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Earl: Do good things and good things happen to you. Do bad things, they'll come back to haunt you.
Randy: That's deep Earl, so why don't you stop hogging those vicodins they gave you and we can all chat about that for a while?
NBC sitcom starring Jason Lee as Earl Hickey, a petty criminal, drunken vandal and all-round piece of obnoxious white trash who comes upon one fateful day. He wins a hundred thousand dollars from a Scratch 'n' Win lottery ticket only to get hit by a car during his celebration dance, losing the ticket to the wind and putting him in traction. While he's high on painkillers his promiscuous wife Joy hands over divorce papers so she can run off with Earl Jr's real daddy Darnell. While watching TV, he sees Carson Daly explain the concept of karma.
It occurs to Earl that possibly the reason his life sucks is because he's done nothing but sucky things, and that maybe he would have better luck if he made up for them. To that end he prepares a list of all the bad things he can remember doing, and starts finding a way to make up for them, one by one. Starting on his first item of picking up litter (because he used to litter a lot), he walks to the trash and comes across his missing lotto ticket. This is evidence to him that karma really does work, and he sets out to scratch every item off the list. The Lotto money allows him to focus all his attention on his list.
Most episodes show how Earl deals with one entry on his list, helped (and sometimes hindered) by his friends, most often his simple brother Randy, a new friend Catalina and sometimes even Joy and Darnell. Any given item on his list is likely to be more complicated than a simple "stole 10 dollars" where it causes additional problems for the person involved and Earl goes to extremes to repair the damage he caused. Dedicating himself to the list and doing good things changes him, but also causes a similar ripple effect through Camden.
The show falls well down the ideal side of the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: The concepts of karma and inherent goodness are integral to the premise, and indeed, to most of the episode plots. Despite this it does not shy away from many ideas and topics that other shows on that end do. It also adheres more strictly to the concept of karma than straight Idealism, meaning it's a little more realistic and/or cynical than the usual idealistic fare. Many bad things happen to the characters, but they almost always provide character development, and serve an ultimately good purpose.
The show ran from 2005 to 2009 before it was cancelled after four seasons.
- Acrofatic: Randy gets a couple moments of this, such as doing a perfect backflip off of the back of Earl's El Camino.
- Actor Allusion: Burt Reynolds played Chubby and Norm MacDonald played his son Little Chubby, doing his Burt Reynolds impression from Saturday Night Live.
- In an episode where Earl sets out to hold a real job, he goes from warehouse dock worker to dreaming of being a salesman. Especially towards the end, the episode turns into an Affectionate Parody of Rudy, which is made all the more funny because one of the salesmen who tortures Earl is played by Sean Astin, and Charles Dutton lampoons his Magical Negro role from that movie as well. "You're six-foot something, a hundred and something..."
- In an episode featuring Danny Glover he had to say "I'm getting too old for this crap."
- In an episode Earl and Randy take a test where you fill in the bubbles. Randy uses the bubbles to make a sailboat.
- One episode saw Darnell dancing around and handing out office supplies, which the actor previously had done in a series of Office Depot commercials as "The Rubberband Man".
- Mindy Sterling playing Seth Green's mom.
- Adam Westing:
- Geraldo Rivera in the Inside Probe episodes portrays a slightly Large Ham-ier version of himself.
- Actor Tim Stack often plays a bitter, drunken version of himself.
- Alcohol-Induced Idiocy: The pre-reformed Earl had a lot of acts of this in his past.
- The Alleged Car: Earl's "perfectly good 1973 El Camino with a 1977 door and a 1987 Camaro transmission." It won't go over 40 miles per hour ever since Randy put gum in the gas tank.
- Amicably Divorced: After a rocky first half of the first season Earl and Joy eventually became rather good friends, and in the fourth season Earl (after two brief marriages in between) fondly admitted that she was his favorite wife.
- Analogy Backfire: Earl wanted his post-marriage relationship with Joy to be more civil, "like Bruce and Demi," so he decided to give Joy the best marriage to Darnell she could ask for. With all that good energy floating between them again they slept together in a moment of weakness. Joy accused Earl of "seducing her" but he explained the Bruce and Demi analogy. Joy replied with "Please, don't you think Bruce and Demi have a quickie once in a while..."
- Ascended Meme: Taken to ultra-meta levels. Creator Greg Garcia started up an account on Television Without Pity under the name of whojackie, and began writing all these little bits and pieces on the My Name Is Earl forum that eventually coalesced into an actual episode of the series where whojackie is revealed to be a (very) minor character on the show. When TWoP users saw the episode they looked up Jackey's post history and saw that many of the things he posted on there Fore Shadowed the events of that episode, including being worried about his Murphy's (wall) Bed. After the episode aired they even had "Joy" post on the site under Jackey's name mirroring the events of the episode. All of the details are discussed in the DVD Commentary of that episode.
