SEASON REVIEW: Raising Hope, Season One

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Raising Hope follows the lead of Greg Garcia‘s last series, My Name is Earl, centred around a lower class family dealing with a crisis that changes everything. I was a big fan of Earl, and predicted success for Raising Hope. What did I think of the first season?

Though Raising Hope never quite reached the heights of Earl’s opening year, it was a half-hour every week I could depend on to make me smile.

The show centres around Jimmy Chance (Lucas Neff) a likeable young man who nonetheless has no real direction in life, after his serial killer ex-girlfriend is executed, leaving him with their newborn daughter. Jimmy, alongside his dim-but-adorable father Burt (Garret Dillahunt, in a stark departure from his typical sociopathic mastermind roles), industrious mother Virginia (Martha Plimpton), and Alzheimer’s-ridden great-grandmother Maw Maw (Cloris Leachman), vows to raise the baby in a loving home. Meanwhile, Jimmy chases after the grounded, charming grocery cashier Sabrina (Shannon Marie Woodward). The first season was twenty-two episodes.

Hope is irresistibly cute. Although much of the humour comes from Jimmy and his ilk not quite knowing as much as the audience, the tone of the show is never malicious. You are encouraged to genuinely like and appreciate this family, just as you do your own family and friends, as they bond over this baby. Though the show leaned on their quirks a little hard in the establishing phase of the season, once the table was set, the meal was delicious. The cast has a natural chemistry, which means that the writers can be a little gentler and hold back on the ‘wacky’ elements, which they figured out partway through the season.

The show was remarkably consistent, though it ranged from a 5- to a 7- on a 10-point scale. On the low end were “Burt Rocks” (1.10), which felt like the script came in weak and the producers decided it would lean well enough on Jason Lee‘s guest appearance, “Snip Snip” (1.15), which took the comedy to some really uncomfortable places, and “Cheaters” (1.18), which took Jimmy to the place of official douchebag, as he repeatedly tries to engineer te situation so that Sabrina cheats on her boyfriend with him, without any consideration for her feelings. Other than these, the episodes would usually stay pretty consistent, with at least a laugh or two in the episode.

And the show had a handful of episodes that stood out within the pack:

  • “Family Secrets” (1.06), in which Jimmy tracks down Virginia’s mother and learns the truth about why Virginia was raised by Maw Maw and not her own mother. Not only was there some fun comedy (particularly in Jimmy learning he’s not allergic to fruit and going overboard), but there was a touching ending that really solidified the bond between Virginia and Maw Maw.
  • “Romeo and Romeo” (1.12), in which Jimmy encounters another young man in the same circumstances and befriending him. Not only was the chemistry perfect between Lucas Neff and Brandon T. Jackson (as friend Justin), but the show gave the Chances a nice win by having Jimmy turn out a better guy than Justin. Not only that, but there was a lot of fun to the dual dinner sequence, in which both families predictably have the same conversation – only to keep it going afterward, mishmashing each fathers’ work stories until they become hilariously wrong.
  • “Sleep Training” (1.19), wherein Justin’s parents recommend the family try to sleep-train Hope, while Jimmy gets embroiled in his hippie girlfriend’s drug-induced adventure to Howdy’s. Not only does this episode feature every castmember at their best, it gives them all a decent character story in among the jokes, as Burt and Virginia have to learn to let both Hope and a drugged-up Jimmy face their fears alone.
  •  “Baby Monitor” (1.21), which actually uses guest stars Ethan Suplee and Jaime Pressly, both of My Name is Earl fame, to great use instead of squandering them. Both are hilarious as they tangle with the meddling of Burt, while Virginia unintentionally gets dragged into things. Suplee and Pressly have such great chemistry with Plimpton and Dillahunt that I definitely wouldn’t mind seeing both again. Which, considering Pressly will be employed next season on another FOX sitcom, isn’t impossible. And while the parents were having fun, the subplot was also brilliant. In order to compete in the Howdy’s commercial contest, Jimmy and Sabrina’s boss charges each employee to make a commercial to enter. The ensuing commercials – Jimmy’s Lord of the Rings-inspired fantasy, Frank’s (Todd Giebenhain) ode to himself, and Sabrina’s old-school musical – are all hilarious pieces of comedy, making for a very fun episode.
  • “Do Not Vote For This Episode” (1.22), the season finale and contender for best episode of the season. A show about how everything can change suddenly jumps back six years to when everything was different. We get to see where many characters saw their lives suddenly in both hilarious and touching ways. The family, as of Jimmy’s eighteenth birthday, were finally thrown out by a completely lucid, fearsome Maw Maw, tired of their mooching ways. We see Virginia and Burt before they really grew into responsible adults, and Jimmy when he was a ridiculous goth. Sabrina, Frank, Shelley, Barney, and even background recurrer Dancing Dan have a moment where everything changes, and it rarely feels forced. The most touching part of the episode is when Maw Maw, whom it had been implied was being exploited for her house (especially in early episodes), realises she is feeling the first symptoms of Alzheimer’s, and the family agrees to move back in to take care of her. The show’s treatment of Maw Maw’s “craziness” got better as the season moved on, with the show treating her less often like the family pet and more like a woman whose struggles with reality were somewhat comparable with her family’s struggles with responsibility. Knowing that the family weren’t just squatting in her house and hoping she never became lucid really helped in not feeling disturbed by their interactions with Maw Maw. And goth Jimmy is the joke that will always make me laugh.

One thing this season did well was develop a great cast chemistry. Sabrina, though she spends most of her time with Jimmy, feels like part of the family by end-of-season, with that sure to increase in the second season. Each character feels fully realised, with hopes, fears, strengths and flaws of their own. It also developed a very strong stable of recurring presences on the show: sweet babysitter Shelley (Kate Micucci), creepy co-worker Frank (Todd Giebenhain), clueless boss Barney (Gregg Brinkley), and useless cousin Mike (Skyler Stone). The show also has a few useful fringe guest stars with potential for returns, if once or twice a season: Greg Germann and Valerie Mahaffey as Hope’s (now incarcerated) grandparents on her mother’s side; Brandon T. Jackson as Justin and his parents, played by Tichina Arnold and Phill Lewis, who befriended Burt and Virginia, and J.K. Simmons as Burt’s estranged brother.

The best was I can usually judge a sitcom is the number of episodes in a season with replay value. That’s not how many I’d watch if it happened to be on, but how many I’d happily turn on if I had a bad day. How I Met Your Mother, a show that I found superlative, had about 19/22 with replay capability. My Name is Earl, which had a great season, at roughly 12. Raising Hope isn’t far off that with 9. That’s a decent amount, and when combined with the fact that there are only three I wouldn’t watch if they were on TV, means I came out of this season feeling warmly about the show.

Not quite the home run that My Name is Earl‘s first season was – mostly because Earl had a sitcom classic within its first season with “Y2K” (1.19) – Raising Hope is still a solid show that’s already showing signs of creative growth. I’m very much looking forward to season two.

One Response to “SEASON REVIEW: Raising Hope, Season One”
  1. pinkyy8081 says:

    It’s hard not to like a show like this because it embodies such emotion and many people can relate to it. The characters are extremely funny from beginning to end and that’s what I liked about it. I loved Maw Maw and Burt , well the entire cast and I heard its been renewed for a second season so I’m sure to watch and even if I’m at work, I can still watch it with help from the DISH Remote Access app. The app works with my Sling Adapter so I can watch live and pre-recorded content and I don’t even have to be at home. The adapter was $99 but it’s free for DISH customers! People can go check it out here and now that I work at DISH, I know people are getting the best value possible!

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