Friday, October 19, 2007

Writer's Block on My Name is Earl

I'm not meaning to imply that the writers of My Name is Earl HAVE writer's block. Although it has seemed the last couple of weeks they've been stretching to come up with clever episodes that DON'T follow the traditional Earl formula--i.e.; Earl picks an item from his list, tries to rectify the situation, runs into an obstacle but finally resolves the situation with the help of Randy, blah blah blah. I give the writers credit for wanting to occasionally break that mold, but the last two episodes of Earl haven't been the series' strongest.

Anyway, the writer's block I was referring to was Earl's. In an episode about Earl taking a creative writing class at prison, he was the only one who couldn't tap into his imagination to write a story. Earl's imagination was shown as a vast expanse of blankness--and if you're a writer, you know that feeling staring at a white screen. The only thing popping up in Earl's imagination was the gymnast that his bunkmate was writing about. The gymnast taunts Earl who tells him that there's nothing interesting about gymnasts. "Ever watch Profiles in Courage: The Kerri Strug Story?," says the gymnast. Earl denies it, but the gymnast says if he HASN'T then how come his imagination made him say it? Earl admits to watching the show saying, "OK I have and it made me cry you son of a bitch! Happy now?"

When Randy finds out about the writing assignment, he marvels that you could make a story up about anything--"Like a guy chasing a big white whale!" he says unaware of the plot of Moby Dick..."No-one would read that!" Earl scoffs. But Randy is inspired to write his own story--which is heavily influenced by Saturday morning cartoons and featured an evil villain (the horn-head guy from the show about the circus freaks last season), fighting ninjas and H. R. Pufnstuf. The appearance of H. R. on this week's show after showing Randy absorbed in watching a Sid and Marty Kroft marathon on last week's show was a cool touch.

Joy's story was an animated parable, Darnell wrote Marvin Gaye styled lyrics as an ode to crustaceans and Catalina (predictably) wrote a telenovela type story called "Catalina: Woman of a Thousand Tears." Earl finally gives up on his imagination and writes what he knows best--life with his friends hanging out at the Crab Shack. And not only is it a neat little moral to the show, but a reminder to all writers to write about things you know and what is close to your heart.

The Office was another hour long episode--and this time it really showed that stretching the show to an hour dilutes the power of the comedy. (I'm not the only one who thinks so--Slate has an article on this very subject and John Maynard mentions it in a post on Channel This.) The show had its moments as Michael struggled to make ends meet as Jan stays home and redecorates his condo and Dwight struggled with the pain of losing Angela--but it wasn't its usual over-the-top humor. Next week, Scrubs returns so The Office returns to its half hour long format. Thank God! Note to NBC: Back-to-back episodes of The Office works; hour-long episodes, not so much...

The highlights of last night's show were Jim and Pam's visit to Shrute Farms--which Dwight has converted into a place of "Agri-tourism" (it's a bed and breakfast!). Pam cracks wise about the "Beets Motel," "Embassy Beets" and the "Radish Inn" and they are offered the option of staying in themed "suites"--America, Irrigation and Nighttime. They choose Irrigation.

Meanwhile, Michael is working nights doing telemarketing to earn extra money. He finds his boss at his side job to be as insufferable as his employees find him at Dunder Mifflin. "Meetings are useless..." he mutters when his boss calls everyone into the conference room. But of course, the irony is lost on Michael. Even as he captivates his telemarketing co-workers with his insights on why Die Hard IV didn't work, Michael's job performance at Dunder Mifflin is affected by his lack of sleep. When he forgets to prepare a PowerPoint presentation assigned by Ryan--telling him "It was unlikely that I was going to figure this out anyway...," Ryan orders him to quit the telemarketing gig or be fired from Dunder Mifflin.

Dwight is still grieving over the loss of Angela while Andy pressures Pam to set him up with her. He tells Pam that Angela isn't responding to any of his "moves." What moves? "I've moonwalked past accounting like ten times!" Pam thinks Andy and Angela might actually be perfect for each other, but says, "I couldn't do that to Dwight. Or Angela. Or Andy." Eventually Angela succumbs to Andy's charms and tells him he can ask her out.

Later, Oscar uses PowerPoint to show Michael where his money goes and urges him to talk to Jan about the situation. When he does, Jan's reaction causes him to run out of the office to the train yard. He plans to hop a train and leave his troubles behind, but Jan finds him and in a touching scene (who knew the bitchy control freak had it in her?) tells Michael that he was there for her, and she will be there for him.

Funniest moment of the show: In the meeting called by Ryan there's a debate on the proper use of "Whoever" vs. "Whomever." Pam says "whoever" is used as a subject and "whomever" as an object. Kelly pipes up, "Ryan used ME as an object." The show needs more Kelly!

On Ugly Betty, the writer theme came up again. This time, Betty accidentally plagiarizes a submission for publication in Mode by passing it off as her own work in her creative writing class. Victor Garber, formerly of Alias, plays the terrifying Creative Writing Professor. He is so amazed with "Betty's" story of surviving a bear attack, he forwards it to a friend at the National Review. Ultimately the actual writer of the piece gets winds of the situation and shows up at Mode threatening to sue. Daniel steps in and smooths everything out and has a heart-to-heart with Betty about being true to herself and not worrying about pleasing anyone else.

Also on the episode, Alexis comes back to work and struggles with the whole "being a woman" thing. A big advertiser has problems with the transgender situation as well, and tells Daniel to fire Alexis or he'll pull his advertising. Wilhelmina schemes to destroy Mode so that she can be put in charge of a new Meade Publishing fashion magazine--named Slater, of course. So she counsels Daniel not to cave into the advertisers demands.

Amanda, still searching for her father, discovers that Wilhelmina was formerly Wanda--assistant to Faye Summers. In return for Amanda's silence about her past, Wilhelmina provides Amanda with the guest list of a Studio 54 party where Amanda was conceived. Justin is channeling his late Dad--wearing leather, flunking tests, listening to hip-hop and kissing girls?!!! And Henry has daddy issues of his own as it turns out he IS the father of Charlie's unborn baby.

All in all, this wasn't the best Thursday night for TV. Hopefully The Office will get back on track with its usual half hour episodes and Earl will get back to the whole good deed thing.


  1. I'm excited Scrubs is coming back too!

    Henry is the father of Charlie's baby? NOOOOO! I'm not a Gio fan.

  2. I wouldn't mind seeing Gio come back--but the promo for next week look like Betty is doing the blind date thing. I'd have thought that maybe something might happen with the Emo guy from her writing class. Also, the promo seemed to indicate that Henry hasn't taken himself out of the competition.