- Ash Face: Occurs when Earl decides to light a cigarette while Joy is using lots of hairspray.
Earl: (gleefully) "Randy, get in here! We look like cartoons!"
- Art Shift: When Earl tries saving everyone from pollution and melts down from the realization there's too much for him to do alone, he starts seeing himself in claymation for a while.
- Randy starts seeing every human character in claymation after ingesting some powerful herbal ointment after being explicitly warned not to in the same episode. This lasts until Earl's done with the meltdown mentioned above.
- Artistic License Law: When Earl falsely confesses to Joy's crime. First of all, the fact that Joy's prints are mentioned as being also on the truck would mean she at the very least would be an accessory to the crime, the fact that she jumped bail and escaped to Mexico is also a major felony and her star witness deciding to suddenly confess at the very least would require a retrial to rule out Earl making a false confession. All-in-all, Joy still would have done some jail-time for her either being part of the crime or the felonies she committed while attempting to resist arrest.
- The Atoner
- Ax Crazy: Chubby Sr. is a Crazy Witch Lady with a Hair-Trigger Temper.
- Not to mention Betty White's character, "Crazy Witch Lady".
- Donnie, before he went to jail (while taking the wrap for Earl's robbery because of his cold) where he had a religious epiphany.
- Aw, Look -- They Really Do Love Each Other: While much of the time they are at each other's throats Earl and Joy have admitted that despite their drunk Vegas wedding neither of them really regretted their time together. When those moments occur it is surprisingly sentimental and quite sweet, actually.
- Badass Mustache: Earl, full stop.
- Batman Gambit: Earl pulls off a fairly impressive one in "Orphan Earl." It borders on being a Xanatos Roulette, but each step of the plan was well explained after it was accomplished.
- Becoming the Mask: Earl genuinely has become a better person, originally he was just wanting bad stuff to stop happening.
- Berserk Button: Harming Joy's kids, emotionally or physically, causes her to turn into Mama Bear.
- Beware the Nice Ones: Randy. They've shown on various occassions that he is unconventionally strong and in the fourth season (hyped up on Shark Adrenaline) he goes toe to toe and actually takes down the freakishly big guy who spent all his time working out and refusing to be a "pansy" (he was a list item for Earl).
- Bilingual Bonus: Catalina's supposed insults to Joy in Spanish are actually comments to her fans, breaking the Fourth Wall
- Biting the Hand Humor: "Inside Probe Part I"
Randy: "Network executives, they sure take the cake"
Joy: "Plus, they don't let people cuss anymore on TV until a certain time at night ..." * looks at her watch for a few seconds* "Douchebags."
- This line was censored in the C4 airing, making it even more funny reading it here. The sequence in question came right after a bit when the guys question why Inside Spot needed a "To Be Continued", and Darnell explained that they didn't have enough episodes for a full season, and just split one episode into two (ironically, this was said in an episode from the longest season of the show).
- Bland-Name Product: Earl refers to a Nyquil Expy as "Generic brand, nighttime, sniffling, sneezing, aching, coughing, best sleep you ever got with a cold" Medicine.
- Blessed Are the Cheesemakers: Darnell
- Boobs of Steel: Referenced by Randy in regards to Joy-
Gym Patron: "How big is your bully?"
Randy: "About 'this' tall, about 110 pounds, (pantomimes feeling her chest) about a 38 C."
Gym Patron: "Wait? Your bully is a girl?"
Randy: "Yeah, but not just any girl... 38 C!"
- Book Dumb: Except for Darnell (a child genius) and Patty (who has a master's degree), everyone in Camden.
- Bottle Episode: The crew admitted that the Cops and Inside Probe episodes were to trim the budget for the normally expensive episodes. Because they were aiming for a documentary-look, filming consisted mostly of the cast just reading through their lines for an entire scene, and then moving on to the next scene.
- Bounty Hunter: Jesse
- And Dog the Bounty Hunter.
- Broken Aesop: Does anyone else find it a little strange that Earl puts his list away for a day so people will stop calling him "Karma Guy" while saying an Aesop about not letting other people's labels define you? Since when does changing your actions because of people's labels fit into that Aesop?
- Broken Record: Episode 94 "Inside Probe, Part 1" had Randy's 'confession' to the Camden police. "We killed Ernie."
- California Doubling: We really don't know where Camden is, but most hints put it somewhere in the US southeast.
- Coming from someone who lives a short ways away, a likely guess would be Camden County, North Carolina.
- Call Back: The people Earl helps often come back to help him out. This happens as early as the third episode, when the first guy Earl helped comes back to make a fake birth certificate so that Randy can go to high-school.
