The Earl of Great Price

Published: January 12, 2009

By Jim Lichtman
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Earl J. Hickey is a low-down, sneaky… well, maybe I better let him tell you.

“You know that guy you see going into the convenience store… a sort of shifty-lookin’ fella who buys a pack of smokes, a couple of lotto scratchers and a tall-boy at ten in the morning? Well, that guy is me!”

Just when you thought there were too many shifty-looking, sneaky, disreputable characters on TV, along comes Earl J. Hickey, the poorest excuse for a human-being since… well, you get the idea.

The first time I saw this program (back in the glory days of television in ’05), I was thinking… just about what you think I was thinking.  Three minutes and fifty-four seconds in, I had the clicker poised to turn the channel when something happened that changed my mind.  It was a little thing called retribution.

Three minutes and fifty-five seconds into the show, two things happen:  Earl hits a scratcher worth $100,000, then promptly gets hit by a driving grandma.

Like I said, I call it retribution, but Earl had a different name for it:  Karma.

Laid up in the hospital, his wife divorces him, announces she’s marrying another man, then tells Earl that she and her new husband will be moving into their trailer, leaving him homeless.  Oh, did I mention, he loses the big-money scratcher ticket, as well?

Alone in his hospital bed watching late night TV, Earl sees the burning bush in the form of Carson Daly who espouses his secret of success:  “…do good things, and good things happen to you… do bad things and it’ll come back to haunt you!”

That’s when Earl comes face to face with two cosmic revelations:  1. “My life sucks.”  And 2. “If I want a better life, I need to be a better person.”

So, Earl makes out a list of all the bad things he’s ever done.  His mission: to right his own wrongs and become the person he wishes to be… better!

He starts with the easy ones first.  “Number 136:  I’ve been a litterbug.”

Does his life change?  Well, his no-account brother Randy doesn’t think so. But in the process of picking-up trash in front of the seedy Motel where he finds himself living, he picks-up the $100,000 scratcher he lost.  Earl proclaims his list to be his, “…roadmap to a better life,” and he’s off on his quest.

Now, how Earl goes about fixing things on his list is the real challenge, because things don’t always go as planned.  Example – “Number 64: Picked-on Kenny James.”

After tracking him down and watching Kenny for a few days to see how he can make up for all the abuse he put him through back in elementary school, Earl figures that Kenny has everything but a woman to share his life with.  So, he gets him a hooker to give him a little pleasure for all the pain he put him through.  There’s just one problem… Kenny is gay.  He’s also in the closet, afraid to go out to meet other gays.

Shocked, Earl figures that Kenny “is special circumstances” and he’s not responsible for helping him.  As soon as that happens, Karma, (rather his ex-wife) beats him up and wants half the lotto money.

Earl’s third cosmic revelation:  There are no “special circumstances.”  If he wants a better life, he better stick to the list, Karma is watching.

Earl figures the only way he can fix the pain he caused Kenny is to go with him to a gay bar and introduce him to other gay men.

Together at the bar, Kenny’s stunned and touched, “Earl Hickey, the one man I was afraid of my whole life has accepted me as I am.  When we were kids, you took away my confidence, but today, you gave it back. Thanks, Earl.  You can cross me off your list.”

In another episode, enlightened Earl tries to figure out how to handle unenlightened friends who openly steal in his presence.  “Will Karma hold me responsible for bad things my friends do?” he wonders.  No sooner does he ask the question then the answer follows. Earl very quickly develops a high learning curve and spends the rest of the night fixing the bad things his friend does.

Earl J. Hickey, he’s not trying to be the next Mahatma Gandhi. He’s just trying to be a better person.

Watch Earl, Thursday nights on NBC.  You might just get a little enlightened yourself..


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