Fall TV In Review, pt. 4: Raising Hope

Raising Hope was one of those shows that came out of nowhere and hit me like a train. At the time, I wasn’t watching any Fox shows, since House has gotten… well… lame, and Glee was – at the time – awful. Furthermore, it was created by the same guy who made My Name is Earl – a series I not only had zero interest in, but actively despised. [Something about Jason Lee sends me into fits of white-hot rage. I don’t understand it, but I don’t need to.] So with all that in mind, I’m not sure why I started watching it; I’m just glad I did.

The show, in a nutshell, is the story of your average under-achieving man-child – Jimmy Chance- who lives at home with his parents (who live at home with a grand-parent), gets a serial killer pregnant, inherits the child, and seeks to give her a better life than his parents gave him. It’s filled with excellent white trash humor, shocking irreverence, and sincere sentimentality. Over it’s first season and a half, it has catapulted from a show that simply filled my time to one of the shows I most look forward to each week.

No doubt the greatest asset to Raising Hope is the supporting cast. Particularly Jimmy’s parents: Burt and Virginia Chance. Burt is played by Garrett Dillahunt – who until now I had only known as smarmy, oily, and/or British. It’s a real testament to his skill then that he plays a “lower, lower, lower middle class” father, who mows lawns for a living and earnestly desires to bring back the mullet and nasty-stache. Virginia is played by Martha Plimpton, who I am hereby declaring a national treasure. I’d only seen her in one episode of Fringe, where she was a small-town sheriff up to her neck in paranormal insanity. But she remains one of the only guest stars on that show I really connected with, or even remember. As Virginia, she is a maid who constantly confuses or mispronounces words, got knocked up at 15, and tries to seem classy while wearing sponges under her armpits. Both of these two are great actors, clearly having tons of fun as a couple of well, idiots, who – against all odds – turned their shotgun wedding/pregnancy into a stable and loving relationship that is both hilarious and touching.

Anyway, as far as this season has been concerned, the show is only looking up. Sure, there have been a few missteps (Sabrina turning out to be a rich girl rebelling against high society seemed a bit forced, and I wasn’t really a fan of how bitchy she was), but there have been a few really great episodes too. Particular high points for me have been Kidnapped (which revealed that Burt was once thought missing for several months, during which Virginia eventually moved on and almost settled down with a really great guy. At the same time, it turned out that Burt was just freaked out and stressed by his family, and needed a getaway. This was all orchestrated by Maw Maw, who secretly loathed Burt), and The Men of New Natesville (which pulled back the curtain on Frank the creepy deli guy, and showed us that he and Jimmy have more in common than anyone thought, and that Frank really isn’t such a bad guy).

Raising Hope isn’t high brow. In fact, it’s the very opposite. And yet, it isn’t. I would say that Two and a Half Men is the epitome of a low-brow comedy. The laugh track, the high profile star, the sexist “humor,” etc… all this to me points to a show that is mediocre on virtually level, simply because Americans seem to value mediocre television. Raising Hope does something different and interesting. Rather than portraying the “average” family as upper middle class – or even wealthy – like most sitcoms do, it shows us a family that is straight up poor. This can make the audience uncomfortable. I mean, white people mowing lawns and cleaning toilets?!? Unconscionable! They should be doctors, lawyers, or cops. Duh.

But Raising Hope is able to take “low brow” things like sifting through poop for a golden tooth, and turn it into a story that reveals a lot about the characters: their dreams for the money, their fear of becoming “one of those people,” and the bond they share that keeps them happy even when things are bad enough to consider SIFTING THROUGH POOP FOR GOLD. It takes poop, and turns it into gold. DO YOU SEE WHAT I DID THERE?

Anyway. This show is fantastic, and I highly recommend you try it. It might not be your thing, but at least give it a… CHANCE. Ba dum cha!


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