“My Name is Earl” kicked off its anticipated second season by pairing two of the show’s most distinctive characters–the eponymous amends-seeking hero, played by Jason Lee and his moustache, and his insufferably white-trash bitch of a wife, played by Jaime Pressly and her six-pack abs. The task: #183 on Earl’s list, “I never took Joy’s side.” Earl decides to support the next decision Joy makes–which, unfortunately, is inspired by an episode of Britney and Kevin’s reality show.
Joy sees that Britney and Kevin have a giant, disappearing TV, and she wants–no, she deserves–one too. So she manages to save up the $3000 and buys one, but it’s too big for her trailer home. She tries to return it, but because the item number on the receipt was ruined, the clerk won’t accept the return. She swears she’s going to get her money back, no matter what she has to do. On her way out of the store, she encounters a delivery truck with the keys in the ignition and steals it with the intent to sell it for her $3000. It falls to Earl to help her sell the truck, which unbeknownst to our flawed protagonists, has a man in the back, effectively making the pair kidnappers as well. Throughout, Joy is unyielding in her beliefs: She is owed her money back, and if she can’t t get it back from the store, the universe/life owes it to her.
In a show already steeped with lessons about the circular nature of karma, this episode additionally highlights the subjective morality of circumstance. If life owes us, to what lengths may we go to attain what should be ours? Is a crime of principle–“like when Rosa Parks stole that bus,” Joy points out–justified if it achieves what is “right?”
Joy also appeals to her ex’s devotion to his list of atonement items, claiming that since he never supported her in the past, he needs to do so now. As the escapade escalates, Earl finally has to admit that he’s supported her as far as he could, and that he is going to opt out of continuing to be an accessory to Joy’s single-minded pursuit of what she considers justice. In her mind, Joy thinks she’s no different from that “Robin Hood, Batman, Jesus stuff.” Earl says he doesn’t know about Jesus and Batman, but that stealing from the rich to help the poor did sound like it was up Robin Hood’s alley.
“Why do bad things always happen to good people?” Joy wonders after the inadvertent hostage runs into a tree, which adds assault to the mounting list of charges against her. But Joy is not a creature of depth and nuance. She is a simpleton, but doesn’t seem to understand that society has rules that she must adhere to.
But when we consider that Joy got into this whole mess because she thought Britney and Kevin were like royalty and the Federlinean lifestyle was worth emulating, we also have to ask ourselves who our role models are and why. The image of having a TV larger than your means and circumstances allow is a salient metaphor for the undue emphasis that we put on place on celebrities and television in general, and provokes us to think about what entertainment makes us think about, while we’re enjoying that very same entertainment. It’s very meta.