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Case Number 14755

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My Name Is Earl: Season Three

Fox // 2007 // 462 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Victor Valdivia (Retired) // October 16th, 2008

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All Rise...

What's Judge Victor Valdivia's karma? If he's lucky, he'll come back as a toilet brush.

Editor's Note

Our reviews of My Name Is Earl: Season One (published November 21st, 2007) and My Name Is Earl: Season Four (Blu-Ray) (published October 7th, 2009) are also available.

The Charge

Two words: Prison Break!

Opening Statement

My Name is Earl: Season Three may mark the first time that a prison break was actually a bigger letdown than the original sentence. This season began with the continuation of the cliffhanger left at the end of the second season, in which Earl went to prison for a crime he was only tangentially involved in. It starts off stronger than most fans expected, and could have been one of the series' best. Sadly, the writers' strike not only shortened the season but severely disrupted it, resulting in a set that ends much weaker than it begins.

Facts of the Case

Here are the 18 episodes collected on four discs:

Disc One
• "My Name is Inmate #28301-016, Parts 1 & 2"
Earl (Jason Lee, Dogma) begins his life in prison as his brother Randy (Ethan Suplee, Mallrats), his ex-wife Joy (Jaime Pressly, Ringmaster), her husband Crabman (Eddie Steeples), and their friend Catalina (Nadine Velazquez) struggle to adapt to life without him.

• "The Gangs of Camden County"
Warden Hazelwood (Craig T. Nelson, Coach) promises Earl a reduction in his sentence if he can get two warring gang leaders to agree to a truce, but Earl discovers that the two have a more complicated relationship. Randy decides to become a prison guard so that he can be near Earl.

• "The Frank Factor"
When Joy visits Earl in prison, they discover that fellow inmate Frank (Michael Rapaport, Bamboozled) was once friends with both of them, resulting in some surprising revelations about their past.

• "Creative Writing"
Earl takes a writing class in prison and struggles to come up with a story for a class assignment.

• "Frank's Girl"
Frank's girlfriend Billie (Alyssa Milano, Who's the Boss?) tries to visit Frank in prison, but Earl is forced to substitute for him, leading to a life-changing talk for both of them.

Disc Two
• "Our Other Cops is On!, Parts 1 & 2"
The prisoners get a special treat: a group viewing of an episode of Cops in which the criminals of Camden County are prominently featured.

• "Randy in Charge (of Our Days and Our Nights)"
Warden Hazelwood puts Randy in charge of Earl and Frank's presentation to high school students, leading to disaster.

• "Midnight Bun"
Earl and Randy must track down Frank within a few hours or risk serious consequences.

• "Burn Victim"
Earl's last task before finally being released from prison is to reunite a pyromaniac prisoner with his estranged parents.

• "Early Release"
Warden Hazelwood reneges on his promise to release Earl for good behavior, prompting Earl to plot an elaborate jailbreak.

Disc Three
• "Bad Earl"
Earl can't adapt well to life outside prison, so he regresses back to his criminal past.

• "I Won't Die with a Little Help from My Friends, Parts 1 & 2"
After Billie hits Earl with her car, he is stuck in a coma, leading him to dream of a fantasy '50s sitcom life.

• "Stole a Motorcycle"
While Earl remains in his coma, Randy attempts to resolve an item on Earl's list.

• "No Heads and a Duffel Bag"
When Earl's parents visit him at the hospital, Earl's dad Carl (Beau Bridges, The Fabulous Baker Boys) reminisces about how Earl and Randy got him inadvertently involved with a drug dealer.

• "Killerball"
Earl is finally released from the hospital, but he's still comatose, so he is used to help a woman in a wheelchair rugby match.

Disc Four
• "Love Octagon"
A fully recuperated Earl decides to track down Billie, but faces fierce competition from everybody from Frank to Catalina.

• "Girl Earl"
Earl attempts to help a bagboy (Jon Heder, Napoleon Dynamite) he once robbed, but his relationship with Billie gets in the way.

• "The Camdenites, Parts 1 & 2"
Billie finally decides to declare war on Earl and undo every positive thing he's ever done. Earl must find her and stop her before she leaves him without any good karma at all.

The Evidence

The 2007 writers' strike resulted in a lot of casualties. One of the most painful was the third season of My Name is Earl. When it began, creator and executive producer Greg Garcia had an unusual and even bold idea: To keep the arc of Earl in prison, begun at the end of the second season, going as far as possible. Unfortunately, the writers' strike split the season and forced Garcia to spring Earl from jail much quicker than he'd planned. When the season resumed after the strike was over, Garcia and his crew had to scramble by adding the coma storyline, in which Earl dreams that he and his friends, including Billie, are all living in a '50s sitcom, so as to lay the groundwork for the other previously planned storyline, in which Earl and Billie fall in love. This tends to give this season a disjointed quality. While it's admirable that Garcia wanted to try a daring experiment to prevent Earl from falling into a rut, it's unfortunately not one that's entirely successful. The first half of the season (covered in discs One and Two) is a hit, containing some of Earl's best episodes. The second half, however, doesn't work, leaving this as, sad to say, the weakest of the show's three seasons so far.

