I complain when it’s warranted, but let it not be said that I don’t say good things about a shown when that’s warranted, too. For instance, I’m very happy to tell you that last season My Name is Earl completely lost its way, that no one needed to see Earl in jail for a half a season, that no one needed to see him in a coma for an extended period of time, and that no one really liked Alyssa Milano’s character (not her fault, I’m sure she’s a lovely person). I’m also very happy to tell you that this season My Name is Earl still seems to be on the right track. Sure, no one is watching the show anymore, and a lot of that is probably due to the disastrous previous season, but last night’s episode was truly funny.

The skeptics out there will tell me that the reason last night’s episode worked so well is that it was just a play on two of the funniest episodes Earl has done (one of which, if I recall correctly, did actually air last year) — the Cops episodes. Obviously they couldn’t go back and do a third episode of Cops returning to Camden, so they instead had another show, Inside Probe, come to Camden to investigate a crime.

In this case, the show is there to discover what exactly happened to Ernie Belcher, the owner of the Crab Shack. Apparently, Ernie disappeared many a year a go and Geraldo Rivera — the substitute host of Inside Probe — is on the case! It really is just the Cops episodes again, but they worked well, so why not try to do something similar?

The basic concept behind it is successful because watching the folks from Camden we get to see over and over again just how… well… stupid they are. Having people from outside Camden come in and reveal to the rest of the world the foolishness of the Camdenites adds a note of reality to the series — we get to see that it’s not the entire world of Earl that lacks intelligence, it’s just Camden.

The other reason that this specific episode was funny (outside of Geraldo) was that it didn’t exist in a vacuum. The episode overtly referenced the Cops episodes of seasons past, and even the stuff that has happened to Earl in previous episodes. At one point last night Earl said something along the lines of “me in a coma, no one wants to see that.” Which, if you read the preceding paragraphs you’ll know is funny because it’s true – no one wanted to see that. Earl saying that wasn’t quite an apology for the wayward storylines we were subjected to last year, but it was probably as close as the show will ever get. At least, that is, until the show gets dropped from NBC at the end of this season (okay, that’s not a done deal, but rumors abound).

The episode even finished with a relatively funny tag. Inside Probe announced that they would have to continue the story next week because they were out of time. When some of the gang complained about the show not being an hour long, Darnell explained that the network hadn’t ordered enough episodes and didn’t want to do a repeat during the all-important Sweep so they divided the episode into two. Want to guess what the opinion of the folks over at Earl is about this episode not getting aired as a full hour?

Perhaps someone should have explained to them that no one wanted to see Earl in a coma and that if that hadn’t taken place the numbers for the series might be better and NBC would have ordered more episodes.