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My Name Is Earl (Tuesdays, 9:00 p.m. ET, NBC) is a "quirky comedy" reminiscent of Raising Arizona. That movie, though, had good-hearted characters. Their underclass culture-for all its tackiness-was portrayed with affection. Earl is as condescending as a redneck joke.
Earl introduces himself as the kind of rough-looking guy you avoid at the convenience store. He's unshaven, drunk, and he steals. That is, until he catches a TV show talking about karma. According to this bit of undigested Hinduism, "if you do good things, good things will happen to you, and if you do bad things, they will come back and haunt you." Earl believes that his life is so bad-his cheating wife dumped him, a car hit him, he had a winning lottery ticket but lost it-because of all the bad things he has done.
So Earl lists them all on a piece of paper-258 bad deeds ranging from smashing a kid's Halloween candy to having "harmed and possibly killed innocent people with secondhand smoke." The episodes revolve around Earl with his sloppy, beer-drinking brother trying to undo his misdeeds. Earl used to bully a nerdy kid in school and tries to hire a prostitute for the shy misfit to make up for it. When that doesn't work, he takes him to a gay bar. "For accepting me as I am," the reformed bully gets to cross him off the list.
Much of the humor is affluent class condescension toward folks who live in trailers and didn't go to college. Some of it is making fun of someone trying to be good. The irony is that much of the good Earl tries to do is not good at all. The show almost works as religious satire, with the cosmic moralism of karma being comically inadequate.