- Camp Gay: Kenny really toes the line on this. He is certainly effeminate, but not quite "fabulous." His co-worker in the fourth episode is a more pure example.
- Can't Get Away with Nuthin': Because karma will get you.
- The Cast Showoff: (Averted... or something. Jason Lee was a pro-skateboarder in the mid-90's. Earl has done some skateboarding around, but it hasn't been plot/character significant or anything more than just carving down the sidewalk.)
- Catch Phrase: Earl and Darnell's "Hey Earl - Hey Crabman" routine and Joy's "Oh snap!"
- Celebrity Paradox: Earl and Randy are fans of Smokey and the Bandit and Burt Reynolds plays a local respected and feared businessman.
- Censorship by Spelling: When Earl sleeps with Joy, Joy and Earl have this conversation in front of Earl Jr.
Earl: I have to tell [Darnell].
Joy: Like H-E-double-L you do.
Earl: I can't live like this Joy, he needs to know we....H-A-D sex together.
Joy: That is B-U-double-L honkey!
- Character Development: Earl in particular, due to working on his list he has become a genuinely good person even if it doesn't involve his list. But Joy has also been shown to not be quite as mean and selfish as spill-over from Earl's good attitude.
- Characterization Marches On: Revisiting the first season it is interesting to see what was different in the beginning. Not quite to the degree Flanderization, but Earl was the only one to escape this trope as he had a sharp degree of character development. Randy was simple-minded but not all that stupid, Joy looked more like a streetwalker than a trailer park mom (her signature hair bands aren't in the early episodes), there is no hint of Darnell being a super-intelligent ex-spy and Catalina was a bit less fiesty.
- With Darnell, it makes sense. He is in the Witness Protection Program, so he wouldn't want to hint at it. He even admits at one point that his behavior up to that point had been a ruse.
- Citizenship Marriage
- Cliff Hanger: Of the unresolved type. In the last episode it's revealed that Dodge is actually Earl's son but Earl Jr. isn't Darnell's son. Cue the To Be Continued to be suddenly canceled after this very episode.
- Cloudcuckoolander: Randy.
- The Comically Serious: Stuart.
- Continuity Nod: Countless instances of references, varying in subtlety
Season 1: "This is the sweetest, most justified kidnapping I've ever seen" - "How many have you seen?" - "Five or so"
Season 2: "This is the cruelest, most unjustified kidnapping I've ever seen" - "How many have you seen?" - "Six or so"
- Cosmic Plaything
- Crazy Cultural Comparison: One episode involved an incident where Nescobar Aloplop received a lap dance from a stripper, who then got into an argument with Catalina, because Nescobar Aloplop is one of her regular "clients". His response:
"Wives, please, there's no need to argue. I have enough seed for both of you. The thin one, I will lay with you for pleasure. The thick one, you will birth my sons."
- And then he was informed by staff at the strip club, "Sir, just because a woman sits on your lap does not mean you're married to her."
- Crazy Prepared: Darnell is like this at times and attributes it to his super-spy training. One episode had Catalina's voodoo practicing nephew cause a mob to form with Earl, Randy and Darnell trying to keep him safe. Darnell produced a trunk with various survival supplies, including passports, and explained, "I've been trained to think three steps ahead. I saw this coming 7 months ago."
- Creative Closing Credits: In the episode citing Smokey and the Bandit
- Curb Stomp Battle: Subverted for laughs in every fistfight. Whoever appears to be the strongest fighter always gets their ass kicked by the person you would least expect to win. Earl once gets beaten to a pulp by the one-legged girl's boyfriend who has no legs and a single arm.
- Cut His Heart Out with a Spoon
- The Cutie: Natalie, Joy while taking her meds (which, in this troper's opinion, matches her dollish looks perfectly).
- A Day At the Bizarro: As bonus content on the season 1 DVD, there is an "alternate first episode" where Earl sees Stewie Griffin talk about Revenge instead of Carson Daly talking about karma, and he decides to go on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge. Until he gets killed by his friends and wills the show to Randy. No, really.
- A Day in the Limelight: "Buried Treasure" has Randy, Joy, Darnell and Dotty the Librarian replicating Earl's opening introduction and narrating part of the episode.
- Death Seeker: Minor side-character Philo constantly tried to commit suicide until Earl and Randy's attempts at cheering him up convinced him that he had friends.
- Deep South: Where in the South, however...
- Depending on the Writer: How civil Joy and Earl are to each other tends to vary, mostly in later seasons (The first season was mostly violent). Later seasons it tended to be justified because of them being Vitriolic Best Buds, but one example in the fourth season was the most blatant. Randy and Joy actually discovered they had a childhood summer romance (they never knew each others real name at the time). In a nostalgic mood they decided to share a kiss they never actually got that summer. The next episode had Randy being bullied by a mean-spirited Joy.
