Karma's a funny thing...
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 been nothing but a Jerkass
doing bad things to a lot of people, 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. He initially starts out of karmic fear
, but he finds that dedicating himself to the list and doing good things changes him. It 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.
This show provides examples of:
- 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.
- Aww, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: While much of the time they are at each others 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.
- Background Music: Incessant. Possibly as a counterpoise to the lack of a Laugh Track.
- Backwards-Firing Gun: Happens to Kenny, only with mace, while trying to spray Earl with it. Earl helps take the sting out of his eyes afterwards.
Earl: When you steal a lot of purses, you learn a thing or two about mace.
- Badass Mustache: Earl, full stop.
- 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 occasions 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).
- Birthday Episode: During the Birthday Episode, Earl had a birthday party and all anyone can talk about is how much bad stuff he used to do, rather than all the good stuff he's doing now. It turns out it's all a big Practical Joke, and as birthday presents everyone crosses something off of Earl's list that he had done to them, so he doesn't have to make it up to them.
- 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] Douchebags.
- 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 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.
- 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 return to high-school.
- The poison cookies Joy leaves for Earl in Season 1 reappear in Season 4.
- In Season 1, Earl rides a bus and talks to a little girl who shares her treat with him. In Season 2, he does the same thing.
- In Season 2, Randy says when he gets hungry, he gets angry like the Hulk, only dizzy. At least once more through the series, he's referred to as a "dizzy, angry Hulk" when he gets hungry.
- Camp Gay: Kenny 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.
- Catch Phrase: Earl and Darnell's "Hey Earl - Hey Crabman" routine and Joy's "Oh snap!" In the Christmas episode "Don't you judge me" is said so many times by Joy's mother Connie that it becomes her catchphrase.
- Joy's "Great googly moogly," as well.
- Celebrity Star: John Waters, Jenna Elfman, Burt Reynolds, Betty White, just to name a few
- 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 feisty.
- 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.
- Chroma Key: Darnell uses this to insert Joy into various heroic situations to convince a young faith healer that she is a good person. The situations become increasingly outrageous, including Joy congratulating George Bush and US soldiers in Afghanistan and praying with the Pope.
Joy: I thought you said this was going to look like I was standing in front of an Alaskan oil spill. This is just our big blue sex tarp.
- Earl and Randy visit a TV station to make amends with a news reporter who they previously embarrassed while on the air. Randy wanders over to the blue screen where the weather forecaster stands and unzips his jacket, revealing a blue shirt underneath. He freaks out when he sees himself on the monitor, thinking his body's disappeared.
- Citizenship Marriage: After Catalina is deported, Randy marries her so she can return to the US.
- 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.
- Cloud Cuckoolander: Randy, Raynard.
- Comically Missing the Point: In the Christmas Episode, Earl remembers how he never bought any good Christmas gifts for his ex-wife. He flashes back to the Christmases they had when they were married, and one in particular involved Convenience Store Gift Shopping. He had bought her some condoms, to which she angrily responded, "How are these for me?! " His response?
- The Comically Serious: Stuart. Also, Earl's dad.
- Coming-Out Story: The pilot episode centers around Earl helping Kenny to come out of the closet, to make up for bullying him during their childhood.
- 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
- Continuity Snarl: On occasion
- 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
- Credits Gag: In "Buried Treasure" Randy and Joy narrate to the audience their versions of what happened to the stolen silverware. Both of these are started with a parody of the opening credits ending with the logo My Name is Randy/My Name is Joy.
- "You know the kind of woman who seems like the quiet librarian, but when she removes a pencil and lets her hair fall down she looks all wild and sexy. I wish that was me. My name is Dotty.
- Crisis of Faith: Sister Millie has one of these when she finds out it wasn't God's voice she was hearing, but Earl's.
- Earl also temporarily loses his faith in Karma after he gets out of prison (ironically for doing something bad), life on the outside is pretty rough since no one wants to hire an ex-con, and it's been years since he started the list but he hasn't had any real reward for doing good things like he wanted. (Meanwhile, his old friend Ralph has been posing as a little old lady's deceased husband and living it up.)
- Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Earl is not the brightest of guys and generally Book Dumb, but he is not a complete idiot and can be quite resourceful with the various problems he has to face. The skills and connections he picked up as a lowlife comes in handy frequently and is capable of being The Chessmaster when he puts his mind to it.
- 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 a man who has no legs and a single arm.
- The Cutie: Natalie, Joy while taking her meds (which matches her dollish looks perfectly).
- 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.
- Dance Party Ending: The episode with Joy's wedding, and the Birthday 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.
