November 16, 2013

THE SKED Season Premiere Review: “Raising Hope”



With series creator Greg Garcia spending his time these days (God help him) at his new The Millers, there’s been a change of regime at RAISING HOPE, which had its belated Season 4 debut tonight with back-to-back episodes.  The new showrunner is Mike Mariano, who’s been with the series from the start (and before that was a writer/producer on Garcia’s My Name Is Earl).  Under his helm, the transition is barely perceptible, even if tonight’s episodes weren’t vintage Hope.

The official season premiere, written and directed by Mariano, crossed the slim but important line between bizarre logic and none at all.  The set-up was promising enough, as all the Chances, Virginia (Martha Plimpton), Burt (Garret Dillahunt) and Jimmy (Lucas Neff), realized that at various times over the past decades, the same strange man (guest star Jeffrey Tambor) had been periodically following them around town, taking surreptitious photos and/or questioning them about their lives.  (He was variously known as Deja-Vu Man, Cookie Man and Super-Curious Guy.)  The initial pay-off was good:  the mysterious visitor was Virginia’s long-lost birth father, who Maw-Maw (Cloris Leachman) had told her was dead.  After that, though, the episode ran out of steam, as the third act twist was that he hadn’t vanished from her life because he was gay and couldn’t handle small-town life in the 1970s as he claimed, but because he was too self-obsessed to care about her at all.  That didn’t jibe with the whole idea that he’d then spent years secretly following Virginia, her husband and son around, and it all petered off into a more mean-spirited ending than Hope usually provides, as Virginia decided she was better off without her father.  For all that, there were sharp bits in the half-hour, like the postmodern recap of previous episodes at the start (a reminder for forgetful Maw-Maw), Virginia’s refusal to believe that Delaware was a real place (“Name one person who’s ever been to Delaware!”), and some time at the local hair salon, The Barber of Nate Seville.

The night’s second episode, written by Co-Executive Producer Joey Gutierrez and directed by Rebecca Asher, had more edge, as the story of Virginia and Burt setting up a barter economy for themselves and their friends became a satire of the economic meltdown and “too big to fail,” with the two of them printing wheelbarrows full of  “Burt-Bucks” to pay for their lobsters, maple syrup and crocheted clothing before the Weimar-like economic collapse hit.  The B story had Jimmy being ridiculed because wife Sabrina (Shannon Woodward) kept saving his life, until the reveal that he was the real hero, because he shielded her from the constantly critical postcards her mother sent from her travels.  (It was a bad night for absent mothers and fathers.)  Nothing exceptional, but there was a bright montage of Virginia’s and Burt’s brief life of excess, including sex on a bed laden with Burt-Bucks (“It’s gonna be real hard to go back to coins.”), and a guest spot from old Earl favorite Eddie Steeples.

Because Hope‘s milieu is lower-income (and for the most part lower-intelligence), it doesn’t get nearly as much credit for its sneaky cleverness and ingenuity as it deserves.  It’s never been a ratings standout, so one can view its move to Fridays as either a banishment or a welcome switch to a night where low numbers are the norm.  Certainly if it can do the same ratings on its new night as it did on Tuesdays, it would be considered a solid success.  In any case, while the show may not be at its creative peak, it still seems to have plenty of life left in it despite the change in management.

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."