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

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

My Name is Earl: I Won't Die With a Little Help from My Friends

Due to a long delay from the writers' strike, I nearly didn't remember where My Name Is Earl left off. But thanks to a quick and funny re-cap at the beginning of the show by NBC president Jeff Zucker, I was caught up to speed. Unfortunately, there were as many great jokes in that prologue as there were in the remaining 58 minutes of a show that has really lost a step in its third season.

As Jeff Zucker informed me, both Earl and his potential love interest, Billie lay unconscious in the middle of the street. What followed was a comedy of errors as Randy stole an ambulance to take Earl to the hospital, picked up Joy, Darnell and Catalina along the way and together gave Earl even more injuries than he already had.

When Earl was a boy, he'd deal with his messed up life by immersing himself in television shows to drown out the pain and suffering around him. That coping mechanism came in handy in this episode because as his body dealt with excruciating pain, his mind escaped to an imaginary sugary-sweet sitcom where Earl was the perfect husband, Billie was the perfect wife, and they lived in the perfect house. As a result, events going on in Earl's real life would affect those in his imaginary one. For example, as his condition worsened and the doctors were sizing up his organs for donation, his sitcom alter ego got a promotion in another city that would mean saying goodbye to all his friends and family. It was an interesting but depressing way to deal with a dire situation.

The only problem is that dire and depressing is not exactly what I'm looking for when I turn on My Name Is Earl. There had been such an undercurrent of sadness running throughout the season already with the prison storyline and Earl's rejection of karma, it was frustrating to see it continue for another hour. All I was looking for were some funny jokes and that just didn't happen.

Earlier this season, there was an episode titled, "Creative Writing" that did a great job of skewering Sid and Marty Kroft-style television shows, as well as Spanish telanovellas and cartoons. In that episode, the jokes came fast and furious and were all on target. With this parody, the jokes felt half-finished, which is a shame because the family sitcom parody is still a funny idea. But like the rest of the episode, the execution left something to be desired.

Since I am an avid fan of the show and have watched since the first season and know that the potential for great comedy is in every episode, this show was a huge let-down.

Maybe if the writers' strike hadn't happened and maybe if there weren't so much advance hype about Paris Hilton's appearance and maybe if this episode didn't have the added pressure of being NBC's return to original comedy on Thursday night, this episode wouldn't be seen as such a disappointment. Unfortunately, that's too many "maybes". The sad truth is, the show wasn't funny. Hopefully it will return to form in these last remaining episodes of season three.

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