What follows is a flashback episode where I find out that Earl's red El Camino and trailer used to belong to Frank. I also learn how, through a series of coincidences, the arrivals of Catalina and Darnell in Camden County landed Frank in jail for 20 years while Earl's ill-advised marriage to Joy kept him out.
Once I'm given this background information, the first question that comes to mind is: "So what?" This episode filled in some blanks, but they were answers I'd already learned from the pilot and other episodes. Namely, that Joy was an unwed mother-to-be searching for a husband, Darnell is in the Witness Protection Program and Catalina is an illegal alien. The origins of Earl's car and trailer weren't much of a revelation either, although the former was the subject of a great joke, as Earl described the El Camino as, "the Cadillac of cars."
Aside from a few solid jokes peppered here and there, the bright spot of this episode was the perfect casting of Michael Rappaport as Frank. He has that clueless-yet-likable character down pat, playing a more intelligent version of Randy, although that's not saying much. If anything, he's a symbol of how far Earl has come in a short time. Before his transformation, Earl was the type of person who would think a guy like Frank, (one whose idea of "investing" is buying guns and whose kitchen also doubles as a bathroom,) was living the good life. Now, Earl is much better off (spiritually, not residentially).
It's hard not to compare this episode to last year's superior offering, "Our Cops Is On." That was a hilarious, fast-paced flashback show packed with wall-to-wall jokes and silliness, and little thought given to karma or lists or lessons learned. "The Frank Factor" followed the same formula as it ditched the karma theme, but replaced it with fewer jokes, fewer meaningful answers, and not much else. If the point of the episode was to introduce Frank as a recurring character, this could've been done more efficiently. It didn't seem like it needed an entire half-hour.
Flashback episodes are only as strong as the questions they raise or the answers they solve. Unfortunately, this episode just didn't deliver what it promised.