"You might think that getting so drunk that you accidentally marry a women who's six months pregnant is a good reason to stop drinkin'. Personally, I think it's a good reason to keep drinkin'."
High school dropout ex-felon, once married to Joy, and has a witless brother named Randy, Earl J. Hickey gets handed a rotten dose of bad luck in the form of a passing car driven by an old lady plowing him down in the street right after he scores a prize-winning lotto ticket worth $100,000 bones. Not only does Earl lose the ticket, but Joy divorces him for Darnell as he sits in the hospital on morphine drips. Then, Earl saw Last Call with Carson Daly on TV from his hospital bed and learned about the concept of karma- do good things, good things happen to you; do bad things, bad things happen to you. Earl realizes that his life sucks donkey turds and if he wants to change it, he needs to fix all the problems he caused- which prompts him to write a list of almost 300 things he did on a yellow sheet of writing paper that he totes around in his flannel shirt pouches. After he starts working on the list, he's greeted with the miraculous return of the lotto ticket and cashes in a small fortune- but he still has a long way to go before he's living like a king.Although the show got canned, the creator made sure not to let Earl be forgotten. The last we hear of his exploits is on Raising Hope- if only for ten seconds- and he somehow completed his list. How remains a Riddle for the Ages.
Accidental Marriage: Is tricked into marrying Joy after her girlfriends serve him "upside-down martinis".
Anti-Hero: Earl will occasionally do nasty things when he's at wit's end with people he's trying to help, or gets pushed the wrong way. Usually, it results in an appropriate karmic response:
He once sucker-punched the jerkass boss at a burger joint after taking a buttload of his dickery - which set a chain of events in motion that got the guy busted for cheating and robbing the restaurant, leaving him divorced and locked up in the pokey.
Another time, when Earl himself got sent to jail, he helped a former junkie who accidentally set fire to his parent's house with his meth lab have the prom he never got, only for him not to reconcile with his parents, which would've allowed Earl to get enough time off his sentence to leave prison. When the guy threw it back in Earl's face, Earl went berserk and torched his cell, destroying all his paintings he made, then punched him in the face and gave him a taste of his own medicine- which finally taught him a lesson.
Right after this, the bumbling warden found him too valuable at fixing problems around prison, which made him look good by extension. So what does he do? Shred all of Earl's certificates for time off his sentence and snuff him when it comes time to leave, chuck him into solitary for 60 days to the point he goes cuckoo, and then threaten to add to his sentence. Not only does Earl kick him in the stomach and teabag him while in shackles on two separate occasions, with the help of his friends, both in and out of jail, he plans to bust out of prison. But after a mishap, Earl and Randy fall through a ventilation shaft right into the warden's office, take him hostage, and negotiate his release from the slammer. However, Earl questions the lack of karma kicking in and thinks after all he's been through, it's bogus. Finally, one last does of Butt Monkey antics prompts the return of Bad Earl- and karma deals him another car to the chest to punish him.
Despite being an atoning petty criminal,Jerkass, and a Book Dumb hick, he has a real knack for getting along with people, is actively working hard to become a better person by righting all his past wrongs, in the process making his town a better place, and is willing to make great sacrifices for the people he cares about. Sometimes he relapses, but he brings up some interesting questions on morality and what makes a good person.
The Atoner: The entire premise of carrying his list.
Badass Mustache: His signature trait, grown from a desire to have once since he was a kid.
Book Dumb: Badly uneducated outside of a partial high school education. He's also uniformed about things happening in the world, mostly because he lives in a run-down apartment where news doesn't get around fast. He decides to wise up after the bank treats him like a kid and gets a G.E.D. Slowly but surely, Earl's brainpower's getting better.
Butt Monkey: Dear God. Earl suffers all kinds of ilk as he tackles his list. We could go on for decades about this.
The very worst instance was getting roped into a top-secret spy mission with Darnell when he went back into action, only to be given round-the-clock tranquilizers to block out everything he saw with absolutely no say in refusing them (while his life was constantly in danger, no less!), kept knocked out for so long he had to be put in a diaper so he wouldn't soil himself and woke up with side-effect-induced twitches.
Carpet of Virility: So much so he had a gorilla chest by early puberty- which made him afraid to pull his shirt off during swimming lessons in school- otherwise, everyone would laugh their heads off.
Closer to Earth: A rare gender swapped example. He is far more sensible than his ex-wife Joy.
Deadpan Snarker: When Earl gets sick of the shenanigans his buddies or the person on his list puts him through, or he can't stand Randy's stupidity or Joy's bitchiness, he'll be prone to snarking.