- Discontinuity Nod: In the "Inside Probe" episode Earl, long before the show started, talked about a dream he had where he went to prison, got out, got hit by a car and went into a coma, all a reference to the plotline of the third season. "Me in a coma! No one wants to see that!"
- 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.
- Double Entendre: The reforming camp's unfortunate slogan choices.
- Driven to Madness: What Earl (and the other Camden residents) did to the Crazy Witch Lady.
- Dropped After the Pilot: The character Sonny, until he is unexpectedly (and briefly) brought back in the third season. Earl even lampshades this in the relevant episode.
- 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, where everyone gives him genuine praise and each person crosses off a list item related to themselves as a present.
- Dysfunction Junction: There isn't a single resident of Camden County who doesn't have SOME kind of educational/developmental/mental/psychological/criminal/disability/buffoonery thing going on. Even the cops are portrayed as bumbling idiots.
- Eagleland: 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 86: 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: Earl and Randy would sometimes have a silly conversation while lying in bed together at the end of each episode.
- 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 gangs is the albino gang.
- Expansion Pack Past: Patty's character has elements of this.
- Actually, most characters have this to some degree or another.
- Expy - Liberty and Ray-Ray, for Joy and Darnell, only with exchanged colors. Played for Laughs, since they're half-sisters Also, the gangsters seen in Catalina's homeland bear a striking resemblance to the Hickey brothers, except evil counterparts- Earl's counterpart actually has a list of wrongdoings to inflict on people, and one of them is stealing a donkey from a one-legged woman, the opposite of #87 on his list.
- Face-Heel Turn: Earl has a crisis of karmic faith in the third season where he finds himself being punished while doing good things and rewarded when he does bad things. He reverts back to "old Earl" because karma wasn't acting fast enough, but after an intervention from his friends and getting hit by a car again he remembers all the lessons he learned from the first two seasons.
- Failure Gambit: In an early episode, Earl's El Camino is impounded with the bulk of his lottery winnings in the glove compartment. To get it back, he tries to help Randy get back into high school football and then bet on the game. Randy plays, but his team unfortunately loses. Earl then wonders what he's going to do, until Randy drives up in the El Camino. It turns out that he had made a bet as well...against his own team.
- Fanservice: Joy and Catalina.
- Don't forget Ralph, who spends an inordinate amount of time shirtless and pantless.
- 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
- First Father Wins: Earl.
- Five-Man Band : When "the gang" gets together for a storyline (two examples: "Stole P's HD Cart" and "Y2K" in Season One).
- Flanderization: Camden County started as a small southern town with a few cartoonish quirks and gradually got more absurd. They had their own faction in the civil war (the Central) which lasted about half an hour and the Camdenites split off from the Amish because the latter were too accepting of new technology like the wheel and pitchforks.
- One episode addresses how this trope can come into play in reality. After his mistreatment of a "witch lady" (played by Betty White) because of her appearance, she became a vindictive witch. Earl realized that it was just too easy for people to accept how others view them and start playing up to the role. By the episodes end, Joy resolved to be nicer and less of a bitch, Randy got a Word-A-Day calendar and Earl decided to not be so obsessed with his list, being known as the "karma freak."
- Also, while Randy was always a bit slow, by season 3, he's got full-blown mental retardation. (By season 4, however, he's back to his usual self: still slow, but not mentally-handicapped.)
- Flashback: Used to introduce the current list item that Earl needs to check off.
- Flipping Helpless: Crabman's pet turtle Mr. Turtle is scared of being flipped on his back, at least according to Crabman.
- 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. And, as fate would have it, Earl gets the hots for the woman and the two seem to get along like the perfect couple. Then Earl realizes the deaf lawyer is the same deaf person on his list- from whom he stole because she wouldn't hear him or Randy looting her place. When she discovers the truth, it's curtains for their relationship and she develops a grudge toward him.
- Forgotten First Meeting: Randy goes to meet his childhood crush "Pinky," who turns out is Earl's ex-wife Joy.
- French Jerk: Pierre, though it was Earl's fault. However, he does hate his wife with a passion and technically cheats on her by having Earl track down his childhood sweethearts (and the sister of one in place of her) so he could kiss each one of them.
- The Friend Nobody Likes: Earl found out siphoning his neighbor Philo's gas prevented him from committing suicide, and when he returned it to him Philo went on trying to kill himself. Earl really did not like him as a person but stuck around to keep him alive. By the end of the episode Philo had gotten past his Death Seeker phase because he thought Earl and Randy were his friends. Neither Earl nor Randy liked him, but were touched that someone found their friendship to be something worth living for.
