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My Name Is Earl: Season Four - The Final Season

(2008) *** Unrated
520 min. NBC. Cast: Jason Lee, Ethan Suplee.

/content/films/3571/1.jpgNow that the recently cancelled My Name Is Earl is over, it's as good a time as any to reflect back on the series' four-year run. When the show hit the airwaves, creator Greg Garcia was best known and much maligned by critics for his traditional studio-audience sitcom Yes, Dear. But My Name Is Earl was something different: a single-camera sitcom about idiots living in "flyover" country, somewhere in America's Central Time Zone. Though Arizona isn't in the Central Time Zone, the Coen Brothers film Raising Arizona is a clear—and acknowledged—inspiration for My Name is Earl, in comedic tone.

There's no getting around the show's central comedic conceit: white trash mockery. Using the live-action-cartoon style employed by Raising Arizona and another single-camera sitcom, Malcolm in the Middle, My Name Is Earl follows flawed but loveable characters who find themselves in absurd situations. Garcia hopefully balances this mean-spiritedness by also making each episode a Capra-esque morality tale. By the end of each week's outing, the show's writers have succeeded in making viewers laugh with clever jokes about idiocy and squalor, but they also win a fair measure of redemption in the lessons about treating one's fellow man and woman with a bit more care and consideration. This contradiction makes for a bizarre TV series, but one that has tended to be entertaining and, at least marginally, good for the TV landscape and the couch potato crowd.

Jason Lee (Chasing Amy) plays Earl Hickey, a petty crook and all-around selfish jerk whose ways changed when he won the lottery and, in turn, discovered the concept of karma. Gradually replacing his selfishness with serenity, Earl carries around a list of his past misdeeds in the certitude that atoning for his past sins—by directly helping the people he has wronged—will make their lives better as well as his own. Earl lives in a motel, where he shares a bed with his man-child brother and constant companion Randy (Ethan Suplee of Varsity Blues), who's in a green-card marriage to the motel maid, Catalina Aruca (Nadine Velasquez). In her Emmy Award-winning performance, Jaime Pressley plays Joy Turner, Earl's nasty ex-wife (with a heart of gold—or at least copper), who's now living in wedded bliss with Darnell "Crabman" Turner (Eddie Steeples), proprietor of the local restaurant bar The Crab Shack.

The plus-sized fourth (and final) season features 27 episodes, including a multi-episode arc about Darnell's secret life as a member of the Witness Protection Program (culminating in the episode "My Name Is Alias," with Danny Glover as Crabman's father). Then there's the two-parter "Inside Probe," with a mock Geraldo Rivera tabloid newsmagazine investigating the disappearance of Crab Shack owner Ernie Belcher. The last season finds Beau Bridges making a return appearance as Earl and Randy's dad, among many other notable guest stars: Betty White, Seth Green, David Paymer, Jerry Van Dyke, Bernie Kopell, John Amos, David Arquette, Jenna Elfman, Mike O'Malley, Norm MacDonald, Clint Howard, Jane Seymour, Courtney Gains, Jason Priestley, Ewen Bremner, Faizon Love, Faith Ford, Erik Estrada, Joan Van Ark, Morgan Fairchild, Brian Dunkleman, and Michael Waltrip. Unfortunately, the season ends with a unintentional lie: a title card reading "To Be Continued."

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Aspect ratios: 1.78:1

Number of discs: 4

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Street date: 9/15/2009

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

My Name Is Earl comes to hi-def in a series of stunning transfers: spotless, crisp, and colorful, each episode features excellent contrast and detail. Fox also provides lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 tracks that maximize the series' aural potential. Each of the set's four discs contains "Deleted Scenes" (4:41, 7:03, 3:11, and 5:04, respectively, SD), while Disc Four also gathers the season's "Gag Reel" (8:02, SD) and a "'2 the Max' Movie Trailer" (1:19, SD) to complement the season premiere. Perhaps the most exciting bonus for fans is also the most extensive one: "Earl's Fan Mail" (33:03, SD), hosted by star-producer Jason Lee, finds cast and crew reading and answering viewer mail.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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