Dogged Nice Guy: Earl just can't catch a break from anyone. It's a wonder he hasn't pulled a shotgun on some of the people he endures.
Dude, Where's My Respect?: The birthday party episode. It turned out to be a prank, and his friends really did give him props for the wrongs he'd righted thus far.
"Bad Earl" takes it to a logical extreme. Earl has let himself take the bullet for Joy by going to jail in her stead so she wouldn't get her third strike and become a lifer. It costs him a nice new home, a great job and all the respect that came with it which he fought hard to get, and then the shiftless warden screws him out of an early parole. When he returns to doing his list again, he gets humiliated and believes his misery didn't get a suitable karmic compensation. Earl decides to hell with the list and relapses into his old criminal ways- until karma catches up to him with a vengeance.
Embarrassing Middle Name: Jehoshaphat. We learn it in the Geraldo Rivera-narrated two-parter, finally revealing what the "J" stood for after four seasons.
Face-Heel Turn: Temporarily relapses into "Bad Earl," which pleases Ralph, who thought his list was bunk from the get-go, but scares Randy, and pisses off Joy and Darnell, who discover that drunken Earl and friends have decided to tip over their trailer. Then, he takes a car to the chest again and that's all she wrote.
Hair of the Dog: "Some people might think that getting so drunk you end up marrying a woman who's six months pregnant is a good reason to stop drinking. Personally, I think it's a good reason to keep drinking."
Heel-Face Turn: Getting T-boned by an old lady behind the wheel and losing a lotto ticket with $100,000, then being served up divorce papers in retraction on morphine will do that to you.
Heroic BSOD: Caused by going to jail for Joy's sake in exchange for a great job and apartment, suffering solitary confinement instead of being rewarded with early freedom, and busting out of said jail without consequence. Earl soon learns the hard way that karma's willing to kick his ass if he strays from being a nice guy.
Homeless Hero: Technically, since he lives in a motel after Joy took the trailer in the divorce. It never occurs to him that he can use part of the lotto money to pay for a small apartment. He does get an apartment halfway through the series, but that's using money he earned through working at Wadt Appliances. And Randy loses the apartment while Earl is in prison. The fact that Earl has no permanent residence is lampshaded when he goes to apply for a credit card.
Honor Before Reason: Earl often goes out of his way to fix things, even if they weren't directly his fault and the people he is helping are already happy. When something he did on his list has a snowball effect, he is especially prone to patch those things up, too.
Idiot Hero: Some shades of Book Dumb mixed with drunken escapades result in Earl having prime moments of stupidity. Otherwise, he's not so dim... but Randy... oh, boy...
Kick the Dog: Earl did so to one guy in prison after he got whiny and inconsiderate- so he set fire to his cell and gave him a knuckle sandwich.
Kick the Son of a Bitch: Exactly what he dished out to the boss of a fast food joint after having to suffer untold humiliation and got talked down to like he was a butt-scratching chimp. Because he beat the guy up, the boss also gets his due for his crimes of cheating and stealing.
My God, What Have I Done?: Sometimes, when Earl discovers the consequences of what he did to the person on his list after it effectively ruined their life, or if he unintentionally botches a plan to fix things and makes them worse when hijinks ensue.
Nice Guy: After changing his ways, Earl becomes an extremely nice and kindhearted individual, who goes out of his way to help anyone who needs it.
Only Sane Man: Most of the time. Sometimes, it's inverted, where he gets so engorged with his list, he's the loony one, and Randy usually suffers for it.
Porn Stache: Lampshaded when Earl teaches a class of douchebag high school students and one insults him by saying he doesn't want to grow up being a loser with a porn 'stache.
Abuse Is Okay When It's Female on Male: Surprisingly subverted, although she is quite verbally abusive to Earl, the episode where she's on trial has all these instances brought back against her. Though Earl takes the bullet for her regardless which is mostly just to show how selfless he can be.
Action Girl: All those years watching Springer really paid off.
Jerk Ass: Cheats on Earl, verbally abuses and even hits him, leaves him for a mutual friend while he's hospitalized, and tries to kill him to get his lottery winnings
Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Can be nice (and even helpful) sometimes. Subverted, though, in that usually only if something's in it for her. That said, she did take in Randy after Earl went to prison and is a genuinely loving mother and wife.
Characterization Marches On: In the early episodes, he appeared to be as vacuous and ignorant as Joy and the others. This was before the writers revealed his past and the fact that he is actually very intelligent.
This may be Fridge Brilliance as he was probably trying to avoid standing out too much due to his past and may have been overdoing it. When he is relaxed, he shows more of his real personality.