It's worth pointing out that initially, the decision to carry the prison storyline was controversial. Some fans worried that the show would suffer by taking Earl out of his element and putting him in a new unfamiliar world. Those fears quickly proved groundless. The first disc of this set contains a spectacular run of episodes that would rank with any of this series' best. The ones on the second disc are not quite as consistent, but overall, this set of episodes clearly demonstrates Earl's ability to wring laughs out of a setting that would seem trite or incongruous. "The Gangs of Camden County," for instance, is one of Earl's all-time great episodes, one that's equal parts touching, sweet, raunchy, and outrageous (you'll never listen to Montrose's "Rock Candy" the same way again). Similarly, "Creative Writing" takes the tired cliché of the "fantasy/dream" episode, and not only makes it funny but actually includes scenes that flesh out our understanding of some of the major characters. During these episodes, it becomes apparent that Earl's producers clearly had a smart and inventive plan for how this season was supposed to work.

Unfortunately, the episodes on discs Three and Four are, with a couple of exceptions, nowhere near as good. There are two big problems with the post-prison episodes. The first is that satirizing corny family sitcoms is, by this point, creatively bankrupt. No one actually claims to like corny family sitcoms, except usually in an ironic manner, so these episodes feel like Garcia and crew are just marking time. None of the jokes or situations is at all fresh, and the presence of Paris Hilton on one of these episodes marks an excruciating nadir in the show's three-year history. The novelty of seeing the show's characters in '50s clothing and sets wears off fast, so it won't take long for you to pine for Earl to wake up and get back to his list.

Sorry to say, once he does, the season gets even weaker. This highlights another serious flaw with these episodes: the character of Billie is poorly defined. When she is introduced, she is depicted as a sweet girl who's been led astray by Frank. Then, when she returns, she's somehow been inexplicably transformed into a controlling shrew who's also a hell-raiser in her own right. The Billie seen in "Frank's Girl" and "Love Octagon" doesn't seem to have anything in common with the Billie seen in "Girl Earl" and "The Camdenites, Parts 1 & 2." This jarring change means that the scenes involving her character are easily the least amusing or understandable parts of each episode, despite Milano's charm and best efforts. There are so many possible ways that this storyline could have led to some witty or thoughtful insights about Earl, but the way the story carries out and is ultimately resolved is by far the most disappointing.

Speaking of disappointing, this DVD set isn't nearly as packed with great extras as the first two Earl sets were. By far the biggest letdown is that there are no commentaries. The commentaries on previous seasons were some of the funniest and most entertaining on any DVD set, but none are provided here. It would have been immensely useful to hear Garcia and crew explain some of the choices they made this season and what they felt worked and didn't. The only behind-the-scenes extra is "Those Guys from Those Episodes: Creating the Characters" (14:03), which explores some of the supporting characters such as Kenny the Gay, One-Eyed Willie, Nescobar A-Lop-Lop, and TV's Tim Stack. Fans will enjoy learning about these characters, but it's hard not to wish for more details about this troubled season. The other extras are less consequential. "Under the Shell: The Mr. Turtle Commentary" (19:15) is a sequence in which Crabman's pet turtle (actually CGI) provides "commentary" on his scenes. Some funny jokes here and there, but it's not essential. Also included are deleted scenes of varying quality for certain episodes (included on each disc) and an amusing gag reel (7:42). The anamorphic 1.78:1 transfer and Dolby Digital 5.1 mix are both sterling, with no flaws to speak of.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

As patchy as the writing is, the acting is consistently strong. It's not just Lee, who continues to find new dimensions in Earl that make him more than just a likable redneck. This season, it's both Suplee and Pressly who get a chance to shine. In Suplee's hands, Randy is no longer the sweet but dim bulb of the first season. Now he's some sort of childlike savant, who can come up with a hilariously odd but articulate bit of knowledge from out of nowhere. As for Pressly, she has turned Joy into the most complex character on the show, a woman who uses her forceful personality and scabrous sense of humor as a shield to cover up her vulnerability. Even Velazquez, too often used merely for her impressive physical attributes, gets a chance to show off her comic timing, especially in the "Creative Writing" episode. Additionally, the best of the post-prison episodes, "No Heads & a Duffel Bag," has a welcome guest appearance by the always great Beau Bridges. The great acting can occasionally (though not often enough) make it easier to overlook some of the weaker writing moments.

Closing Statement

Hardcore Earl fans will have to have this set, and it does contain some of the best and funniest episodes in the series' history. Plus, the episodes at the beginning of the fourth season were of such high quality that it has since become apparent that this third season's weaker episodes were just a fluke. Still, there's no denying this is the show's most uneven season, and given this set's rather disappointing extras, it's only fair to say that this is the least satisfying of Earl's DVD sets to date.

The Verdict

My Name is Earl: Season Three is found guilty of not living up to the high standards set by its first two seasons. It is released early, however, for the good behavior of its best episodes.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 90
Audio: 90
Extras: 75
Acting: 90
Story: 70
Judgment: 75

Perp Profile

Studio: Fox
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• English
• French
• Portuguese
• Spanish
Running Time: 462 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Comedy
• Television

Distinguishing Marks

• Those Guys from Those Episodes: Creating the Characters
• Under the Shell: The Mr. Turtle Commentary
• Deleted Scenes from Selected Episodes
• Gag Reel


• IMDb

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