Old Show, New Season: “My Name Is Earl”

When we last left Earl, he was in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.

Yep, that’s right: Earl’s desire to keep doing right by karma led him to accept the blame for something that his ex-wife, Joy, had done, so that she could stay out of jail, have her half-sister’s baby, and continue to raise her other two kids. A noble gesture, to be sure. Too bad the end result didn’t work out so well for Earl. Or Randy. Or Joy and Darnell, either, for that matter. In fact, really, the only person who didn’t end up suffering from the effects of Earl’s departure is Catalina…which might explain why she has precious little to do during the first two episodes of Season 3 of “My Name Is Earl” except give life to a mustachioed hand puppet named Little Earl.

These first two episodes – a 2-parter entitled “My Name Is Inmate #28301-16” – are, unfortunately, pretty disappointing…and, worse, the disappointment begins within only a few seconds of the first episode. Despite the season finale ending with the discovery that Earl was going to be sharing a cell with his old buddy Ralph (Giovanni Ribisi), the season premiere begins with the realization that we probably won’t be seeing a whole lot of Ralph after all. Actually, though, that’s really just a minor quibble; after all, we do hear Ralph, and when we do, you’ll get at least one big laugh. The biggest problem is that this season is starting off feeling way too real.

The characters on “My Name Is Earl” have always felt uncomfortably close to people I’ve known in my life – I’m from Virginia, so, believe me, I’ve known and loved my fair share of white trash in my time…and, to a certain extent, I still do – so that reality isn’t what I’m talking about. I’m really speaking of two aspects: Earl struggling to survive in prison, and Randy struggling to survive without Earl. There’s certainly comedy to be had in having Earl behind bars, but when there are people getting shivved, you’re definitely playing closer to the “maybe not as ‘ha-ha’ funny as it’s supposed to be” side of things. But, really, the worst part is Randy, and how incredibly stupid he’s gotten just over the course of the past few months. Yeah, he was dumb before, but now the writers have got him walking into oncoming traffic when there are clearly cars whizzing by him. It’s actually reached a level where you feel bad for the guy, where he’s crossed the line from “dumb” into “clinically retarded,” and that’s just not funny. It’s clear that the writers wanted to play up his stupidity so that it would show just how useless he is without Earl, but it’s just not working at all.

The producers have admitted that they’re in no rush to get Earl out of jail, and it’s clear that they’re at least going to try to stick to their guns, but after last season’s successful use of plots arcs like Randy and Catalina’s Green-card marriage and Joy’s 3-strikes-and-you’re-in-prison situation (not to mention her pregnancy), things were really looking good for “My Name Is Earl,” and it’s a shame to think that they’re going to screw with the dynamic in such a major way…especially how poorly the first fruits of this season have turned out.

But to end this write-up on a positive note, the most hopeful thing to emerge from the show’s camp for the new season is this:

  

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