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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

BTFA: My Name is Earl

For the past few, um, decades I haven't been watching too much network TV. But since I realized that I can watch TV shows on my PDA I have been going through seasons of various interesting-looking TV shows that I missed the first time around.

One of them is My Name is Earl (NBC, Thursday nights.)

The plot of the show is that a petty criminal named Earl Hickey, through an improbable series of events, discovers a simple version of karma that works for him: when he does good things, good things happen to him. So he made a list of everything bad he ever did to anyone else and he tries to make it up to them.

He is surrounded by an interesting array of characters, including his white-trash ex-wife, his improbably brilliant and talented best friend who is now married to his ex, and his dim brother.

The first two seasons of the show concentrated on Earl crossing off list items. With an effective use of flashbacks, some nice plot twists, a wicked sense of humor and some great classic rock, the show maintained its consistency to this formula.

What made it fascinating, though, went much deeper than normal mindless TV fare. Each episode included a real moral dilemma, and Earl had to try to choose to do the right thing with a very unconventional set of tools and constraints. These ethical conundrums kept the show interesting.

The show creators have gone away from that formula in the past two seasons, concentrating more on longer story arcs and less on the moral component of the show. It remains very funny, but it is no longer groundbreaking, relying more on character quirks.

Alas, I have caught up on all the episodes, so now I need to find other interesting TV fare to watch while commuting...