So my husband and I have this hypothesis that My Name Is Earl episodes are for some reason written by two separate groups of writers. The first group (according to our guess) has written the majority of the episodes, and appears to consist of relatively kind people. The characters are consistent and basically good-hearted, and their actions reflect this. The second group (which cropped up in an episode or two before the writers’ strike, and in one or two of the new episodes) appears to enjoy ickiness for its own sake and moves often two-dimensional characters through the plot for the purpose of arriving at mean, depressing, sophomoric, or shock-value one-liners. I also think clever and varied use of music in an episode is a tipoff that the “good writers” are at work, but I could be displaying some selective memory there.

(Bear in mind also that quite likely I am full of shit and there is no such thing as “good writers” or “bad writers” here. But let’s just assume I’m right since it’s my blog and I can say whatever I want. 🙂 )

About 5 minutes into this past Thursday’s episode, my husband and I concluded that this one was written by the “good writers”–Earl was optimistic and level-headed, Randy was sweet, and the gag of “Darnell and Joy live in the Crab Shack” provided some cute moments (“Who calls a bar after 7 p.m.?! We’ve got kids sleeping here!”) Granted (taking into account Catalina and Stuart) the new propensity for people in Camden to turn gay and/or straight at lightning speed was pretty tiresome. But I’m still pretty sure the “good writers” were at the helm. So if I first say that I have loved the vast majority of the show’s episodes, perhaps I can get away with a little constructive criticism.

Dear “good writers”:

1) You are writing Stuart lazily. The fact that he became addicted to chicken bingo earlier in the series? Funny. (I mean, in the show’s telling of it.) The fact that he wears a floppy hat while gardening? Not. And the sheer number of gay-themed jokes in the episode, while some may individually have been not un-funny, caused the whole portrayal to come off as taking the easy way out, IMO.

2) On the whole, I found Frank’s equal opportunity horndoggery endearing. I mean, how many sitcom episodes will we ever see where Billie is cute (in Frank’s opinion), but eh, Jocelyn is too so it’s all good? The part where he had to act out a foot fetish to drive home the fact that only a real kinkster would screw a fat girl was a bit much, but even including this I still found the whole vibe cute as part of Frank’s general affable childlike weirdness.

But then you (I’m still talking to the writers here) had to go and fuck it up by making the fat actress say the line “my diabetic ass.” Really? That’s all you got? Does NBC have some “gratuitous fat joke” quota or something? ‘Cause I’m thinking you didn’t really even need to take the trouble to write a line there. “My ass” or, you know, “no” would have worked fine.

I know we all know this, but the reason I mentioned Fat Monica in the title is because it seems like all sitcom writers, even usually-good ones (which I personally think those for Friends were, on the whole, although I know that is far from a universal opinion) know of certain shortcuts they can take by which they will get credit for “a joke” even when there is actually no joke there. I can think of a few off the top of my head, and I’ll get the first example out of the way quickly because if I think too much about it, it angers and depresses me. You can hurt or kill a woman’s cat (or bird, or hamster–any animal other than a dog, apparently). Done. The laugh track plays even though nothing funny has happened and in fact the polar opposite is true.

Second, you can make some kind of reference to prison rape. It doesn’t have to be original or really, at its base, anything other than a bald statement that if you go to prison, somebody will rape you. Cue laugh track.

Finally, you can simply point out that somebody is fat, show that boy, do fat people eat a lot, or parrot one or more supposed consequences of the “obesity epidemic” embodied by that fat person. For those who don’t recall Friends very well (and if that’s you, and it’s not just because you hated the show, you probably shouldn’t tell me because I’ll just get depressed about how old I am), here are a few: Fat Monica is thought to be mad because Joey didn’t bring her multiple pastries quickly enough, or half a pie is saved for her so she can have a snack later. Fat Monica dances (are you kidding me? At least Dodgeball, though hardly fat-friendly, had the sophistication to roll its eyes at the idea that it’s funny when “grotesque” people are put on display and made to dance, and if I am calling you out as less aware of tired jokes based on stereotypes than Dodgeball, then you should probably be concerned) and gets really winded. Newly-thin Monica says something not-much-less-clumsily-worded, though I can’t remember it exactly, so I’m paraphrasing, than “And my heart doesn’t hurt anymore!” And if you thought there would be more to any of these jokes than this (seriously, it is astounding as a viewer to note how balls-out hateful a scene of a fat person dancing to a raucous laugh track with no setup or dialogue is), then you’d be wrong.

“My diabetic ass” falls into that same category. It wasn’t gracefully worded and didn’t really “fit into” or add anything to the scene. In fact, it felt forced and artificial. I suspect you, “good writers,” just took the shortcut because you knew that “beneficial in helping thin people feel superior to fat people” is just as good as “funny” in the popular consciousness. If network sitcoms are any indication, at any rate, self-satisfied thin people must get as much enjoyment out of “Fatties–are they ever greedy, lazy, ugly, and unhealthy!” as they do out of a joke these days.

Huh–looking back, that list of “non-jokes that you apparently get as much credit for as you would for actual writing” has kind of a common thread: Misogyny. Interesting. [Aside to readers: I’m sure there are many other such shortcuts that you might have noticed. If you have a minute to share in the comments, I’d be interested in hearing about some of these other cheap shots that piss you off.]

Anyway, “good writers,” let me be the first to congratulate you on so far resisting the urge to succumb to at least the first two examples. (Mostly–I was pretty upset about last week’s drug lord telling his kangaroo “If you lick off that shaving cream, I’ll put pepper in your pouch again.” You know, at least some effort was expended on writing that line, and IME it’s an anomaly in the annals of the “good writers,” but still, yuck. 😦 )

But back to the positive–it bears pointing out that you even had a drawn-out prison storyline and still you held the line on rape jokes as far as I remember, which may be a feat unmatched in sitcom history. Good work, and I mean that sincerely.

Now let’s work on the fat thing. I know that no sitcom you worked on previously probably even had a fat character ever. And if it did, it was probably SOP to essentially write “Hey, a fat person!” or, if you were feeling really ambitious, “Ha ha! Fat bitches sure are sexually undesirable!” and move on to the next scene. So I’m sure doing otherwise is a daunting prospect. But I’m pretty sure you’re better than that, and given the other complex storylines that you have already navigated with sensitivity, kindness, and humor, I have confidence that you can do it. So. Prove me right?