Tuned In

JPTV Tonight: Earl Goes Inside

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NBC Photo: Trae Patton

Have I ever done a post on My Name Is Earl? I don’t think so. And I think I know why. I raved about Earl when it first came out. And I kept watching it, if not every week. It stayed as good as it was in the beginning. Pretty much exactly as good. Which was the problem. I never felt the show grew, or expanded its universe, in the same way that, say, its rough contemporary The Office did. Don’t get me wrong; the show did develop a good roster of peripheral wackos and got some great guest turns from the likes of Burt Reynolds and Beau Bridges. But at heart, the show was essentially the same core of characters doing essentially the same thing.

The show needed a good kick in the pants to reinvigorate it, and it started to give itself one last season–for instance, by not having Earl work slavishly on that damn list item by item every episode. But it really took a turn by having Earl send himself to jail to save Joy at the end of last season. As tonight’s hourlong premiere shows, it looks like he’s going to be staying there, for a while, anyway.

And it’s a good thing. The show is still funny in the same basic ways, and its themes are the same–Earl trying in his diligent dumb way to let his better nature win out–but having Earl try to apply the lessons that karma taught him in the rougher world of prison makes the goods seem fresher. It also forces the remaining characters, on the outside, to shift their relationships with one another; in a very funny subplot, Joy must become a new Earl figure to Randy, who’s incapable of getting to sleep or crossing the street by himself. (He doesn’t watch when he steps into traffic. “It’s my thing,” he tells her.)

All of which makes Earl worth writing about again, at least this one time. Here’s hoping he doesn’t get sprung too soon.