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Reviewed by Will Harris
verybody loves a TV show with a cool concept, but what happens when you’ve started to run that concept into the ground? That’s the question that apparently concerned the writers of “My Name Is Earl” after the end of their show’s second season, when the main character, Earl Hickey (Jason Lee), ended up going to prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Earl had spent the first two years of the show trying to fix his badly damaged karma by righting every major wrong he’d committed in his life, but nobody wants to get locked into a formula, so the show’s writers decided to try and mix things up in Season Three, which is essentially divided into three parts: Earl in prison, Earl in a coma and Earl’s trials and tribulations with his new wife, Billie (Alyssa Milano).
What’s that? You didn’t even know that Earl had a new wife? Fair enough, then, let’s start from the beginning.
In case you’ve forgotten, Earl’s stint in prison came as a result of his well-intentioned decision to take the heat for something done by his ex-wife, Joy (Jaime Pressly), so she could not only raise her own children but have her sister’s baby (who doesn’t enjoy a good surrogate-mother subplot?) outside of confinement. It wasn’t an easy transition for him, but the change in lifestyle proved even harder for his brother, Randy (Ethan Suplee), who had come to rely on Earl in a big, big way. In the early episodes of the season, however, Randy is painted as being stupid to the point of legitimate retardation, quickly reaching a point where it becomes so ridiculous that it isn’t even funny anymore. Things get better, however, when Randy decides to solve the issue by becoming a guard at the prison, so he can see Earl every day and not have to worry about waiting his turn to ask questions during the brief visitation window. (This is of profound relief to Joy, who’s had to deal with Randy’s unending series of questions about everything under the sun.) The prison sequences are pretty funny, thanks to Craig T. Nelson’s great turn as the clueless warden who’s constantly giving Earl time off of his sentence for doing him favors, and Earl still gets to do a bit of karmic payback by helping various prisoners, including a particularly great episode revolving around the holding of a “prison prom.” The most important event during Earl’s prison stay, though, comes when he meets Bobbie. She’s the girlfriend of Earl’s old pal, Frank (Michael Rapaport), but the two of them eventually break up -- and when they do, Earl’s not so terribly broken up about it, since he’s fallen hard for her.
Eventually, of course, Earl gets out – arguably a few episodes later than he should have, given the way a couple of the installments drag – and, almost immediately after gaining his freedom, gets hit by a car and ends up in a coma, during which time he dreams of his life as if it were a ‘60s sitcom. Again, funny concept, but it’s dragged out to the point where you’re checking your watch and wondering when they’re gonna get on with it already. Once he wakes up, he finds Bobbie, declares his love for her, and the two of them live happily ever after -- for not very long at all. The two of them quickly clash over Earl’s decision to put his list over his wife, resulting in a hardcore battle where Bobbie goes completely batshit, and runs around reversing as many of Earl’s accomplishments as she possibly can.
Although the majority of the flashback episodes were successful (particularly when we get Darnell’s back story), the revisiting of Season Two’s greatest concept – the “Earl” gang appearing on “COPS” – came too soon, making it feel like a retread (as well as an excuse to keep Earl in prison for yet another episode). As for Joy and Catalina, it’s always nice to see the latter character in skimpy outfits, but with the former, the end of the surrogate-mother storyline couldn’t have come quickly enough. You do have to give the producers of “My Name Is Earl” credit for trying to expand the scope of the series before the formulaic, but while the experiment was well-intentioned and did score quite a few laughs in the process, it was too sprawling for its own good.
Special Features: It’s not as action-packed as on previous seasons. There are deleted scenes from various episodes and a gag reel, as well as an enjoyable featurette entitled “Those Guys from Those Episodes: Creating the Characters,” which offers up interviews with the folks both in front of and behind the camera. There are not, however, any audio commentaries -- well, except for “Under the Shell: The Mr. Turtle Commentary,” which allows Darnell’s beloved pet to take the spotlight and wax nostalgic about his various appearances over the last three years. It’s a funny concept that offers a few laughs, but it wears thin by the third or fourth time Mr. Turtle claims to have bedded one of his female co-stars.