Cloud Cuckoolander: He absolutely loves reminiscing about cartoons, movies, anything that amuses him, and especially E.T.- but he's badly distracted by doing so.
Department of Redundancy Department: Will get caught in a loop sometimes while trying to think things through or his brain will take the long way around to work out a conclusion. Just don't mention the words Catalina and half-naked in the same sentence, or he'll blank out over and over- maybe not so much now after the Unrequited Love Switcheroo.
The Hat Makes the Man: Inverted. Randy has a bad habit (at least in Earl's opinion) of claiming any stray hat he finds just lying around abandoned and then donning it and inventing a stupidly contrived personality to go along with it, which pisses off Earl to no end.
Satellite Character: He is dependent on Earl even in the most trivial things (which food to pick for example). After Earl's imprisonment, he is forced to develop a free will on his own, and a more healthy relationship with his brother.
Tastes Like Feet : Randy knows what a lot of things taste like, as he frequently licks things. "This chicken tastes like...zoo."
Testosterone Poisoning: After getting shark adrenaline pumped into his nads, Randy goes into an uber power-crazed, macho muscleman mindset, with a Hair-Trigger Temper and frightening distored voice when he turns furious.
Unrequited Love Switcheroo: Is insanely gaga over Catalina from day one and even gets a green card marriage, but one night of deliberately disgusting sex on her part wipes it all out. If only Catalina had mulled over the possibility of actually enjoying making love to Randy...
The Chick: Subverted, as she's usually not as whiny as typical Chicks.
Citizenship Marriage: Marries Randy to get back into the country although she actually wanted to marry Earl. Because of the bad sex (see above), it doesn't work out so well. We are not told, however, if they are still (legally) married, or if they got a divorce at some point.
Kavorka Woman Has slept with practically every straight or bisexual man in Camden County at least once (and all of them enjoyed it), even though she looks to be well into her 40's or 50's, and is very open about being a prostitute.
Not Me This Time: He was a crook, but did not commit the particular robbery he was imprisoned for.
Peeping Tom: Earl paid him to peep on Joy back in the day. (A rumor was going around the trailer park about a peeping tom, and Joy was feeling unhappy about how she looked during her pregnancy. The "peeping tom" was actually Earl, trying to steal a big-screen TV.) Unfortunately for Donny, Joy got excited that the "trailer park pervert" was finally peeping on her, and her excited shouts alerted the other trailer park women. Donny was badly injured by a Sassy Black Woman with a potted fern.
Put on a Bus: Just vanished halfway through the first season, then reappeared in season 2 during Earl's birthday party.
The first person on Earl's list, a classmate of Earl from grade school, whom Earl used to bully. Shy about his same-sex preferences, but later grows to find a partner in Stuart (and Chester- don't ask).
Earl took Didi home from the Crab Shack and slept with her. At first, he told Didi he loved her (likely influenced by alcohol) and was happy to wake up with her, but then found her prosthetic leg in the bed and freaked out. He stole money from her purse, and made off in her car with her prosthesis, and Didi has intensely hated Earl ever since. Until he finally made it up to her and she forgave him.
Easily Forgiven: Earl later discovers where he stashed her leg and learns Didi has been forced to hop around without until now. He finally gets her to cool off in the midst of an enraged blowup at seeing him again. She has him make up for this by doing the same until his one foot is as sore is hers, but she lets him enjoy the other half of the foot bath she never uses and quickly makes peace with him now that she knows he's really turned a new leaf. They become good friends afterwards.
Yandere: YOU SAID YOU LOVED ME!!! (While blasting a shotgun at Earl). In all fairness he did steal her car and ditch her after sex, but it's not like she couldn't have let the police deal with it.
The ex-girlfriend of Earl's cellmate Frank, who decides to follow in Earl's footsteps to become a better person, although she prefers to "work smarter, not harder," unlike Earl, who will do whatever it takes. Earl was initially smitten with her, but found out the hard way that having her for a wife wasn't all he thought it would be.
Dating Catwoman: Getting into a relationship with Frank was not the best decision she ever made.
Expy: Deconstructed: She wants to get on the right path, but has very different ideas than Earl about what constitutes making things up to people. And she even goes so far as to undo what Earl has done when she feels she isn't getting enough attention from him.
Face-Heel Turn: When she met the guy she was with before marrying Earl, she was a good person. Her boyfriend, however, introduced her to stealing (which gave her a rush), and she became his partner in crime.
