October 3, 2012




WHERE WE WERE:  The town of Natesville, where the Chance clan–Jimmy (Lucas Neff), mom Virginia (Martha Plimpton), dad Burt (Garret Dillahunt) and ancient Maw-Maw (Cloris Leachman)–indeed raise Jimmy’s daughter by a now (as far as we know) deceased death row inmate.  After a couple of seasons pining after Sabrina (Shannon Woodward), who works with Jimmy at the local Howdy’s store, Jimmy finally made his move last season, and the two have become a couple.

WHERE WE ARE:  For the first time, Sabrina’s family home.  We found out last season that she was born rich (but kept that secret because she didn’t want people treating her differently), and now the whole Chance clan–not all of them invited–have shown up for the wake of Sabrina’s grandmother (Tippi Hedren).  This means we also meet Sabrina’s mother Tamara, fittingly played by Hedren’s real-life daughter Melanie Griffith.  Nana’s videotaped will reveals that the house now belongs to Sabrina–but she can’t move in until she’s married.  That prompts more than one proposal by Jimmy.

RAISING HOPE flies oddly under the radar, both critically and with viewers.  It’s one of the most inventive shows on television, full of witty wordplay (tonight Virginia mistook the name of the founder of Scientology for L. More Leonard) and elaborate visuals (when Jimmy found out that at various times, Sabrina had wanted her dream proposal to be delivered from a white horse, on a Jumbotron, and via skywriting, he managed to combine all three).  It’s also emotional in a consistently buoyant way, delivering again in the season premiere with Sabrina’s heartfelt response to Jimmy’s most desperate proposal.  Perhaps it’s the lower-middle-class millieu, or the fact that the show seems to take place more or less in the same world as Garcia’s earlier My Name Is Earl, or the mix of low-brow bodily function gags with frequent structural daring, but the series never seems to get its proper credit.

Hope‘s creator Greg Garcia, who wrote and directed last night’s Season 3 premiere, is as good at casting as anyone in the business.  Prior ot Hope, one would never have imagined Martha Plimpton and Garret Dillahunt, both veterans of much serious drama, as too-young-to-be-grandparents in such a madcap world, but they’re delightful.  And if Neff is a bit lightweight as Jimmy, he’s game for whatever Garcia throws at him (including recurring flashbacks to his glamour-punk days, characterized by Burt in the premiere as “Insane Clown Wussie”).  The guest-star casting is consistently surprising and ingenious (also a highlight of Earl)–kudos to the somewhat alarming-looking Griffith for being willing to play a character in the premiere whose storyline revolves around excessive plastic surgery, and to Garcia for landing the rarely-seen Hedren to play her mother.

Hope is an eternal bubble show in the ratings, and removed this season from the shelter of last year’s New Girl lead-in, the results weren’t pretty last night (which didn’t help the much blander family comedy Ben and Kate in the adjacent half-hour).  In truth, the series isn’t ideally suited to an 8PM slot, with its punchlines last night that touched on coke, heroin, the faking of orgasms, and some pretty obvious “adult stuff” happening in a bathtub.  It’s just a couple of ticks away from being a “cult” show, never a good designation on network TV.  One hopes it finds a way to survive, though.  Hope may not be the edgiest or most exciting comedy on the air, but it has genuine distinctiveness and soul.


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."