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

Sunday, January 27, 2008

My Name Is Earl: Burn Victim

This episode was a return to the basic formula of My Name is Earl that had been absent for most of this season. You know, the concept of Earl actually helping someone get their life back on track and the reason I started watching in the first place. This season has been about Earl's self-preservation behind bars, so his help hasn't been karma-motivated but rather reduced sentence-motivated, but at this point, I'll take what I can get.

Whatever the motivation, this episode was an improvement over the last few in that it had both a good message and also some very funny moments including a prison prom with racially diverse chocolate fountains, an impassioned story about a man and his turtle and the continued bumbling of Warden Hazelwood (Craig T. Nelson) who forgets he's talking to a reporter when he casually mentions his wife, the governor, is a sex addict.

The warden's big mouth is the starting point for this episode as he promises Camden County a new prison reconciliation program but has no idea how to implement it. So once again, he asks Earl to find a good candidate in exchange for 6 months off his sentence. Earl thinks John the Painter, an artistic inmate doing time for burning down his parent's house after his personal meth lab caught fire fits the bill.

The only hitch is John isn't sorry for burning down his parent's house, and feels his parents are the ones who should apologize for being so mean to him. He believes it's their behavior that caused him to go down the wrong path and the only way he'll even reconsider is if Earl can organize a prom to make up for the one he missed when his parents refused to let him go. Of course, they refused because he was too stoned to drive, but he doesn't see it that way. He's a version of pre-karma Earl, someone who blames everyone else for his problems, never himself.

The most shocking part of the episode comes when Earl finally snaps. I've seen Earl do some pretty bad stuff to others in seasons past, (his redemption is the point of the show after all,) but seldom have I seen Earl go to such extreme lengths to prove a point. When John refuses to reconcile even after the successful prom and with his reduced prison sentence in jeopardy, Earl gives John a taste of his own medicine. He sets John's paintings on fire with the justification that John's behavior made him do it. Fortunately, this act makes John understand his misplaced blame and anger and helps him apologize to his parents.

It's good to see an episode of Earl tackle themes of redemption and reconciliation again. When they choose to do so, this show can really deliver a positive message. Sure, they fill the episodes with plenty of funny jokes and silly characters that run around acting stupid to distract me, but in the end, it's the show's heart that keeps me coming back.

One more bit of good news: because the warden shredded all of his reduced-sentence certificates at the end of the episode, it looks like Earl's going to have to get out of jail the only way I'd expect from a career criminal: with a prison break.

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