- Development Gag: The scene where Catalina demonstrates her American accent is a joke that Nadine Valazquez actually uses a fake Spanish accent to play Catalina.
- The Ditz: Randy was flanderized into an extreme version of this.
- The Documentary: Two fictional episodes of "Cops" and "Inside Probe".
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: Inverted with the show's basic premise. An uncouth, impoverished thief renounces his ways after gaining wealth and being abandoned by his family, and embarks on a mission to rebalance his karma, gaining enlightenment along the way.
- Driven to Madness: What Earl (and the other Camden residents) did to the Crazy Witch Lady.
- Dude, Where's My Respect?: At his birthday party a year into his quest to do good things, people still only talk about the stuff Earl still needs to make up for instead of giving him the pat on his back he hoped for. Turns out the party was just a prank and there is a real one waiting for him at home
- Eagle Land: A Running Gag has it that whenever Earl is trying to make a good impression he always makes mention of being (specifically) a law-abiding American.
- Joy would be the perfect patriot if she didn't have zero respect for the law.
- Early-Bird Cameo: "Number 87: I stole a car from a one-legged woman"
- Easy Amnesia: Sweet Johnny.
- Eccentric Townsfolk: Camden seems to accumulate more and more of these as the series progresses.
- End-of-Episode Silliness
- Erudite Stoner: Darnell
- Eskimos Aren't Real: During one episode Randy tries to make a list of famous rich people he and his brother could borrow from, like The Beverly Hillbillies. Earl points out that they're fictional TV characters, "just like Richie Rich and Donald Trump".
- Everything Sounds Sexier in French: The only reason Pierre wanted to travel back to America aside from hitting Earl was to do lots of American women, which he found extremely easy because of his accent.
- Evil Albino: Played for Laughs. When Earl is in prison, one of the prison ganags is the albino gang.
- Expansion Pack Past: Patty's character has elements of this.
- Expy - Liberty and Ray-Ray, for Joy and Darnell, only with exchanged colors. Also, the gangsters seen in Catalina's homeland bear a striking resemblance to the Hickey brothers.
- Faking the Dead - Earl did that, as did Natalie in order to get him back for it.
- Fan Service - Joy and Catalina.
- Fascinating Eyebrow: Well, more like weirded-out/confused eyebrow. Earl does this pretty often. Almost Once an Episode.
- Fat and Skinny - The Hickey brothers.
- Fat Idiot: Randy
- Flash Back: Almost guaranteed to introduce the current list item that Earl needs to check off.
- Foreign Language Tirade: Catalina does a fourth-wall-breaking one.
- Pierre in "Foreign Exchange Student"
- Foreshadowing: Mid-season two Randy makes an offhand remark about a item on the list that pertains to a deaf person. Joy's lawyer for that seasons Story Arc happened to be deaf, who Earl doesn't meet until the end of the season.
- Forgotten First Meeting: Randy goes to meet his childhood crush "Pinky," who it turns out was Earl's ex-wife Joy.
- French Jerk: Pierre, though it was Earl's fault.
- Fourth Date Marriage: All three of Earl's marriages (none of which ultimately lasted) were examples of this.
- Funny Foreigner: Nescobar Aloplop, the man to whom Earl tried to teach English, shows up occasionally to help him.
- Girls with Moustaches: In junior high, Earl made fun of a girl with a moustache, so now she's on his list. He tracks her down and discovers she's got a full beard and is in a carnival Freak Show as "The Bearded Woman". He convinces her (and the other freaks) to quit the freak tour and follow their dreams - in her case, being a realtor.
- God Guise: In one episode, Earl used a walkie-talkie to transmit messages through his religious cranky landlady's hearing aid to get her to do nice things for him and his friends. She later became a nun... and Earl had to tell her what he did, thus shaking up her faith.
- Good Feels Good: Randy brings this up to Earl when Earl decided to abandon his list and karma altogether. Although he will follow his brother anywhere he knew that doing good things felt good.
- Good Old Fisticuffs: Joy. A former girlfriend of Earl became a hard core, martial artist bounty hunter just so she could get back at her for knocking out her front teeth. It didn't help.
- Gosh Hornet: When Earl falls for a sexy woman named Alex and begins to ignore his list to spend time with her, the forces of karma send bees after him and, when that fails, a whole swarm after her.
- Gotta Catch Them All
- Groin Attack: Lil Chubby's highly effective torture scene where he ties Earl to a baseball chamber, intent on making him impotent. Free Bird plays in the background. Oooh yeah.
- Happily Married: Joy and Darnell.