- Fourth Date Marriage: All three of Earl's marriages (none of which ultimately lasted) were examples of this.
- Funny Background Event : Many examples, but Randy working the stripper pole at Little Chubby's is a standout.
- Funny Foreigner: Nescobar Aloplop, the man to whom Earl tried to teach English, shows up occasionally to help him.
- Gainaxing: When Randy's tripping on herbal ointment (see Art Shift above), he sees claymation-Joy whose breasts never stop moving.
"Are you looking at my boobs, dummy?!"
- Girls with Moustaches: In junior high, Earl made fun of a girl with a mustache, 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.
- Gone Horribly Right: Catalina deliberately disgusted Randy in order to get rid of him without hurting his feelings. She succeeded while falling for him at the same time.
- 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 Dang It to Heck! : In a flashback, one of the prisoners in Season 3 gets a tattoo "before he knew what swear words were." His tattoo says "Fudge the Police."
- 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: Earl's list is a manifestation of this in that he must cross everything off his list.
- 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.
- Hard Work Fallacy: Earl gets a promotion from docker to appliance salesman based on hard work and determination, despite teasing from everyone else...and wins their respect. (The episode is a parody of an example in Rudy, even featuring a few of the actors from that movie.)
- Have I Mentioned I Am Heterosexual Today?: Kenny and Stuart, taking the Suspiciously Specific Denial route
- Heel-Faith Turn/Faith Heel Turn: A Scary Black Man gangster who went by "Hash Brown" and eventually became a minister ends up being on Earl's list at least five times, with each new list item revealed making him angrier and angrier until he snaps and decides to return to his gangster life. Then Earl recognizes his car and reveals that he broke the taillight on it (another list item). The broken taillight caused Hash Brown to get pulled over and be late for a deal which ended up turning into a brutal shootout, meaning that Earl had indirectly saved his life. Since this event was what had caused him to take up religion in the first place (he originally attributed it to divine intervention), he thanks Earl and goes back to being a minister.
- Another person on Earl's list was Donny, a former violent criminal lunatic who found religion while serving two years in prison for a crime Earl committed. Donny forgave Earl almost immediately, reasoning that if he hadn't gone to jail he wouldn't have cleaned up his act.
- Heel Realization : Joy has one when she realizes that Liberty, her sworn enemy, is angry at her for getting to grow up with a daddy.
- Her Code Name 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
- How's Your British Accent?: The scene where Catalina demonstrates her American accent—Nadine Valazquez actually used a fake Spanish accent to play Catalina.
- Humans Are Bastards: One episode revolves around Earl changing the mind of a guy who had become convinced this was true because of him.
- Hypothetical Fight Debate: Episode Robbed a Stoner Blind: In the closing discussion, Randy and Earl philosophize who would win in a fight:
Randy: Hey, Earl.
Earl: Yeah, Randy.
Earl: I don't really think they'd fight; they're both pretty peaceful.
Okay. What about Muppets or He-Man
Earl: Just He-Man, or He-Man and his friends?
Randy: Just He-Man.
Randy: That's who I had.
- I Ate WHAT?: The toe Ralph puts in the hot dog to get money out of the hot dog corporation. Joy neglects to tell Darnell.
- I Know Mortal Kombat / Taught by Television: Joy has an impressive set of martial skills... learned from watching talk shows (!).
- 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
- Impersonating an Officer: Earl once stole a cop's badge and used it to get free food and other stuff. Then someone stole it from him.
- 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"
- Also, Randy calls laptops "porn-machine".
- 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 patron's drinks (and occasionally squirts directly into his mouth). He is shown shooting at least one patron's glass and (between episodes) the inevitable happens and he shoots himself in the head.
- Karma Houdini: Deliberately averted - the characters tend to get what's coming to them while at the same time learning life-lessons and becoming better people.
- 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: The entire basis of the show is in showing this exists.
- Laser Sight: On a sniper rifle. A boy who Earl crosses off his list shows up at the motel asking to live with Earl since Earl was nice to him and his parents aren't. When Earl tells him he can't, the boy pretends to have been kidnapped and a SWAT team arrives at the motel. During the standoff, Randy notices a red dot on Earl's back, prompting him to drop to cover.
- Latin Land: Catalina's undisclosed South-American home country contains every possible stereotype associated with this trope. Her home village is called "Guadela-tucky."
- Laugh Track: Played for Laughs (get it?) in Earl's cliche sitcom coma world in Season 3.
- 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..."
- Let Us Never Speak of This Again: The phone-booth orgy that Catalina, Darnell, Patti, and Kenny were involved in
- 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 color 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.
