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Reviewed by Will Harris
pon first watching the pilot for “My Name Is Earl,” I observed, “Earl’s list of rights to wrong numbers well over the hundred mark, so (the show) could run for several years; as such, one can only hope that the potential shown by the pilot is maintained in the quality of the rest of the episodes.” In fact, the series came through its first season with flying colors, finding a considerable amount of comedy in its premise of a former ne’er-do-well (Jason Lee) trying to keep his karma balanced.
Still, as Season 2 began, there was concern from some viewers – and by “some viewers,” I mean a couple of members of the Bullz-Eye staff – as to whether or not the show’s general 1-2-3 plot structure might start to get old:
1) Earl picks an item on his list and sets off to make amends.
2) Earl struggles to repair the karmic balance of the universe.
3) Earl succeeds at his task, and all is right with the world…well, until the next episode, anyway.
It was, admittedly, a valid concern. Funny’s funny, but if you know that Earl’s always going to be coming out victorious, then it’s easy to find yourself thinking, “Well, this isn’t really Must See TV, now, is it?”
The producers of “My Name Is Earl” must have had some anxiety about this as well, so they decided to shake up the structure of the series somewhat with its second season. Instead of focusing almost entirely on Earl’s list and its effects on the other residents of Camden County, we’re presented with several other plot arcs involving the characters who aren’t list-related, starting with the season premiere, in which Joy (Jaime Pressly) steals a delivery truck and ends up with a third strike on her criminal record. Throughout the course of the season, we watch Joy deal with her legal woes, and given that her attorney is played by Marlee Matlin, there’s a lot of humor to be had with Joy’s concerns over having a deaf lawyer. Joy’s arc actually lasts throughout the entire season – she doesn’t go to trial ‘til the season finale – but quietly hovering by her side throughout all of her troubles with the law is her faithful husband, Darnell a.k.a. Crab-Man (Eddie Steeples), and while he probably ends up with less character development than any of the other series regulars this year, we do find out that he’s in the Witness Protection Program.
Hotel maid Catalina (Nadine Velazquez) returns to her more profitable part-time gig as a stripper / pole-dancer, in the process making House of Pain’s “Jump Around” the new favorite song of countless red-blooded American viewers, but she also ends up returning to Mexico…albeit accidentally. (She gets pulled over and outs herself as an illegal immigrant.) Of course, she’s back in the U.S. of A. within a few episodes, but she becomes legal via that time-honored sitcom tradition of marrying an American – in this case, Randy (Ethan Suplee). It’s a dream come true for the big lug, but it’s clear that his feelings for her run far more deeply than hers for him, and it all comes to a head before season’s end. Given the name of the series, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that Earl goes through some developments himself this year, trying to become a proper adult; he gets his G.E.D., gets a real job, and, well, he does something incredibly noble in the season finale, but why spoil it?
There are returning appearances from several of Earl’s cronies from Season 1 throughout the second season, many of whom appear within the instant classic, “Our ‘Cops’ Is On!” (given its crime rate, it’s no wonder that Camden County made it onto an episode of Fox’s “Cops”), as well as Earl’s mom and dad (Nancy Lenahan and Beau Bridges). As with the first season, the show continues to use guest stars to tremendous effect; as Earl crosses various items off his list, he manages to come into contact with characters played by Amy Sedaris, Roseanne Barr, Jenny McCarthy, Christian Slater, John Waters, and Norm MacDonald. Burt Reynolds also pops up as the owner of the club where Catalina dances, but it’s in an episode where Earl never breaks out his list, an event which says as much about the producers’ attempts to evolve the show as anything else during the course of the season’s 23 episodes.
Despite those pre-season fears, “My Name Is Earl” was indeed Must See TV during its second year on the air; anyone making claims about the show suffering from a sophomore slump clearly didn’t watch the season in its entirety – but, hey, what luck: now they can!
Special Features: The stars and producers of “My Name Is Earl” continue to enjoy participating in the features on the DVD set. Each of the four discs provide audio commentary and deleted scenes for the episodes contained within; on the fourth disc, however, we get considerably more. Disc 4 offers up a blooper reel, a making-of featurette about the episode which featured Randy seeing things in Claymation, webcam introductions from each of the characters, and, perhaps most amusingly, a fake commercial which paints the series as a telenovela.