- Happy Place: Earl's sitcom world with Billie in the coma.
- Have I Mentioned I Am Heterosexual Today?: Kenny and Stuart, taking the Suspiciously Specific Denial route
- Her Codename Was Mary Sue: Randy's fantasy. Not much more needs to be said.
- Hollywood Evolution: In one episode, Joy attempts to disprove evolution by showing that a fish won't grow legs when the only food available is outside the water. Turns out it did, as she caught a tadpole instead. Justified, as Hollywood Science is the only kind she knows anything about.
- Homage: Season 3: A guy gets innocently thrown into prison, improves the lives of his fellow inmates and becomes an asset for the warden. When his release from prison is in sight, the warden fucks with him to keep him inside and the guy begins to rebel and finally breaks out. Sounds familiar? Then you probably watched The Shawshank Redemption
- Humans Are Bastards: One episode revolves around Earl changing the mind of a guy who had become convinced this was true because of him.
- Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: Not every episode, but the vast majority of them read like an item from the list: "Made a lady think I was God," "Made a Kid Scared of the Boogeyman," etc. Most of the ones that don't read like this are the Something Completely Different episodes like "Our Cops is on!" and the first half of season three
- I Know Mortal Kombat / Taught by Television: Joy has an impressive set of martial skills... learnt from watching talk shows (!).
- Improbably Cool Car: One of the obnoxious students has a mint 1967 Chevrolet Camaro, despite being sixteen and in a town implied to be largely poor and rundown.
- The Internet Is for Porn: Inside Probe 2 -- "For anyone out there who is not aware of the vast array of pornography on the Internet, you are about to become far less productive"
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Several, but mostly Joy
- Jerkass (A number of characters)
- Jumping the Gender Barrier: Stuart settles for Kenny.
- Just Friends: Randy towards Catalina. Then after their green card wedding and its disastrous wedding night (why didn't Catalina just say no to sex?) there was an Unrequited Love Switcheroo that wasn't followed up on.
- Juggling Loaded Guns: Chubby carries a loaded pistol and an identical looking water pistol filled with vodka that he uses to freshen patrons drinks (and occassionally squirts directly into his mouth). He is shown shooting at least one patron's glass and (between episodes) the invetible happens and he shoots himself in the head.
- Karma Houdini: Played with in one episode; the boss of the burger joint Earl temporarily worked at was a colossal jerk and a lawbreaker, yet had everything in life a man could want. But the moment Earl lost his temper and hit him, he lost it all and wound up in prison when all his dirty laundry got exposed. Earl concluded that karma had borrowed his fist to give the man what he deserved.
- Averted with Earl himself, natch.
- For a series whose entire premise is based on averting this trope at all costs, this is played depressingly straight with Billie. She's an outright bitch who mistreats Earl and Randy, and deliberately hinders Earl from doing his list whenever she gets a chance. Later on, she goes completely Yandere on Earl when she thinks he's not paying enough attention to her by undoing everything on Earl's list which, among other things, involved burning down an old man's place of business. How does Karma punish her for all this? By giving her a happy peaceful life with a group of Amish-like people.
- Well, she does give up all her worldly possessions to spend her life with backwards farmers who, IIRC, think the wheel is "devil's work" and whose women use corn husks for sanitary napkins. So it's not exactly a vacation.
- The whole show falls completely down the idealist side of the Scale it isn't about punishing Billie (or indeed anyone), it is about her getting redemption and happiness. She learns to work hard, stop doing bad things, and be happy in herself. Karma.
- Keeping Secrets Sucks: The entire basis of one Christmas Episode.
- Knife-Throwing Act: Earl volunteers to be on the target to help win a mother and daughter beauty pageant. The knife-throwing girl doesn't want to spend her life doing pageants though, so Earl encourages her to "accidentally" hit him in the leg during the act. He forgot how much getting stabbed hurt.
- In an act of Art Imitates Art, or something like it, the knife-throwing daughter is played by Chloe Grace Moretz, who went on to play Hit Girl in Kick-Ass.
- Laser-Guided Karma: But of course.
- Latin Land: Catalina's undisclosed South-American home country contains every possible stereotype associated with this trope. Her home village is called "Guadela-tucky."
- Left Hanging
- While the final cliffhanger is never resolved, the pilot of Greg Garcia's new show Raising Hope worked in a brief nod that indicates that Earl eventually did finish his list:
Newscaster: "In lighter news, a small-time crook with a long list of wrongs he was making amends for has finally finished, and you’ll never guess how it ended..."
