Karma is a funny thing–especially when a trailer-park philosopher gets a hold of it. In Season One, loser Earl Hickey (Jason Lee) was hit by a car after he won $100,000 in the lottery, his ticket and chances of living the high life lost in the wind. While in recovery, he watched a TV talk-show about karma and decided he’d done way too many bad things in his life. Convinced that if he didn’t change, karma was going to kill him, Earl makes a list of all the things he’s done wrong. Each episode follows his attempts to make amends and cross an item off his list. And thankfully, Earl was such a lousy rotten person that he had plenty of fun items to cross off for a second season–no sophomore slump here!
For a show about dumb people, the writing is awfully intelligent. “My Name is Earl” won an Emmy for Outstanding Writing its first season, and the writing this year is just as strong. The jokes keep piling on, so one laugh-out-loud moment leads to another, and another. As for political correctness, what’s that? This season, Earl’s ex-wife Joy (Jaime Pressly) gets in trouble with the law and is looking at prison time. The attorney she’s assigned to (Marlee Matlin) is deaf, and the tactless Joy makes fun of the way she talks, right to her attorney’s face, and keeps referring to her mockingly as “my deaf attorney.” The show also milks white trash stereotypes for humor, so it may–or may not–have a following in trailer-park communities, or in down-home areas. There’s a one-eyed mailman, a one-legged girl, and a kid named Young Earl who looks more like a dead ringer for Earl’s good friend at the Crab Shack, where Joy works, than he does Earl. And there’s plenty of lines that take swipes at all sorts of people and their beliefs. But if the show doesn’t offend you, it’ll have you in stitches.
This season, the popular half-hour sitcom earned an Outstanding Supporting Actress Emmy for Pressly and nominations for Outstanding Guest Actor (Beau Bridges, Gioivanni Ribisi), Single Camera Picture Editing for a Comedy Series, and Outstanding Sound Mixing.
The characters themselves are endearing, despite their felonious tendencies and the fact that they’re all ridiculed so that the audience can feel superior. Earl is well-intentioned one minute, and robbing the town library the next. He can never seem to keep his eyes open for pictures (including police mug shots), and seems blind to a lot of things. But he cares about righting the ship, and he has a good heart. Earl does the voiceover narration, and so we get to hear his thoughts often and in great and hilarious detail. Example? As he’s crouching in the bushes, wanting not to be seen, he says, “I had a close call when Joy drove past, but that smoker’s cough is better than a bell around her neck.”
Earl is no genius, but compared to his brother, Randy (Ethan Suplee), he looks like a rocket scientist. They’re so joined at the hip that they not only spend the days together, they share a bed (it’s sweet, really) in their long-term rented room at a local hotel, where they met a maid named Catalina (Nadine Velazquez) . . . who, of course, was illegal. Randy is always coming up with strange and wonderful things, spoken with all the enthusiasm of a child. As Earl is getting ready to post a letter to France to invite the kid he picked on to give America another try, Randy begs his brother to let him lick the stamp . . . because it’d be neat to have his spit go all the way to France.
Then there’s Crab Man (Eddie Steeples). This season we learn his name isn’t really Darnell Turner, which means Joy’s last name (she married him) isn’t necessarily Turner either. It turns out that the Crab Man formerly known as Darnell was in the witness protection plan and given this identity (what, were all the others taken?). He’s brighter than the rest, but wanting to keep a low profile, and so what we mostly get are his wry asides. Along with Catalina, whom one of the brothers marries to get her a Green Card, but the focus is really on the brothers and Joy this season.
And Jaimee-as-Joy is hilarious. From her facial expressions to the outrageous things she says and the way she says them, her character brings a touch of Two Buck Chuck to Earl and Randy’s six-pack comedy.
Twenty-two episodes are included on four single-sided discs and housed in two slender clear-plastic keep cases and a sturdy cardboard slipcase. Here’s the rundown:
1) “Very Bad Things”-Joy can’t get a refund on a piece of furniture, so she decides to take it out in trade by heisting one of the store’s delivery trucks . . . which just happens to be full of merchandise, and an employee.
2) “Jump for Joy”-When Earl learns that Catalina was a famous stripper whose signature move was “jumping,” he convinces her to go back to work to try to raise money to help Joy.
3) “Sticks & Stones”-Earl tries to make it up to a girl he knew in elementary school, one who had a mustache that he made fun of. Now, she’s a bearded lady in a circus, and Earl gets to know the whole bunch.
4) “Larceny of a Kitty Cat”-Allergic Randy falls for the owner of a prize-winning cat in an episode that has Earl trying to return a cat to its rightful owner.
5) “Van Hickey”-Earl reunites his old rock band to make amends with the former lead singer, and THAT works well.
