After co-creating the pedestrian domestic comedy Yes, Dear, writer/producer Greg Garcia found greater commercial and critical success with a pair of outrageous sitcoms, My Name Is Earl (NBC, 2005-2009) and Raising Hope, which has just been renewed for its third season on FOX.
Where We Are Right Now
A Virginia native who attended college in small-town Maryland, Garcia has been cagey about naming exactly where the fictional towns of Camden (Earl) and Natesville (Hope) are set, but he's also liberally sprinkled both shows with regional references that strongly imply both small towns are in the general vicinity of his old stomping grounds. As a result, both shows wrestle with small-town southern stereotypes.
Speaking Truth Through Exaggeration
As a small-town southern boy myself, I've always felt that most TV shows approach the small-town south in a distinctly condescending fashion. (Yes, I'm looking right at you, Hart of Dixie.) But what's impressive about both My Name Is Earl and Raising Hope is that even given the outlandish premises and deliberately over-the-top characters that populate both shows, Garcia treats both his characters and their surroundings with more respect than either often get in popular culture.
The Civil War Is Over
Although I've lived in Boston for over 10 years, I'm still amazed at the reflexive prejudice many New Englanders still hold against the south, particularly in terms of race relations. While I am the first to admit that there's still far too much racism all over the U.S., My Name Is Earl in particular was far closer to most Americans' lives whether southern or not: Earl (Jason Lee) and Randy (Ethan Suplee) listened to as much hip-hop as they did Lynyrd Skynyrd, and the interracial aspect of the marriage of Joy (Jaime Pressly) and Darnell (Eddie Steeples) was never even commented upon. Ditto Randy's infatuation with the Latina character Catalina (Nadine Velazquez).
The Mobility of Class
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There's a little-remarked-upon similarity between My Name Is Earl and Raising Hope. The below-the-poverty-line trailer park denizens of Earl and the working-class Chance family of Hope were not born into those socioeconomic circumstances. Multiple flashbacks in both shows reveal that the Hickey boys, Joy, and both Burt (Garrett Dillahunt) and Virginia Chance (Martha Plimpton) grew up in average middle-class surroundings, then backslid, due to laziness and petty larceny on Earl's part and teenage pregnancy for the Chances. Naturally, there's room for political argument on exactly why these things happened, but it does disprove the idea of a Tobacco Road-like permanent underclass.