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

Saturday, December 22, 2007

My Name Is Earl: Randy Is In Charge (Of Days and Our Nights)

For over two seasons, the Hickey family hierarchy has been firmly established - big brother Earl makes the decisions and little brother Randy goes along with the plan. However, the roles were reversed in this episode as Randy decided (over Earl's fierce objections) that as the prison guard, he should be the one in charge. Not surprisingly, his choice led to disastrous results that will be resolved in Part Two.

The power struggle began soon after the warden (Craig T. Nelson) asked Earl for another favor - to head up the prison's Scared Straight program. Earl "auditions" other inmates to join him in a performance at a local school and chooses Randy as the accompanying prison guard. As I've seen before, Randy is terrible at his job and Earl wants him on the assignment not because he thinks he'll do a good job, but so that he can look after him. What follows is a clash between the both of them that ends up with one escaped convict, one angry prison warden and two brothers who both think they're in charge.

I had all but forgotten about Liberty & Ray Ray. Their re-appearance. however, answers the question I had about how the writers will deal with a new baby. They won't. Just like when Phoebe had her brother's babies, Joy will give birth and I'll never see that kid again, except maybe during sweeps.

The glaring problem in this episode (and throughout this season) is the inconsistency of Randy's character. Just last week, the inmates gave him some credibility after they witnessed his behavior on an episode of Cops. But this week, he's back to being the buffoon who gets his wrist handcuffed to his leg and his nightstick stolen. When Earl points out that Randy's too trusting to be a prison guard and that Earl has always been the one in charge, all of a sudden, Randy gets really smart and really cruel. He has the other guards take Earl's clothes, he messes with Earl's food in the cafeteria and he ultimately kicks him off the Scared Straight production, a job that would've cut five weeks off Earl's prison sentence. Those actions were so out of character for Randy, and worst of all, they just weren't that funny.

Luckily, there were some things that made me laugh, although not as much as I'd prefer. The slyest joke of the night came when Earl and the warden were discussing the direction of the Scared Straight performance. After the warden asked for a "green" message to be weaved throughout, Earl replied that the message really didn't fit with the rest of the story, kind of like how NBC's green crossover event had to be shoehorned into all of the Thursday shows, regardless of their appropriateness. After the warden forced him to stick with the green theme, Earl agreed to tie a story of a shower murder into a lesson about water conservation.

The decision to have prisoners audition for the Scared Straight program was a great idea, seeing as how Frank (Michael Rapapport) treated it like an acting gig and not the educational tool it was designed to be. However, it seems like they missed a perfect opportunity to squeeze in more jokes by not adding more auditions by other crazy inmates.

Obviously, as part one of a two-part episode, there wasn't much closure, but there wasn't much suspense either. Was the question, "Who's in charge?" worthy of a cliffhanger? Do I care about Frank enough to worry about his escape? The answer is no. With the promise of a manhunt for Frank, both the characters (literally) and the creators (figuratively) are doing everything they can to escape the prison surrounding them this season.

To this point, it's unclear whether this was the best direction to take My Name Is Earl. The episodes have been uneven thus far and it seems like they've gotten off track. In the past, they could ignore Earl's karma list and his redemption every once in a while, but only if they had a good reason for doing so. They've done it a bunch of times this season, but they haven't replaced the original premise with a strong or funny enough substitute. Hopefully Part Two will restore much of the heart that's been missing from this show lately.

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