"In cooking, as in all the arts, simplicity is a sign of perfection." - Curnonsky

Monday, October 1, 2007

My Name Is Earl: Our "Cops" Is On

My Name is Earl is usually a very entertaining blend of humor and sentiment. But this episode threw the sentiment aside for some pure, no holds barred comedy, and in the process, delivered an extremely funny half hour of television. A brief framing device set the scene for what was to come, as everyone at the Crab Shack was having in the doldrums, which Earl explained was pretty standard for a Sunday, a day where Darnell tells Earl, "Just so you know, we're all out of seafood and meat."

But the mood picks up big time when Randy realizes that the episode of Cops shot in Camden County a few years ago is about to air, and everyone gathers around to relive their 22 minutes of fame. What follows is one of the most aggressively joke-packed episodes the series has ever had, as freed from the burden of a usual storyline, the Earl creators simply present the episode as though it is an actual installment of Cops, where all the people I see happen to be familiar characters.

And whoa, there are a lot of familiar faces. My Name is Earl has done a great job of building up a large and unique cast of periphery characters in the year and a half it's been on the air, who pop up on a semi-frequent basis. Well "Our 'Cops" is On" was a gift to the fans who enjoy these characters, as a veritable army of Earl peripheral characters made their return. Sure there were the most notable characters, like Patty the Daytime Hooker, Kenny, and Donnie. Then you had appearances from less fully formed, but no less entertaining people, like Willie the one-eyed mailman, the guy with the voice box, and the girl with one leg. By the time, Natalie, the girl who Earl faked his death to (and who I'd only seen in one previous episode, though she was at the center of it) showed up, it was clear Tim Stack, who wrote the episode, was having a lot of fun.

I even found out how Willie lost his eye - And the fact that it involved Joy throwing a bowling ball into a Def Leppard mirror, for no good reason? Just perfect.

Stack, a staff writer on Earl, made his second appearance on the series, playing a pathetic, washed up version of himself, who is seen driving around drunk in his old Son of the Beach costume. In one of the episode's best moments, a cop lets the obviously plastered Stack get back in his car and continue to drive because, "He was on Punky Brewster, so he's a hero to me."

Here, the show went for a much more wild feeling, cutting back and forth between all of the characters in random and inspired situations, as they come into contact with the befuddled police of Camden County. Donnie doing naked Tai Chi, with a giant snake wrapped around him? Check. Patty offering sexual favors, with her hand stuck in a soda machine? Check. And there was so much more…

One big question this episode raises though is in relation to Darnell, who is seen living with his grandmother, or at least someone who calls him her grandson. Considering I know Darnell is living under an assumed name in the witness protection program, and was brought to Camden by himself, how is this possible? But I have faith in the producers of My Name is Earl to clear this up in a future installment. Either way, a highlight (no pun intended) was discovering Darnell was growing a huge amount of pot, which led to the future Crab Man being called "Marijuana Man" at one point.

The funniest and best part of the episode though was the portrayal of Earl and Joy. "Our 'Cops' is On" featured a version of Earl who is quite happy being a criminal. A brilliant sequence involves Earl stealing a police car, complete with a cameraman in the back seat. When the cameraman fearfully asks if Earl is going to kill him, Earl's great matter of fact reply is, "I wasn't planning on it. I wasn't planning on stealing a cop car today either. Tell you what. You just keep filming; we'll see where it goes."By the time I see a completely naked Earl and Joy rapturously kiss, with Joy proclaiming, "God I love kissing you in a stolen government vehicle, while someone films it!", it was nearly impossible not to crack up at how delightfully this former couple was.

I love the kind and karmic fueled Earl, but more extended looks back at Bad Earl would be appreciated too.

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