- Limited Wardrobe: Darnell has literally three sets of clothes: a white tank top, a white ribbed long-sleeved t-shirt and a purple tuxedo (not counting his Crab Shack apron). Earl often wears an unbuttoned flannel shirt with a solid colour t-shirt underneath and jeans. Randy wears something similar but is usually a blue-on-blue motif. Joy usually wears bright pink and if Catalina isn't wearing one of her stripper outfits or maid uniform she is often seen with brown slacks and a blue top.
- Generally the only time the characters' clothing varies is when they don disguises for various wacky hijinks. Darnell and Joy stealing the priest's and nun's clothes comes to mind. Then there's Darnell's spy costume, too.
Earl: "I know what you mean, the rich kids would tease me for wearing the same two shirts every day. I promised when I got older I would have a different flannel shirt for every day of the week. And I do... by god I do."
- List of Transgressions: The main drive of the show, Earl starts writing in the first episode a laundry list of every bad thing he's ever done, knowing he will somehow have to make it right. The list has well over 200 items and will frequently find more of them added as fixing one bad thing leads to discovering a consequence he hadn't been aware up to this point but is nonetheless directly responsible. The easy to fix items are usually the ones that reveal a much more complex consequence that require an entire episode to make right.
- Loads and Loads of Characters - By the end of the show, the number of recurring characters was quite impressive.
- Loophole Abuse - At one point, Joy enters a Mother/Daughter Beauty Contest. Apparently, it never states in the rules that both contestants have to be alive, so Joy pretends to enter with her mother's cremated remains(actually cigarette ashes).
- Lost Love Montage: Randy has a character tic of playing Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time" on a boombox after a woman rejects him or breaks up with him. This is depicted in an hilarious montage where he sings the song in a monotone voice. Also, when Earl and Randy are in Mexico, a mariachi band is heard playing this song.
- Magnetic Plot Device - Inverted with Earl's list, but he views karma as playing it straight.
- Malaproper - Often. Earl would sometimes insult Joy about her "igelitimate" children.
- Mama Bear: Joy
- Man Child
- Mandatory Line: Catalina at times, mostly because she doesn't have quite the same history with the other characters as they have with each other.
- Medium Blending: Randy's drug-induced claymation.
- Meta Casting: Most of the more unusual recurring actors on the show are actually very much like their characters. Didi, the one legged girl hopping around, is played by an actress who only has one leg. Ruby Whitlow, Joy's deaf attorney, is played by well-known deaf actress Marlee Matlin.
- Metaphorgotten: Inverted by Randy who, after he allowed two convicts to walk into an ice cream shop unsupervised, was offered the 'bull in a "Chinese" shop' analogy:
"How could you even get a bull in a Chinese shop? The doors would have to be huge. And even if you managed to get him in there all he would do is start wrecking... oh."
- Monster of the Week: In the form of the individual improprieties Earl sets right episode by episode
- Motionless Makeover: Ernie's Crab Shack has a Christmas tradition that the first one to pass out drunk gets to be the Christmas tree.
- Ms. Fanservice: Catalina, as when she started working as a stripper at Club Chubby's again she had a tendency to lounge around in her stripper outfit, which included the Crab Shack and one time visiting Earl in prison.)
- Murder Is the Best Solution: The Crazy Witch Lady thinks killing people is the best way to deal with all the idiots in Camden that tormented her over the years.
- Also Darnell agrees that killing Catalina is the best way to hide that Joy tried to drunkenly run her over with a mower in an effort to prevent Joy getting her third strike offence.
- Naked People Are Funny: One episode featured a former stoner who joined an outdoorsy environmentalist group which included some nudists. In particular, an old woman tastefully sitting in a garden.
- No Theme Tune
- Noodle Incident: Most everything is explained, but one Running Gag is Darnell's unexplained proficiency with weapons and Pressure Points. Darnell was a trained by and worked for his father as a secret agent. The reason he is in Camden is that he is in Witness Protection. And there is all that worry over his love of cheese...
- Nostalgic Narrator: Earl.
- Not My Lucky Day
- Offscreen Moment of Awesome in the episode "My Name is Alias". Earl is tranquillized by Darnell and his father and taken along on a series of missions, but passes out of consciousness, allowing us to only see fragments of the mission, as we watch from his point of view.
- Oh, Cisco
- Oh My Gods: Earl's "Holy Moses!" and Joy's "Oh Snap!"
- Only a Flesh Wound
- Only Sane Man: Earl, well eventually anyway. At first he is just another Camden idiot, but by about halfway through the run he has become the only person with a working brain in Camden. It even becomes a plot point in the Prison-Arc where the Warden needs Earl simply because of this.
- Our Nudity Is Different: In one episode, a foreign Sikh neighbor denies spying on Joy in her trailer and says "Look at the way she dresses! I can see her elbows any time I want to!".
- Overly Long Gag: During "Inside Spot" Part one, we see, through a slideshow, that Earl has never appeared in a picture with his eyes open, starting back to when he was a baby.