One of Earl's old friends. Gung-ho and stark-raving mad, Ralph loved the days when he and Earl would go looting stuff. Unlucky for him, Earl changed, and he wanted nothing to do with karma. So, where Earl does good things, Ralph does bad things- and almost always finds himself in jail following a crime spree, but Ralph's also a whiz at blowing through the holes of the criminal justice system and always seems to be back out on the streets in no time flat. The one thing he loves more than crime is his beloved mama, but when he learned Earl slept with her, he really, really blew a fuse- as in refused to let Earl do anything short of marrying her to make it up to him, and would make his buddy spit gum out his forehead if he tried to cut and run. Luckily, they worked things out.
Can't Get Away with Nuthin' : Sent to jail at the drop of a hat. While the main cast goes about their daily lives, chances are he's mulling things over in jail. He might even be worthy of a "Frequent Flyer Miles" card for getting sent there so much. That being said, he probably deserved it.
Conveniently Cellmates: With Earl right as soon as he gets put in jail- except Ralph's being dogged by a guy threatening to stab him and gives Earl a sock filled with batteries to fend him off when they go out into the yard.
Easily Forgiven: Earl and Randy are always quick to forgive him. Though Ralph does suffer from others for his actions.
Jerk Ass: To Earl when he burned down Pops' hot dog cart.
Karma Houdini: Although Ralph generally does get punished for his actions (thus proving he's not a member of this trope), the fact that Earl believed he became one due to not getting retribution for taking advantage of a senile old woman results in his forsaking The List.
Crowning Moment Of Awesome: When she fakes her own death to get even with Earl for doing likewise to her, dumps her Jerkass boyfriend, and opens a successful art gallery featuring her papier-mache creations.
Naughty by Night: Went to the Crab Shack on Halloween dressed in a slutty biker-chick costume, and even took Earl home with her, but the next morning, even she is shocked by her actions. In fact, she ended up losing her virginity that night!
Another ex-girlfriend of Earl's. He had started dating her three weeks earlier, only to be tricked into marrying a very pregnant Joy. When Jessie hears that Joy has a bounty on her head, she becomes a bounty hunter in an attempt to make her suffer.
Exiled to the Couch: At an anniversary party back either late in The Seventies or early in The Eighties, Earl slipped one of his friend's mom's "happy pills" into Carl's whiskey. Which resulted in him goosing female guests, and attempting to start a key party. Kay was not amused.
Earl's old friend and roommate. He planned a big robbery, and almost got away with it too, until he and Paco plowed into an FBI van. The same FBI van that was dropping off Harry Munroe so he could start his new life as Darnell Turner in Witness Protection.
Dating Catwoman: Billie was a kind nursing student, until Frank introduced her to stealing. This trope is also inverted: when Frank hears that Billie has once again gone to The Dark Side, he falls in love with her again and gets into a huge fight with Earl over her.
Fruit of The Loon: Is moved to a halfway house, where they spike the food with tranquilizers to keep the inmates under control. Since Frank has not been eating, Randy gives him an apple slice he'd been carrying around.
Love Triangle: Still in love with Billie after the breakup, but Earl is trying to date her.
Irony: He subletted his kitchen to Earl and Randy, they owned his trailer (at least while Earl was still married to Joy). They also drive his old El Camino, and Earl briefly marries Billie.
Naked People Are Funny: With some help from Earl and Randy, he posts a nude photo of himself on a billboard in order to win Billie back, seeing as she had dumped him for showing Earl her naked picture. It's played for every laugh it's worth.
Second Love: Believes he will never find love again after the demise of his seven-year relationship with Billie, but eventually finds love again with her cousin Jocelyn.
A docker at Bargain Bin, he accidentally got kidnapped by Joy and Earl while unloading a truck. He escapes alive and unharmed, since Earl and Joy did not mean to hold him hostage, but unfortunately dies in his own apartment. Earl has to figure out how to make up for kidnapping him.
The attorney that the court appointed for Joy, she falls in love with Earl. Their relationship is short-lived, however, as Earl goes to prison. Earl once robbed her before they met, which puts strain on their relationship.
A woman who dotes on her show-cat, Sebastian, that Earl once stole and placed in the home of an old woman so Joy's cat would have an edge in the Camden cat show. She also dates Randy briefly.
Abhorrent Admirer: It takes Randy a while to realize this, but she has lost the ability to differentiate between the best ways to show affection towards a human and towards a cat. When Randy does realize it, he is horrified and upset.
Break the Cutie: Losing Sebastian was really hard on her, especially as it's implied that she did not have many human companions in her life.
Break Up to Make Up: Judy and Randy break up so they can each live a better life. They break up on pretty good terms too; Randy doesn't even feel the need to wallow in grief and play "Time After Time" by Cyndi Lauper on endless loop like he usually does when he gets dumped!