March 29, 2013



Greg Garcia has made a successful niche for himself on network television as poet of the lower-middle-class, small-town, gently surrealist sitcom, first with My Name Is Earl and now with RAISING HOPE.  The only problem with Garcia’s type of show is that the constant requirement for more inventively conceptual, eccentric storylines can lead to visible strain–that happened toward the end of Earl‘s run, and in Hope‘s third season, there were some evident cracks, making the show a still-worthwhile but more hit-or-miss proposition.

The season got off to a strong start by pushing forward with the wedding of Jimmy Chance (Lucas Neff) and his dream girl Sabrina (Shannon Woodward), instead of putting the event off as some other shows would have done.  (The casting of Melanie Griffith as Sabrina’s mother was also pretty inspired.)  The proposal and wedding episodes were among Hope‘s best, expertly mixing oddball comedy with genuine emotions.  Once the couple was wed, though–and although they inherited Sabrina’s grandmother’s house, they still seemed to more or less live with Jimmy’s parents Virginia (Martha Plimpton) and Burt (Garret Dillahunt) and Jimmy’s great-grandmother Maw-Maw (Cloris Leachman)–the show became a bit becalmed, reaching for contrived concepts like a 2-parter set in LA where Burt was briefly a Hollywood golden boy and Hope became a kids’ show star, as well as an all-out My Name Is Earl reunion episode where all the Earl actors who’ve previously made separate appearances (as new characters) on Hope joined in a band with Burt and Virginia.

Tonight’s back-to-back season finale episodes also relied on gimmickry.  The first, written by Co-Executive Producers Paul A. Kaplan and Mark Torgove and directed by Eyal Gordon, had Burt’s parents (guest stars Hope Lange and Lee Majors) appearing to announce that his mother, and thus Burt himself, was actually Jewish, and telling him he needed to be bar-mitzvahed (this all turned out to be a con his parents were running to get the party gifts).  The story was told as a semi-musical, with two mock-Broadway numbers about Jewish food, and a parody 1980s rock video.  The latter worked best, stylishly directed by Gordon, but at this point the idea of a musical episode isn’t nearly as unique as it was in the days of Joss Whedon’s brilliant Buffy the Vampire Slayer hour (hell, even Grey’s Anatomy did one last year), and Hope‘s was hampered by the fact that none of its regular cast appears to be very musically gifted.  There were some fun bits, but the concept overwhelmed the slight story.

The actual season finale, written by Garcia himself and directed by Rick Kelly, made use of another less than original sitcom trope:  the long-lost relative played in heavy make-up by a member of the regular cast.  In this case, it was Cloris Leachman, who played both Maw-Maw and her even more ancient mother.  There were, again, some funny moments (the nearly bald old lady is described as the little guy from Lord of the Rings), and some inventive ones (Maw-Maw’s flashback to the fight she’d had with her mother 70 years ago was staged as a silent movie–although, to be nitpicky, that fight would have taken place in the 1940s, more than a decade after The Jazz Singer).  None of it felt particularly organic, though–and it was a little odd to have a Mother’s Day storyline in March, airing immediately after the show’s Easter episode.  The best moments were in the quieter B story, where Virginia’s jealousy over Hope presenting Sabrina with a Mother’s Day macaroni necklace led to Sabrina making Virginia her own necklace, saying she considered her more truly family than her real mother.

Raising Hope has already been renewed for next season (with mediocre but steady ratings), but has it jumped the shark?  Not yet, or at worst in very slow motion.  The show’s cast is still first-rate across the board, with Dillahunt able to come up with endless variations on amiable dimwittedness, and Plimpton superb at playing someone who’s never as smart as she thinks–or as stupid as she seems.  But Hope has probably gone to the well enough with stories about Burt and Virginia’s semi-goodhearted horrible parenting of Jimmy as a child, and now that Jimmy and Sabrina are married and settled, the show needs to find a new emotional engine to fuel stories and keep the series from feeling as though it’s too preoccupied with its own gimmicks.  At its best, Hope‘s big heart is equal to its cleverness, and as the show ages, it may be an increasing struggle to maintain that balance.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."