- Norm Mac Donald gets one as Little Chubby: Chubby was played by Burt Reynolds, whom Mac Donald played on Saturday Night Live
- 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 by Frank:
"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."
- And the real kicker here? Frank wakes up from a nap in the prisoner van when Randy tells him they've stopped for ice cream and warns him it's a hell of a mistake. When Randy runs off to keep his prisoners from trying to make a run for it he discovers they really only got ice cream, didn't try to ditch him, and chastise him for not trusting them, but then come to realize it was a wasted opportunity and never crossed their minds. Unfortunately, Randy repeated his mistake by leaving Frank unsupervised with the van unlocked- and he jumped on the chance to escape.
- 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.
- Motor Mouth: Joy
- Mr. Fanservice: Ralph (Giovanni Ribisi). He seems run around in his speedos a lot
- 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.
- Mundane Made Awesome: The National Bagging Competition.
- 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 offense.
- 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: Usually, but there are moments that invoke its use, such as the episode with the stolen silverware and "My Name Is Earl" parody openings for each character, and when Earl gains respect in prison at the end of the episode and pulls a Title Drop.
- Noodle Incident: Most everything is explained, but one Running Gag is Darnell's unexplained proficiency with weapons and Pressure Point's. 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...
- The bullet hole in the motel and the bloodstained sheets.
- Most notably, the night Joy's half sister paid her prom date to stab her and left her with a scar she apparently hand-stitched back together. We don't know what motivated it, nor have we actually seen the scar.
- 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.
- Darnell also fits the role at times, but his shades of Conspiracy Theorist prevent him from fully qualifying.
- 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!".
- Out-of-Context Eavesdropping: Happens during Earl's coma fantasy. Earl is the star of a 1950's style Dom Com in his head, and he is married to a friend's ex-girlfriend that Earl was attracted to. She is pregnant, and conversing with Joy (their next-door neighbor) about a really awesome guy. Earl thinks she's talking about a gigolo...it turns out she's referring to a doctor.
- The Outside World: Near Camden County there's a Camdenite settlement, Camdenites being their version of Amish. Every teen is expected to leave the settlement and explore the outside world, and decide for themselves whether to stay away or return. In the past Earl & Randy made a point of greeting the visiting Camdenite girls and ruin them for the settlement.
- 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.
- The Password Is Always Swordfish: When trying to return a stolen laptop to its owner, Randy tries to figure out the computer's passcode, only to conclude it's hard to think of a word you wouldn't think of.
- 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.
- The Plan: Earl pulls off a fairly impressive one in "Orphan Earl." It borders on Gambit Roulette, but each step of the plan was well explained after it was accomplished.
- 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.
- Ernie, the Crab Shack's original owner, vanished under unknown circumstances several years ago. Geraldo Rivera is able to piece together that he vanished during a blackout caused by someone hoisting the Central flag on the roof of the Shack (the small nation Camden tried to form during the Civil War when it refused to take sides), while he was trying to switch out tapes for the hidden camera in the ladies bathroom he used to generate exploitable content for his porn site business. The flagpole caught a power line when Darnell tried to remove it and caused a blackout. Eddie tripped, and fell down in the darkness. knocking him out cold at the worst possible time- right as he landed in a pool of fresh cement laid down to coat the bathroom floor, which he sank into, and it entombed him when it hardened. Since nobody ever figured out what happened to him all that time, he was in there so long it's almost assured he died- except his nose managed to stay above the surface, perhaps allowing him to breathe and stay alive until he finally kicked the bucket- unless his lungs had filled with cement. Everyone thought his nose was just an odd doorstop until then.
- And then Randy opts to instill us viewers with horror when everyone leaves the bathroom- he gives Ernie a Mercy Kill by clamping his nostrils shut while smiling and shushing him. If Ernie was still alive somehow, Randy's done something unspeakable.
- Power Walk : "The Gang" has one when they get together to scratch the hot dog cart off the list.
- 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 Writes the Plot : Jaime Pressly was pregnant during the second season, hence the written-in surrogate pregnancy.
- 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. The fourth season Darnell also handwaves the extended family bit, saying his Grandma wasn't really his grandma.
- 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, TVs 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.
- A Round of Drinks for the House: Earl & Randy discover that if a golfer hits a hole in one the tradition is for that golfer to buy a round for everyone in the clubhouse. So they make sure that that golfer gets a hole in one every time.
- 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 Jerk Ass and start to be better people.
- Sassy Black Woman: Liberty Washington, Joy's enemy and unknown sister.
