laughs that come along the way.

Earl is a self-professed small time criminal and big time loser. To not give away too much from the pilot episode, Earl quickly achieves what some might call a moment of clarity: he's going to change his life and his luck by making restitutions on all the transgressions of his life, no matter how large or small (here's the list). Therefore, much of the debut episode has to do with Earl making nice to a guy whom he once, in childhood days, took pleasure in beating on.

This is a good hook for a pilot — crossing off one's sins one-by-one — but I hope that the show evolves beyond a Check the List / Solve Problem / Cross Item Off List mentality. I think that there's a very good chance that it will as the foundations of many othercharacters and situations are demonstratively in place.

A good case in point is Earl's brother Randy, played by Ethan Suplee. In lesser hands, Randy would be a cardboard, drooling, hick of a stock character. However, Suplee plays up Randy's low grade IQ and lazy inclinations with a goofy charm that is nearly sublime. There's a great joke that revolves around the term "B7." As soon as B7 (which stands for a letter/number combination on an old-time jukebox) is invoked, Randy's eyes light up as though a child receiving a Red Rider BB gun come Christmas morning. "No you didn't," he exhales in near ecstasy as Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock's "It Takes Two" powers up the about to be rocked raw crab shack, 80s style.

It's moments like these that make My Name is Earl a joy to watch. Lee's down-home, down-on-his-luck charm invokes a strong Raising Arizona-era Coen brothers sensibility. In fact, the entire pilot episode plays like an expertly put together first third of a great comedic film. Several tunes by Beck carry through the show, which also really helps to fill out the program thematically.

There are plenty of other reasons to want to come back for Episode Two and beyond. Earl's voiceovers carry the show along wonderfully and owe much to Ron Howard's work on Arrested Development. Joy herself, Earl's cheerfully evil ex-wife, played by Jaime Pressly, and the marvelously carefree Darnell (Eddie Steeples) will undoubtedly find plenty of ways to disrupt Earl's dedication to self-rehabilitation.

"Karma is a funny thing," we're told. My Name Is Earl is not your typical comedy, and far from your typical sitcom. And that's great news and funny news both.

Well pleased to meet you.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Cathode Ray Fray: Pay Cable TV Lock Down (Locking In), My Pretties

Sneaky Ray, how can I be mad at you, my lil' darling?

'Twas true, like a vision it reached out and instructed my mind in the Ways of Certain Inalienable Instructions. Huddled here at the Helm, swaddled in a parka procured at a Quantum Leap fan meet-up, nestled into the sublime hold of the Southern Fortress, I felt the cell phone pressed against my (TV) parched lips (praise be the Ray) as though of its own accord.

"So sir, you would like the three free months of all the movie channels one couldn't possibly shake a stick at in one's natural lifetime, even if one were to live to such a bracing age as Twentieth Century hero and modern historical legend Winston Churchill (1874 - 1965)?"

"Well, I…"

"And you're totally cool, sir, with us charging you up the nether regions without telling you and adding on all kinds of charges that will likely tip your, shall we say, delicate financial balance into unhinged ruin and likely bring Wife, she who puts up with all manner of madness and Idiot Boxed blue glow fury of caffeinated dim morning media-obsessed rant-sermons, to run off into that good sunset with dog and cat in snuggly gripped tow?"

"If you put it that way, I…"

"Very good, Ray, we're all set then. Buh-bye."

"My name's not Ray actually, it's this kind of this symbolic God-entity thing, a representation for my TV obsessed tendencies in which I – "


Ah, Rome-ah…
Political intrigue, hats with feathers, swords and sandals and slaves, togas, and ancient peoples speaking ancient people language (read = Brit-accented English). And lots of sex and nudity of the naughty and brothel and married 'cause I have to but I'm really thinking about the dude I was sleeping with during the seven years you were off with Caesar's army varieties.

Man, it's been a long time since I had access to these premiere-type channels!

I haven't quite gotten a feel for this grandiose of a sweeping look at Rome at the crux of Empire, but it held my interest fairly well, not least because it takes pause to poke fun at itself every now and again.

No visits to the vomitorium as yet, too, which is a very good thing in my book.

Real Time with Bill Maher will launch your posterior into lunar orbit
During his Politically Incorrect days, I recall thinking that Maher was an intelligent host with the occasional ability to land an effective one-line zinger.

The transformation I witnessed on cable was nothing less than transcendent. Freed of the shackles of censorship and objective restraint (this show be for the liberal-minded folk, children of the Ray) Maher is sharp as a tack, brutally effective, and funny, funny, funny while easing off his normally smarmy tendencies.

Check out the transcript of his surgically brutal and bring-down-the-house end-of-show condemnation of President Bush here.

Bill Maher is Jon Stewart with the gloves off. Way off. Bleeding knuckles for bloody knuckle times.

Veronica Mars, it's coming back around again
Back on the non-payin'-for nets, our girl Veronica Mars wrapped up its summer blast of reruns in preparation for the Season Two premiere (Sept. 21, UPN, according the records the Ray provided to me). It's unclear whether or not Veronica is the "New Buffy," but all I know is that I'm at the mercy of its Neptune-centered vortex.

