House and My Name Is Earl keep piling up on my DVR, but I haven’t felt the urgent need to watch them recently. I think that’s because, for the past couple of seasons, these two series in particular were starting to veer away from their formulas and play around a little more, and now it seems as if both shows threw their hands up and said: “Too far! We might be alienating loyal fans! Retreat! Retreat!”
Well, I liked the experimenting. House was especially strange, since it somehow managed to incorporate some reality-show elements into its fictional universe. The fourth season began with House sans a diagnostic team. He rounded up 40 potentials to fill the three open spaces. That was fun and exciting. There were a lot of new characters for House to play around with. The disposable ones were good for a joke and then they were out, the favorites got to stick around a little longer and maybe get a meaty storyline thrown their way. Mostly, choosing a new team gave House something to do besides diagnose the patients, harass Wilson, and learn things about himself.
The changes to My Name is Earl started off a little bit subtler. For a while, the show had a slightly dark tint cast over it. Earl was often put in situations where doing something to cross one person off his list would wind up hurting someone else. This was my favorite era of the show. Earl had to decide how to be a better person in situations that weren’t so clear-cut. Then things got really crazy: He went to prison to save Joy from a harsh three-strikes sentence, he worked his list in prison, he broke out and decided that the nice guy doesn’t finish first, disavowed the list, got hit by a car, and spent half a season in a coma dreaming that he was in a classic TV sitcom. Yeah, crazy. But I kind of liked it because, even with the whole coma-fantasy plot, Earl was really struggling with whether or not his list project was worthwhile. It just went a little deeper.
Now? House has a new diagnostic team. They diagnose patients. Often, those patients teach them something about themselves. Wilson was gone for a while—oh no!—but he came back.
And Earl? He’s out of prison, and out of his coma. He learned things about karma while in the coma, so he’s back on the list. Each week, he rights a previous wrong and feels better about himself.
October 28th, 2008