- Pointed out repeatedly in the DVD Commentary that making something longer than it really should be is part of the joke, like Joy playing Red Rover with senior citizens and spending 30 seconds on a lady trying to cross the gap with a walker.
- Person as Verb: Joy tried to sneak in past her accidental hostage, thinking he was asleep, when he managed to get past her in his underwear because he stuffed his regular clothes to make it look like he was taking a nap. Joy exclaimed, "Son of a bitch Ferris Bueller'd me!"
- A purely in-universe version occurs when Darnell "pulls a Castro" on Little Chubby.
- Posthumous Character: Josh, the guy Joy locked in the truck in the beginning of season 2, died from an unrelated accident. Since then, an episode revolved around Earl giving him a decent funeral, and he made a few more appearances, the latest one being in the penultimate episode.
- The Powers That Be: This is what karma is considered to be in this show.
- Pregnant Hostage: In "Randy in Charge (...of Our Days and Our Nights)", Earl has to point out to Frank that the very pregnant Joy makes the perfect candidate for a hostage situation.
- Prison Episode: The first half of season three is a series of prison episodes.
- Punishment Box: The prison has a 2 person "Hot Box"; there's a chain-link fence between the two sides of the box, but there's also a hole in the fence big enough to put your arm through.
- Punch-Punch-Punch Uh-Oh: Joy is certainly no stranger to fighting, but she finds herself on the bad end of this trope dealing with a psycho lady who wanted comatose Earl as her husband. This includes using a phone as one of the punches...
"Damn, and that was my go-to."
- Real Life Relative: Willie the One-Eyed Mailman is played by Ethan Suplee's father, Bill Suplee.
- Reckless Gun Usage: Chubby had a squirt gun full of vodka he used to top off patrons' drinks at his strip club, and an identical-looking real gun. He didn't learn from his mistake when he shot a drink with the wrong gun on-screen. You can all guess how he died off-screen.
- Remember When You Blew Up a Sun?: Several instances. One even doubles as Overly Long Gag, summing up a complete season
- "Listen, do you still have that real doll you bought to make Darnell think you're in bed when you ran to Mexico to avoid the cops but got caught by Dog the Bounty Hunter, went on trial and I went to prison for it then got out and got hit by a car and went into a coma where I thought I was living in a Sitcom world?"
- Retcon: Darnell's Witness Protection backstory wasn't worked out until late in the first season, when they already had several visits from his extended family. Admitting the goof-up, Greg Garcia Hand Waved it by saying Darnell found some way to sneak his family into town.
- Retro Universe: Camden is stuck in the 80's with a dash of early 90's. Modern technology is shown as being a very foreign object to most people. Earl bumped a computer mouse while it was on a fish tank screensaver and he was visibly confused over what happened. In general, tape recorders are on large spools, T Vs are never flat-screen or hi-def, very few people have cell phones (cordless phones have metal extendable antennas) and there is a lot of flannel.
- Running Gag: Earl is always in mid-blink when getting his picture taken. It was averted when Earl and Randy went to retrieve Catalina from South America and Earl had a portrait painted of him with a local couple; apparently the art department was going to have Earl with his eyes closed but Greg Garcia said it wouldn't make any sense.
- The old lady hitting a character with a car (or a bus) as a turning point where they stop being a Jerkass and start to be better people.
- Sassy Black Woman: Liberty Washington, Joy's enemy and unknown sister.
- Screwed by the Network: Italian network "Italia Uno" ("Italy One") has changed the show's timeslot from late evening to early afternoon. And bowdlerisation wasn't even considered. With the abundance of such tropes as Cluster F-Bomb and the like, it will be a wonder if other shows won't take its place within a week or so.
- Screw the Money, I Have Rules: Doing his list is more important to Earl then his money, as shown in the Season 1 finale where he gave it all up for some time.
- Screw the Rules, I Have Money: Chubby Sr. is Ax Crazy. But also rich, so no one minds that much.
- Self-Deprecation: Actor TV's Tim Stack could be this tropes poster child, playing the constantly drunk or otherwise drugged up loser actor... TV's Tim Stack.
"If you recognize this man, you may be among the dozens who enjoyed his work on the small screen [...] Tim was found naked, except for a diaper, in a cucumber patch. He was fourteen years old. Taken in by former father Joe and former father Ed, Tim has blocked out nearly every memory of his childhood and now considers himself to have a healthy addiction to vodka."
- Sexy Coat Flashing
- Shot in the Ass - #147 on Earl's list: "Shot Gwen Waters in the ass with a BB."
- Shout-Out - To CSI: Miami, in the form of the Memetic Mutation joke regarding Horatio Caine's "witty comment, sunglasses, YEAHHHHHH".