Logan and Weevil and Jake and Wallace, what's a girl to do? Spend most of her time wending her way through murder and mayhem and date rape and cover ups, is what. This show has a magical touch, not unlike both Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the Harry Potter series (all the books, and tack on the third film for kicks), an ability to mix crafty dialogue, innocent and youthful lead characters, and antics on the surface that give way to truly darkly creepy yet intriguing depth.

Let's just say the Ray has locked in V Mars to the line-up for the foreseeable future, and who am I to disagree?

It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia, and pretty damned funny to boot
A little old tale about twenty-somethings that run a bar in middle-class Philly, this show really pays homage to the Jerry Seinfeld / Larry David School of Comedy by offering darkly comic little forays into… why, nothing at all. Off-beat at the least and truly irreverent and bizarre at the most, this is my kind of single-camera sitcom.

With episode titles such as "Charlie Has Cancer" and "Charlie Got Molested" (turns out neither was the case), we get little glimpses into a world that's twice as slimy, ten times twisted, and thricely more hilarious than our own.

And that's something that me and the Ray can certainly get down with.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

What is Podcasting?

Hey y'all. Production schedule has been wacky of late, I know. Lots of stuff going on "behind the screen" that will hopefully be rolled out In Good Time.

For now, please see this nifty podcasting primer, that I'll actually use as a nifty link everytime someone writes to me and asks, "So what's podcasting?"

What is podcasting?

Podcasting definitions - Wikipedia

What is a podcast? - Podcast Alley

Podcasting Trends

Interesting comments by Steve Jobs

Mr. Tapper also addresses the issue of podcasting guidelines, prompting Mr. Jobs to respond that Apple's attitude toward podcasting is "it's the Wild West" with a few guidelines against pornography and copyright infringement. Mr. Jobs also refuses to speculate about a possible video-capable iPod and deflects criticism that Apple is focusing on the iPod at the expense of the Mac by saying "our Macintosh computer sales are growing at three to four times the rate of the rest of the industry."

Podcasting Guidelines

A First Pass at Podcasting Guidelines

Kirk's Seven Rules of Effective Podcasting

Guidelines and Apple - Wall Street Journal

Podcasting & Licensing

ASCAP Internet Music License

ASCAP Posts Podcasting Licensing Agreements for Music

Podcasting, Music, & the Law

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Blogcritics Hurricane Katrina Relief Fund

If no one has done so yet or wishes to hop in right about now, please check in with the Blogcritics Hurricane Katrina Relief Fund and donate as much as you are able to afford. The money heads straight to the Red Cross via PayPal, which has kindly given up all administrative fees in making the transfer.

Needless to say, I've been as depressed and anguished and frightened and outraged as everyone else over the past week. Doing normal stuff has helped -- writing, spending time with family over the Labor Day holiday, working, etc. There was a period last week where I got sucked into a cable news / talk radio / blogosphere vortex of misery and recriminations which the weekend gladly broke.

If you desire more news and analysis and commentary and chitchat than you can shake a stick at, keep it tuned in to Blogcritics, the rowdy get-up-and-goin' concern of the Wild West Internet Frontier.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Blogcritics Break It Down For Prison Break

Prison Break (Fox), the first new series to kick off the Fall 2005 television season, has the Blogcritics in a flurry.

And why not? There's a structural engineer purposefully landing himself in a prison he helped design in an attempt to bust out his brother, who is accused of murdering the Vice President's own bro. There's prison riots, cons who are far too friendly and good looking to possibly make it in the real clink, an old coot with a cat under his coat and a mysterious past, origami sailboats that mean mischief and mayhem and murder and madness, conjugal visits, a warden building a replica of the Taj Mahal for his wife, and a hot nurse who is strangely left alone with prisoners.

Particularly a prisoner with detailed blueprints on busting out of the joint tattooed but somehow well disguised across his 24 Hour fitnessed body.

What's not to like?

Break it down with us here all season long.

Review: Prison Break
It's completely ridiculous. But if you can kind of squint and pretend you don't see all the malarkey...
Posted to Video by Tom the Dog on August 31, 2005 11:31 AM

Prison Break: Worth Watching
Fox starts the season early... and well...
Posted to Video by Bryce Zabel on August 31, 2005 01:45 AM

Review: Prison Break
This is a good way to start off the fall television season.
Posted to Video by Sterfish on August 30, 2005 03:49 AM

TV Review: While Entertaining, Prison Break Has Untapped Potential
Even though most networks, in theory, would like to be able to air original programming all year, FOX is probably the best known out of all of the television networks for making the most out of year round programming, thanks...
Posted to Video by Joe on August 30, 2005 03:46 AM

2005 Fall Line-Up Reviews: Take 1 - Prison Break
How long can they stretch that premise?
Posted to Video by Jeliel on August 30, 2005 01:54 AM