Count "My Name Is Earl" star Jason Lee and creator Greg Garcia among those excited at the prospect of scripted TV shows returning in the next couple weeks.
When "Earl" begins a season-ending run of nine new episodes with on Thursday, April 3, you'll see "the most exciting television you've ever seen in your entire life, just to sum it up. It will go down in history," Garcia proclaims, unafraid to set the expectations bar way up there.
To which Lee adds: "Every Oscar winner of the last decade and great director is going to be on the show. It's going to be the most star-studded event of the last 100 years, I think."
OK -- so maybe the two gentlemen are given to a little bit of hyperbole. But they really are happy to be working again. Coming back to the set after the writers' strike, Lee says, "was literally just like, you know, a weekend had passed and we were all back to work. I think we benefit from having a very loose, fun, high-energy, friendly set and it was just very familiar. And I think everybody was relieved to have jobs again."
The show will pick up pretty much right where it left off, with Earl (Lee) having been hit by a car, again, after turning his back on karma and his list. Thursday's show features a cameo by Paris Hilton (more on that below) and the return of Alyssa Milano, who also got run over in the last episode. Garcia and Lee spoke with reporters last week about churning out nine new episodes and keeping the show fresh.
Back to work
Garcia: It was very hectic for us. The writers' strike ended on a Wednesday, and the following Tuesday we had a table read. So we basically hit the ground running when we got back and we kind of had some ideas of what we wanted to, do but we had to really put it in overdrive and get the scripts ready. In order to do nine episodes coming back, we've had to continue, kind of keep up that pace. And hopefully the quality of the show doesn't suffer. So far I'm real happy with the things we've been doing.
Paris Hilton, thespian
(Hilton's guest appearance this week is part of a dream sequence as Earl's mind, hovering between consciousness and unconsciousness, starts to blend events from his life and the "real" world.)
Lee: I kind of get the feeling that -- with Paris Hilton, it was one of those, "Oh, I love the show." Guarantee you, she's never seen an episode. ...
She was playing herself and doing her thing. And, you know, she was a trooper. I mean, she knew what ... it was all about, that she would be playing herself and, you know, she didn't - I mean, she just went along with it.
Garcia: Paris just came in for one day and did a quick little thing with us and really had a great sense of humor about herself and played herself.
Garcia: From a writing standpoint, it actually, I think, ultimately helped us [NBC originally ordered 26 episodes for the season, but the show will end up making 22]. I think we got a lot of fun stories out of it. It gave some of our characters the opportunity to do things with Earl's list that they would never have gotten the opportunity to do before. And so I think ultimately, it actually worked out. ...
When we came back, they said well, we're only going to order episodes until May 15, so how many can you do between now and May 15? And the smart answer probably was six. But having a crew that hadn't been working and, you know, I just thought, well, Let's do everything we possibly can to really stretch it.
Keeping the show fresh
Lee: At the end of season one, we started talking about, "Hey, maybe we should start kind of branching out and doing more with the other characters." ... So we started serializing the show a bit more going into season two. Joy's [Jaime Pressly] whole court [situation], getting in trouble, her three strikes, the whole thing. And then, you have some stuff going on with Randy [Ethan Suplee] and Catalina [Nadine Velasquez].
The list is always the driving force. But it seemed like when we started branching out and making it more about, you know, following stories that were happening with all the characters instead of just Earl and one list item.
Garcia: We've taken some bigger swings with stuff, which certainly opened doors. You know, the prison thing -- that was a big swing to send after season two, to send your main character to prison and then also say, you know what? We're going to keep him there for half a season. And we didn't know going into it how many episodes we'd be able to get off of that. We just sat down and we figured them out, and then we just figured we'd had enough and we'd get him out at a certain time.
And you know, we hope people enjoyed that. ... The audience knows we're not going to stay in prison forever. The series didn't change, but it's a new venue to go to and it certainly keeps things fresh for us.