- Also 24 was parodied in "My Name Is Alias".
- Show Within a Show: The completely fictional game show Estrada or Nada and two fictional episodes of Cops centering around Camden.
- Sliding Scale of Realistic Versus Fantastic: Most of the Karma's actions are mundane, but Earl's recovery while being in coma thanks not to the medical treating, but the List is almost a clear supernatural intervention.
- Something Completely Different
- Sports Widow: In one episode, the Karmic Restitution of the Week is fixing a relationship Earl ruined by making a guy obsessed with golf and getting dumped after turning his partner into a golf widow.
- Straight Gay: Stuart, although he may be Bi.
- Straight Man: Darnell
- Suspiciously Specific Denial:
Joy: "Somebody switched my cake with a pile of dog turds! Either one of you know anything about this?"
Randy: "Actually they're cat turds. But I don't know anything about it!"
Earl: "How's your English going?"
Nescobar: "I speak better than you, bitch."
- Throw It In: Never in the script, but Eddie Suplee frequently works with the director to have Randy doing some sort of Funny Background Event that is entirely within his character while Earl is busy with his list item (jumping on a trampoline, trying out the stripper pole, etc).
- In the Cops episode one the scrawny police officer accidentally clipped his face with the squad car door when rushing inside the convenience store Randy and Earl were held up in. The actor didn't miss a beat and went on with the scene.
- Willie the One-Eyed Mailman was played by Ethan Suplee's actual dad. Greg Garcia said when they met the guy and saw his moustache, they knew they had to work him into the show.
- Too Dumb to Live: A lot of the Camden residents fall under this, but Randy definitely takes the cake.
- Tranquil Fury: Joy normally would go full on Unstoppable Rage if anyone crossed her, but when she was trying out some "happy pills" to help with her legal troubles nothing could faze her... until their neighbors accidently hit Earl Jr. with a beer can. In her approach to them she remained perky and sweet but she basically said "I look sweet right now but I am going to stop taking those pills and we'll see what happens in a few days..."
- Trapped in TV Land and Dream Land: The infamous coma episodes, in which Earl thinks he lives in a 50's Sitcom world.
- Twitchy Eye: Earl has this when stressed.
- Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Played with in multiple instances. There was Randy and Catalina, whose marriage was purely for the green card. Randy loved her, but she considered them Just Friends until an Unrequited Love Switcheroo. Then there was the sadistic fast food manager, who managed to have a hot wife and a hot mistress on the side, which caused Earl some doubts about how karma works.
- Also Earl and Joy themselves and most definitely Earl and Alyssa Milano's character in the Trapped in TV Land episodes.
- Jason Lee isn't unattractive, but Earl is portrayed as unkempt shaggy hair, wears the same clothes for weeks on end and has that outrageous mustache.
- Also Earl and Joy themselves and most definitely Earl and Alyssa Milano's character in the Trapped in TV Land episodes.
- Uncatty Resemblance: Every cat in the Camden Cat Show.
- Unrequited Love Switcheroo: Randy and Catalina
- Vanity Plate: Amigos De Garcia Productions has a different person wearing a sombrero each time. One episode it was a cat that was in the episode.
- Verbal Tic: Not so much a tic as sort of the way his mind works, but Randy will often lock himself into a loop where he tries to analyze his own thought process and logic holes.
- Wanting Is Better Than Having: When Earl was in a coma, he dreamed of being married to Billie. Then he recovered and actually married her, and the results were... not awesome.
- We Want Our Jerk Back: Even though everyone else preferred him as a nice guy, Little Chubby gets some bull testicles transplanted into him in order to become a jerk again since he couldn't effectively run Club Chubby anymore (such as being too nice to turn down an old woman auditioning to be a stripper).
- Where Da White Women At?: Joy and Darnell. Plus the finale makes it obvious Joy probably did at least one other black guy. Inverted with Liberty and Ray Ray.
- Whole-Episode Flashback - Lots of these. And the narration in general makes it seem like Earl is recounting every story from a time far distant in the future.
- Win Your Freedom
- Witness Protection: Darnell is in this.
- Woman Scorned: At the time he met (and married) Joy, Earl had recently begun a relationship with another woman named Jessie. When Jessie finds out Joy has a bounty on her head (for failing to appear in traffic court), Jessie trains to become a Bounty Hunter so she can fight Joy and get revenge on her for a) stealing her guy and b) knocking her front teeth out.
- You Wanna Get Sued?: Earl reads to the trailer park children, "The Adventures of Trazan the Ape-Man"
- He has a pet cheetah named Monkey!
- According to Earl the Camden Library couldn't afford real classics and had to settle for the knockoffs.
- He has a pet cheetah named Monkey!