As My Name Is Earl wraps up its best season yet, I’m listing the reasons I’ve been loving the show:
1. It’s got great non sequiturs. ”Man!” mused Earl on the April 19 episode after watching Memoirs of a Geisha. ”That was the worst kung fu movie ever.”
2. It’s the rare sitcom in which characters actually change. Jaime Pressly’s Joy is forever revealing fresh aspects of her demented meanness and devotion to motherhood, while in the May 3 episode, the usually labor-phobic Earl decided to grow up and get a job (in an appliance store) — and bought into it enough to strive for a promotion.
3. It’s second only to The Simpsons in amassing a large group of characters who can pop up unexpectedly in the ragged yet capacious town where the show is set and get a solid laugh. (I love it, for example, when occasional Earl writer Tim Stack plays himself as a washed-up drunk.)
4. It’s the first working-class-culture TV show that has embraced surrealism as a legitimate response to the meaninglessness of life. The sneaky brilliance of creator Greg Garcia’s concept is that, in our hero’s pre-karma, pre-list-of-life-mistakes-to-correct flashbacks, Earl breaks the law — he’s a true creep. These elements are always good for jokes but not necessarily for long-term audience identification. However, Earl in the present day is a noble fellow trying, against the inherent cruelty of the world, to do the right things. And goodness thwarted is, as well, a comedy gold mine. This is called having your cake and spitting it out with laughter, too. I’d call Earl the most moral show on TV, but…oh, but nothing: It is. I’d back Earl in an Innate Beneficence smackdown against 7th Heaven any day.
Oh, and I’ve also seen the finale and my no-spoiler rave is this: Everything the Joy-on-trial subplot has been building up to pays off with a beaut of a cliff-hanger. And the line ”You don’t think Jesus would want a piece of this?” deserves to go down in — well, hell, of course, but comedy heaven, too.