On the set of Raising Hope recently, Jason Lee is feeling a little out of sorts. No, it's not the gray, long-haired wig (complete with a Snooki-esque pouf). It's not the faded yellow shirt with cut-out sides and maroon, leopard print skintight pants he's wearing. And it's not the facial latex, which took at least two hours to age him 15 plus years. It's something much more familiar.
"There are probably 30 crew members on this that worked on My Name is Earl and being with Greg [Garcia] at the monitors, it literally feels like I'm on the set of Earl," Lee tells TVGuide.com. "It's really bizarre and it makes me miss Earl that much more."
First look: Jason Lee rocks Raising Hope
Although Lee's current get-up is far from the flannel shirts and handlebar mustache so closely associated with karma-conscious Earl Hickey, the appearance is very much a homecoming. More than a year after NBC pulled Earl off the air four seasons in, Lee is reuniting with Earl creator Garcia on his first-year sitcom Raising Hope.
The 40-year-old Lee steps into the role of aging rocker Smokey Floyd, an arrogant '80s metal has-been oblivious that his glory days are far behind him despite his booking at the Natesville Corner Market's Grocery-Palooza.
"It's exactly what you would think a rock concert with a washed-up rocker in a grocery store would be," star Lucas Neff says with a laugh.
Raising Hope follows 23-year-old Jimmy (Neff) as he tries to raise his daughter, Hope, with the help of zany, but loving, family (played by Martha Plimpton, Garret Dillahunt and Cloris Leachman). The show has struck a chord with fans and critics alike. Averaging more than 6 million viewers, the series was the first freshman series to get picked up for a full season this year and critics have been vocal in their acclaim.
Watch full episodes of Raising Hope
"Early in the process, we looked at having an actual musician play this role, but because the character is not very flattering, nobody was really interested in making fun of themselves that much," Garcia says. "Then we made it a fictional character and immediately I said, 'Let's see if Jason will do it because he'll be absolutely hysterical.'"
Lee's unusual look and extensive hair and make-up are a result of the close collaboration (and extensive Google-ing) of Garcia and Lee. The timing also worked out with Lee's hiatus from his own series — TNT's Memphis Beat — which has yet to start production on Season 2.
"It's sort of like a Kevin Smith thing now with Greg," Lee says referring to the Clerks director. One of Lee's first starring roles came in Smith's 1995 film Mallrats and he has since appeared in six of Smith's directorial efforts including 2010's Cop Out. "It's nice to have what feels like a group of go-to people that feel like they are your friends outside of the business."
Check out photos from Raising Hope
That chemistry between the two was something the entire Raising Hope team enjoyed.
"They have such a rapport. Greg lets Jason just go and Jason just improvises half of the scene. They're bouncing ideas off of each other and the scene is constantly changing," Neff says. "It's just cool to see because you can tell that they've worked together for a really long time and they have that really established, sort of beautiful relationship."
Although Lee's guest spot made him nostalgic for Earl, he's happy to return to Garcia's orbit — no matter how much latex it takes.
"That's the thing about Earl and now Raising Hope, that's the thing about Greg Garcia: There's a redeeming quality to the show and a likable quality to the show," he says. "I think everything works in balances and this has the balance between the absurd and that likability, and I think that's appealing. It's nice to see that he's doing that again."
Raising Hope airs Tuesdays at 9/8c on Fox.