Why 'Raising Hope' is the Best New Comedy on TV
by Joel Keller, posted Nov 23rd 2010 5:00PM
This fall has been a bit of a bump in the road for what was supposed to be a comeback of comedy on network television. The crop of sitcoms that bowed in September have been a mixed bag of quality and ratings.
'Mike & Molly' has done well since day one, and it's steadily improving from its fat-joke-laden beginning. '$#*! My Dad Says' may be steadying creatively, but less people are watching it every week. 'Outsourced' has its detractors and supporters, but it's being moved to 10:30PM in January. And 'Running Wilde' is about to disappear from FOX's lineup, despite the presence of Mitch Hurwitz and Will Arnett.
Only one new sitcom that has been consistently strong both creatively and in the ratings this fall: 'Raising Hope' on FOX. Creator Greg Garcia has managed to put together a show that seems to satisfy people who want gross-out humor as well as people who want to watch warm fuzzy family comedy, while throwing in some edginess from time to time.
Some reasons why the show has been fun to watch so far:
It's not portraying its characters as morons. Sure, the Chance family has been down on its luck for a long, long time, and they're not the most educated bunch in the world. But they're sincere in their intentions. Burt Chance (Garret Dillahunt) may have some wild ideas, but he's managed to build himself a struggling landscaping business, and Virginia Chance (Martha Plimpton) is eking out a living cleaning houses. They have managed to keep Maw Maw (Cloris Leachman) from wandering off too many times, and, despite the fact that Jimmy (Lucas Neff) can't take any clues from them in the parenting department, they've managed to raise a guy who's rapidly becoming a good father himself.
Jimmy Chance is stepping up as a father. How Garcia has written his main character, Jimmy Chance, has been the key to the show's success. Again, he's not the most educated guy on the planet, but instead of making Jimmy so clueless that he puts Hope in dangerous or absurd situations, Garcia has made Jimmy more mature and responsible than his parents in a lot of ways. For instance, when Hope had the sniffles, he did everything he could do to make sure she had insurance, something that Burt was never able to do ("I'll just ask the butler to get it out of our hot air balloon," he says to Jimmy when he asks, as if that's an extreme luxury to have).
So Jimmy's working at the supermarket, he's lined up day care (more on that in a second), and he admonishes his parents when they do things like give her a meat bone to play with. He may not be the best dad in the world, but so far, he's one of the most responsible ones on TV.
The "will they/won't they" is being kept at a simmer for now. Sure, we all know that Jimmy's got a big ol' crush on his supermarket colleague Sabrina (Shannon Woodward), but Garcia and his writers seem to be content to let this pairing build organically for the time being. There are episodes where you just see the two of them interact as friends, such as when she helped Jimmy fill out the application for a hardship grant to an elite daycare center. Woodward has brought a smart, wiseass sensibility to the show that keeps it from being too sweet; I'm happy to see her character develop without being bogged down by a romantic dance with Jimmy.
Kate Micucci and her funny songs. The first time most people encountered Micucci was when she played Stephanie Gooch during the eighth season of 'Scrubs.' What stood out about her, of course, was when she broke out her guitar or ukulele and sung one of her adorable but funny songs. As dog/baby caretaker Shelley, Micucci has found a home for those songs, and Garcia's making liberal use of them. My favorite was this song she sung to the dogs in her care, wondering why they get so worked up over the doorbell:
Martha Plimpton. Seeing Plimpton in the role of a grandmother, even a young one, is disconcerting at first. She made her career playing the girl who was soulful and artistic and troubled. But as Virginia, she's what may have happened to that troubled soul twenty years later. Many actresses would play Virginia with a lot less subtlety than Plimpton does; yes, Virginia regrets getting knocked up as a teenager, and she is constantly wanting more out of life than what she has.
Plimpton also conveys a sense of warmth and caring that you might not expect on first glance; she still loves the lug that knocked her up, and she cares about her son and granddaughter, even if she doesn't dote over either. As Garcia proved during the run of 'My Name is Earl' that people who seem irredeemable on first glance have reservoirs of warmth and compassion running deep within them. And Virginia is an especially good example of that.
Cloris Leachman is used sparingly. As much as we'd all like to see more of Cloris, Garcia's done a nice job of using Maw Maw sparingly in most episodes. Sure, she still has the capacity to take her top off in a group of children, as we saw in the 'Blue Dots' episode, but there have been entire episodes where we've only seen her in one or two scenes or not at all (such is the plight of the "special guest star"... the contract isn't for the entire 22 episodes).
Have you been enjoying 'Raising Hope' so far?
'Raising Hope' airs Tuesdays at 9PM ET on FOX.
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