- The Washington Times - Monday, September 19, 2005

Winning ‘Earl’

You can believe the hype about the new NBC comedy “My Name is Earl.”

The series, premiering at 9 tonight, could be just the hit the network needs.

Jason Lee is the title character, a genial thief whose life keeps sinking without hitting rock bottom. Even scratching off a winning lottery ticket can’t change his luck. He gets hit by a car and watches the ticket flutter away.

Only when he does a good deed — inspired by Carson Daly, of all people — does his life turn around. It also helps that the winning ticket literally blows back into his life.

Now, Earl wants to make amends for a lifetime filled with misbehavior and petty thievery.

The laughs in “Earl” are gentle at first, sweet but hardly rip-roaring belly busters. However, the show isn’t content with a few random chuckles. The pilot episode layers both the humor and characters as seamlessly as, say, “Arrested Development,” another comedy gem without a laugh track.

“Earl” begins like a poor man’s “Raising Arizona,” the brilliant 1987 comedy about a lovable loser who narrates his life from the moment it suddenly brightens. The series features similarly quirky camera angles and a bedraggled cast of characters including Jamie Pressly as Earl’s duplicitous ex-wife. The actress is much more than just a pretty face — she’s a comic tsunami when given the right material.

Mr. Lee, who has likability in his DNA, is ideal as a man forced to shake up his pathetic existence.

Let’s hope viewers get to know “Earl,” and fast. The ratings-starved NBC can’t afford too many slow starts this season.

‘Nip’ tuckered out

“Nip/Tuck,” FX’s over the top melodrama about two Miami-based plastic surgeons, is starting to show its scars.

Tonight’s third season premiere picks up right where season two left off — Dr. Christian Troy (Julian McMahon) is paralyzed and about to be attacked by the serial slasher known as The Carver.

Mr. McMahon’s fate seemed so inescapable it appeared that show creator Ryan Murphy had intentionally painted an impossible scenario that would enable the actor to gracefully exit the show and pursue work in films. Yet the opener resolves the cliffhanger with such indifference one has to wonder about the series’ future.

Either “Nip/Tuck” (seen Tuesday evenings at 10) has run its course, or Mr. Murphy’s heart has moved on to bigger screens. His film adaptation of “Running with Scissors,” the bestselling novel by Augusten Burroughs, arrives in movie theaters next year.

Plus, we’ve already watched Christian and his colleague Dr. Sean McNamara (Dylan Walsh) bond, fight and heal like brothers, so seeing them bicker anew feels creatively stale. Moreover, the latest marital strife between Sean and Julia (the fetching Joely Richardson) will likely leave viewers muttering, “Split up, already, will ya?”

“Nip/Tuck’s” only fresh element is torn from recent real-life headlines. Sean comes to the aid of a morbidly obese woman who is literally grafted to her couch. The tender communication between doctor and patient are among the episode’s finest moments and showcases Mr. Walsh’s deft turn as the beleaguered doctor.

Settling the score

“Dancing with the Stars,” ABC’s breakout summer reality hit, is returning tonight with “Dancing with the Stars: Dance Off,” a 90-minute attempt (airing at 8:30 p.m.) to settle the controversy surrounding the winners of the contest.

Many viewers who followed the show were outraged when the team of “General Hospital’s” Kelly Monaco and professional dancer Alec Mazo were declared the winners over “Seinfeld’s” John O’Hurley and his dance partner, Charlotte Jorgensen.

This time around, though, only the audience vote counts, as opposed to a mix of ballots cast by a panel of judges and viewers who dialed the toll-free numbers to vote for their favorite contestants. Results will be revealed live during an 8 p.m. telecast on Thursday.

“Dance Off” may also revive some of the healthy ratings ABC enjoyed with “Dancing with the Stars,” which averaged 16.8 viewers per episode during its six-week run, according to Nielsen Media Research. Its July finale drew more than 22 million viewers.

Compiled by Christian Toto and Thomas Walter from staff and wire reports.

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