6) “Made a Lady Think I was God”-Earl messed with the head of the former manager of the trailer park, and now tries to set things right, for Joy’s sake.
7) “Mailbox”-Turns out Randy and Earl used their local mailbox for a trash bin, and now they’re delivering a letter that never made it because of their abuse.
8) “Robbed a Stoner Blind”-Earl visits a commune to try to make amends for robbing a hippie, and it leads him to revelations about ecology and global warming.
9) “Born a Gamblin’ Man”-Earl introduces his friend, Kenny (Gregg Binkley), to gambling, hoping to make him look and feel more manly.
10) “South of the Border”-Catalina is deported, and Randy and Earl meet their Mexican counterparts when they go after her.
11) “Our ‘COPS’ is On!”-The Crab Shack gang reminisce about their pasts as they watch a rerun of a COPS episode shot in their own Camden County.
12) “Buried Treasure”-Earl, Randy, and Joy rob the local library in an episode that parodies the series “My Name is . . .” format.
13) “Kept a Guy Locked in a Truck”-How do you make it right when the guy is dead? Maybe throw a big bash of a funeral!
14) “Foreign Exchange Student”-Earl invites a Frenchman he tormented as a young exchange student to revisit America. His first act? Deck Earl!
15) “B.L.O.W.”-It’s wrestling time as Earl tries to get Joy and her half-sister to patch things up.
16) “The Birthday Party”-Earl’s surprise birthday party turns out to be a bummer.
17) “Guess Who’s Coming Out of Joy?”-When Earl sees Joy pregnant, and we wonder what the child is going to look like, Earl remembers what her first pregnancy was like.
18) “Harassed a Reporter”-Earl’s story becomes the subject of a TV news report.
19) “Two Balls, Two Strikes”-Earl tries to help Little Chubby, and it puts his own manhood to the test.
20) “GED”-Earl goes back to school, and he has no tolerance for the kind of screw-up student he once was . . . so little, in fact, that he helps teachers get revenge.
21) “Get a Real Job”-Earl tries to grow up, finally, by taking a real job at an appliance store, but co-workers get annoyed by his go-get-’em attitude.
22) “The Trial”-Earl has a new girlfriend and a new apartment, but Joy’s trial proves, once more, that you can’t second-guess where karma will take you.
Production values for TV-on-DVD have really improved over the past few years, with a number of shows shot with home audiences in mind. “My Name is Earl” is presented in 1.78:1 widescreen that’s stretched to fill out a 16×9″ screen. Colors are bright, detail is pretty sharp (only a very slight grain), and black levels are strong. Nice quality.
Same here, with powerful and resonant English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround audio with subtitles in English, Spanish, and French. The sound is crisp and clear, with a strong bass and complex-sounding treble.
There’s a blooper reel, but I have to say that the show is so funny that you don’t want the characters to mess up, because nothing can top those lines. A few deleted scenes are also included, along with a number of commentaries.
Fans will enjoy eight tracks: “Sticks & Stones” and “Larceny of a Kitty Cat” features creator Greg Garcia, writer/executive story editor Hilary Winston, and actors Suplee and Amy Sedaris; “Van Hickey” features Garcia, Lee, Suplee, and Gioivanni Ribisi; “Our ‘COPS’ is On!” features Garcia, writer/actor Tim Stack, Suplee, and Pressly; “Kept a Guy Locked in a Trunk” features Garcia, Lee, Suplee, and fans Beth Perry and Alesia Lewis for a new twist; “Foreign Exchange Student” features Garcia, writers-producers Bobby Bowman and Mike Mariano, Suplee, and Velazquez; “Guess Who’s Coming Out of Joy” features Garcia, Pressly, Steeples, and Beau Bridges (who plays Earl’s dad); “The Trial” features Garcia, Mike Fresco (who directed eight episodes, including this one), editor Billy Marrinsen, Lee, and Suplee. Mixing it up like this makes it more interesting, but there are times when you’ll wish it wasn’t so crowded on the air.
Wannabe screenwriters or TV directors will appreciate a start-to-finish run-through of the episode “Robbed a Stoner Blind,” but the other features are kind of throwaways or larks. Each major character does a brief sit-down, look into your fish-eye lens “web cam” direct address to Internet fans, and Earl and Randy also double up on one. Nothing outrageous here, just gimmicky. Same, actually, with “My Name is Earl as a Telenovela,” which is really a trailer that treats “The Passions of Catalina” as a Spanish soap opera. It would have been more fun to have actually see them put together an episode with a Spanish soap treatment.
“My Name is Earl” is one of the funniest shows on television today, if, that is, you can get past the show’s lack of political correctness and the way it pokes fun of “white trash” and the “trailer-park” lifestyle.