Television shows have a tricky balance between consistency and innovation. If a show does the same thing all the time, it can get overly familiar and repetitive; if a show goes in a different direction, it can lose what made it appealing to fans. My Name Is Earl: Season 3 shows how a new direction can be weak without being catastrophic.
Previously, the focus of My Name Is Earl had been: the list. Earl Hickey (Jason Lee) was a scruffy low-class loser and criminal who found karma, made a list of all the people he'd wronged, and went about making it up to them to cross them off his list. The series regulars included: Randy (Ethan Suplee), Earl's dim-witted brother; Joy (Jaime Pressley), Earl's vain, selfish white-trash ex-wife; Darnell "Crabman" Turner (Eddie Steeples), Earl's friend and Joy's husband; and Catalina (Nadine Velazquez), a Mexican maid and stripper.
Season went in two very new directions. For the first half, Earl was in prison, no list but still trying to do good for people in jail. (It also helped that the hapless warden (played by Craig T. Nelson) kept reducing Earl's sentence for helping him out.) For the second half, Earl was in a coma, imagining his life was a '60s sitcom with his love interest Billie (Alyssa Milano). The prison episodes didn't change Earl but just had him acting as he was before in a new place, while the coma involved lots of flashbacks (and also a greater focus on the supporting cast).

While this new direction didn't always work, the humor remained strong in My Name Is Earl: Season 3. The humor that had made the show so funny remained, and the supporting characters -- all great, especially Suplee and Pressley -- did as well in their semi-leading roles. If Jason Lee had somehow left the show for a season or two, the other actors could have kept it going.

My Name Is Earl: Season 3 was largely an unnecessary detour from the show's main premise, but the show kept its sense of humor. The list returned in season 4, but the third season is still very funny. (DVD extras include commentaries, deleted scenes, and cast and producer discussions about the supporting cast.)

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch

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