Thursday, April 26, 2007

"Mrs. McCullen, rocking with your hands buried in your crotch is not acting casual.": My Name Is Earl

And so begins the great My Name Is Earl reorganization of 2007.

It's been clear all season long that the writers of this show have increasingly found the formula that sits at the show's center (Earl uses his list to improve the lives of those he wronged over the years) to be a burden. This has been clear from the sheer number of flashbacks to bad Earl and the episodes focusing on the supporting players and such. Not that there's anything wrong with this -- season two of Earl has been less consistent but much more bizarre and fascinating to watch than season one.

Now, however, the show is completely changing its setting and Earl's social standing. Certainly, it was starting to stretch credibility that this guy could live for so long on just the $100,000 he won in the lottery (paying for his hotel room would be hard enough, not to mention all of the expenses incurred in helping out the people on his list). And I'm all for giving Earl a job, just to give him even more people to interact with (this show does world building very well, all things considered). But by giving him an apartment and an income and (apparently) a love interest, does that change the very nature of the show we're watching? Do we still enjoy Earl if he's not quite as scruffy?

Now, obviously, I'm speculating here, since I have no idea how this whole plot line will play out. And, honestly, it was nice to see Earl putting self-improvement on his list, which has done a lot of good for others but hasn't had a terribly palpable effect for good on Earl's life (unless you count all of that "improvement of spirit" hoo-hah). So having Earl take this chance to improve his own life could benefit the show. But at some point, you have to wonder just how much shaking up of the status quo is a good thing. One of the things that's attractive to people about a hit show is that things rarely change -- it's comforting like an old blanket or something. Will these changes be too much?

I'm going to guess not, simply because the writers seem to work better when they're actively ignoring the formula. The amount of messing around they do with the formula seems directly proportionate to how good the episode is. And this episode, messing with the formula a bit, was a pretty good episode, if not any sort of masterpiece. I enjoyed Earl's stint as a substitute teacher (as credulity straining as it was), and I liked he and the other teachers' open war against the students who had driven so many of the teachers to fear their workplace. Honestly, it's not every comedy where you see a car blow up.

But what I most enjoyed was the meta-commentary on the show itself offered up by the characters, who pointed out every flaw in the show's premise in a deadpan fashion early on in the episode (everything from Earl doing the tasks on the list out of order to the parts where he has to find people and explain the list to them -- imagine writing those scenes week in and week out!). Earl is one of those shows that's willing to goof on itself, though it rarely does so too extensively. Honestly, if there ever was a show that was calling out to break the fourth wall, it was this one, strange and unfettered as it is.

So are you looking forward to Earl's new responsibility? Or do you wish we could go back to the days of season one?

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