Series: Advent Calendar 2016: Holiday TV Episodes
My Name is Earl
Season 1 Episode 10
"White Lie Christmas"
Originally broadcast December 6, 2005
Greg Garcia (and his production company Amigos de Garcia) burst onto the television sets of America with the early 2000's comedy Yes, Dear. Apparently it was pretty okay. I do remember watching it in syndication (probably during some after school period where there was absolutely nothing else to watch), but I barely remember it at all. I have read the Wikipedia page about it, and I still probably can't really tell you what it's about. The "quirky b-list comedian and his disproportionately attractive wife" show is as common as it is devoid of substance.
However, in 2005 Garcia brought My Name is Earl to the world. NBC (and the '08 - '09 writers strike) didn't handle the show terribly well as time went on, but the first couple seasons are pretty solid gold. He then went on to create Raising Hope, which was also great - but I've already talked about that.
What is the show?
I'll let Earl himself describe the show, using the voiceover that plays during pretty much every episode's opener: "You know the kind of guy who does nothing but bad things and then wonders why his life sucks? Well, that was me. Every time something good happened to me, something bad was always waiting around the corner: karma. That's when I realized that I had to change, so I made a list of everything bad I've ever done and one by one I'm gonna make up for all my mistakes. I'm just trying to be a better person. My name is Earl."
What the show does really well is crafting the world of fictional Camden County, where the show is set. It's a rich tapestry of characters, and it is generally used very effectively. The format of the show allowed the creators to really clearly establish a new aspect of this world, and then it became part of their tool belt to refer back to later. As Earl helps more people, the show's stable of characters who show up later gets bigger. Very rarely is a character in only one episode - even the minor ones, which is a sort of thing you rarely see outside of something like the Simpsons.
It's also fun just because it's a departure from the vanilla, suburban wasteland that is so common in the TV sitcom. We see the scummy, seedy underbelly of society - the dirt bags and scoundrels who would normally cause you to quickly walk the other way if you saw them on the street. Just like Raising Hope, though, it portrays these people with such depth and humanity that you want to root for them. It's rich, it's colorful, and it's just as full of that child-like innocence that makes Raising Hope so charming.
Plus it's just satisfying to be able to live in this world where Karma is a real, tangible thing, and there are people out there actively just trying to make the world better.
What is the episode?
We get another pretty standard sitcom family Christmas tale here, but the unique flavor of My Name is Earl definitely sets it apart. As Earl's first Christmas since his quest for redemption began, he is intent on making up for the last several years of holidays that he ruined for his ex-wife, Joy, and her kids. This episode relies pretty heavily on the core cast, albeit with the fantastic addition of guest-stars Blake Clark and Brett Butler as Joy's parents. In classic My Name is Earl form, much of the episode is told via flashback, comparing reformed Earl to just how much of a scumbag he used to be. As the episode progresses, we learn that Earl isn't the only one with bad deeds he needs to apologize for.
Here's another episode showing Christmas as a time for secrets and lying to each other. This time it seems that the True Meaning of Christmas is to maintain those white lies that we tell ourselves. We all have problems, and we certainly all have things we'd love to leave behind us. There comes a time when you just need to forget about all that for a bit and just enjoy yourself and your family.
Where can you watch it?
The whole series (including the tumultuous third season and the cliffhanger ending that will probably never be resolved) is available on Netflix, or you can buy the first season on Amazon on DVD or streaming.
What do you need to know?
Since Earl has such a rich world, it might be hard to jump in the middle without at least a primer on all of the main characters. You have Earl and his brother Randy, who is his loyal sidekick. Their good friend is Catalina, the maid in the motel where they live. Joy (Jaime Pressly) is Earl's ex-wife, who left him for Darnell, who works at the local crab shack (Earl calls him "crab man"). It also happens that Darnell is the father of one of Joy's sons. Though there was a bit of drama in the beginning, Earl and Joy are still friends (Earl's eager friendliness is one of the show's big draws, really), which I suppose is pretty obvious in this episode.
Hopefully that helps clarify things.
If you live in a family sitcom, it seems that the simple act of watching children open Christmas presents is enough to solve any problems. Whether or not you agree in reality, it's perfectly serviceable trope in the world of TV. Like the friendly neighbor or the b-list comedian with the hot wife, it's just something that happens.
Still, it would be nice if we could take a break from all that for a bit . . .