- Save Our Students: Conversed. When Earl goes Back to School (back to high school) to learn at least something and feel like a grown-up, his teachers are disillusioned about teacing and let him deal with the students to get them inspired because they know it's futile. Randy points out that it happens in every school movie ever. He's observant enough to warn Earl to be careful about developing breast cancer.
- Scantron Picture: Randy draws a sailboat with dots representing him and a bunch of hot chicks during his GED exam.
- 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."
- Settled for Gay: Stuart for Kenny in a fit of loneliness after being shot down by Billie. They end up as Sickeningly Sweethearts.
- Sexy Coat Flashing
- Shaped Like Itself: Randy sees a "30 Miles to Camden" sign, and asks Earl why a mile is called a 'mile'. Earl says "If it was called a quart you wouldn't know what it was."
- Shotin The Ass - #147 on Earl's list: "Shot Gwen Waters in the ass with a BB."
- Show Within a Show: The completely fictional game show Estrada or Nada and two fictional episodes of Cops centering around Camden.
- Sitcom Arch-Nemesis: Joy and Catalina for each other, probably in a competition as the two eye candies of the show.
- Sinister Shiv: One of the episodes set in prison centres around Earl attempting to make a shiv for one of his fellow inmates. He takes inspiration from a display of shivs in the warden's office that has a sign reading "Do Not make Any of These".
- 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.
- Stage Mom: Shelly Stoker
- Staging an Intervention: When Earl decides to abandon his list, his friends stage an intervention to make him be good again.
- Straight Gay: Stuart, although he may be Bi.
- Straight Man: Darnell
- Stunned Silence: When Randy busts out an impressive opera solo in preparation for "Estrada Or Nada" Joy and Earl just stare in stunned amazement.
- Also, everyone in the courtroom while the prosecuting attorney plays Earl's 911 calls over Joy's crazy behaviour.
- Superstition Episode: In an episode Randy makes Earl stay where he is because a black cat crosses his path; then just as the 5 hours (or however long it's supposed to take for the bad luck to dissipate) is up, it crosses his path again. Earl takes this as a sign from Karma to do a list item where he stole a woman's cat.
- 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!"
- The Teaser
- This Is for Emphasis, Bitch! - Nescobar A-Lop-Lop:
Earl: "How's your English going?"
Nescobar: "I speak better than you, bitch."
- 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 accidentally 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 did love 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.
- Jason Lee sure isn't unattractive, but Earl is portrayed as a slob, wearing the same clothes for weeks on end, his hair always a mess and that enormous mustache. Still, he's picked up several very attractive women, including marrying Joy and Billie.
- Inverted with Frank and Billie's cousin, and the Earl's Fourth Date Marriage to Ralph's mother, especially when she leaves him for the elderly lead singer of Phish Tahko.
- Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny: Earl and Randy arguing about children's show characters, Joy and Darnell about Joy's relatives.
- Uncatty Resemblance: Every cat in the Camden Cat Show.
- The Unfair Sex: Zig-zagged in "Look Who's Coming Out of Joy," a Whole Episode Flashback filling in the details surrounding Joy cheating on Earl with Darnell. Previous episodes skimmed it over and even Played for Laughs but here her actions weren't condoned, although it did soften her a little with regards to the circumstances. The episode shows that Earl did take the news hard after it sunk in and technically left her for an afternoon before his dad convinced him to stick with a cheating wife and two kids that weren't his. But the interesting thing is his dad didn't really like Joy and only did it so that Earl knew what it meant to take care of someone (and keep Earl from moving back in with him). In hindsight Earl considers it the only decent thing he did before he found karma, and while he and Joy never really loved each other for the time they were together they needed each other.
- Unfortunate Item Swap: Chubby has two guns, a real gun and an identical-looking water pistol he keeps filled with vodka. He accidentally kills himself (offscreen, between episodes) when he tries to squirt some vodka into his mouth with the wrong gun.
- Unrequited Love Switcheroo: Randy and Catalina
- Vanity Plate: Amigos De Garcia Productions has a different person wearing a sombrero each time. Once it was a cat that was in the episode.
- Visions of Another Self: The story writing episode in the prison.
- 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).
- Wheel o' Feet: Hilariously used in a police sketch of the titular character.
- 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.
- Your Favorite: For Randy - Baloney (Favorite food overall), and Animal Crackers (Favorite animal shaped food).
- You Wanna Get Sued?: Earl reads to the trailer park children, "The Adventures of Trazan the Ape-Man". According to Earl the Camden Library couldn't afford real classics and had to settle for the knockoffs.