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October 7, 2015

Greg Garcia on the 'Raising Hope' Season Finale & Cloris Leachman's Freakish Strength

by Joel Keller, posted May 16th 2011 4:00PM
Between seasons of a television show, most showrunners talk about breaking stories for the following season. Some talk about going on a much-needed vacation. Greg Garcia of 'Raising Hope' does something a little different: He runs contests on his Twitter feed.

'Raising Hope' - 'Don't Vote for This Episode'
"I'd done a little bit of the Twittering there once we stopped shooting because I thought well, I'm bored, I'll do it," he told me last week. "I was at a gas station and there was a pay phone, and I thought, well this'll be funny. So I tweeted, 'the first person to call this phone number gets $100.' And immediately, a guy from New Jersey called, and I sent him two fifties in the mail. So I've just been doing it for the last couple weeks. And it's been fun."

It's easy to be relaxed when your show gets an early renewal from your network; of all of FOX's freshman live-action comedies, 'Hope' was the only one to survive to its sophomore year, and will be airing at 9:30PM on Tuesdays starting in the fall. I spoke to Garcia about the season finale (Tues., May 17, 9PM ET on Fox), the challenges of the first season and why it's not wise to run away from Cloris Leachman.

The last time I talked to you was before the season started. Back then, it was tough for me to get a handle on what 'Raising Hope' was about.
It was probably tough for me to get a handle on what it was about. [Laughs]

Now that a whole season's gone by, what did you see the show turning into? What do you think it started the season as, and what did it finish the season as?
Well, it's not like I create a show and I know 100% where these shows are going to go. You write a pilot by yourself and you come up with a premise of a show, and you have an idea of what the engine is going to be that creates stories. With this show, the most obvious thing you know is they're going to be raising a baby, and there's going to be questions that they have, and struggles that they have related to raising a baby and having no idea what they're doing. So we kind of knew that that was going to happen.

But the things you don't really know is kind of all the dynamics with all the characters, and what's the relationship with Martha [Plimpton] and Garret [Dillahunt] going to be like, and how are we going to get just husband/wife stories off that, but husband/wife stories that are more specific to our characters and their lives and stuff.

Most of the changes have been subtle; there's more stories about some of the people that surround the family, for instance.
Oh sure. Yeah, and I mean, that's definitely conscious. Certainly, in the beginning of the series, you try to really get to know the main characters. And they have the problem of this baby, and what they're doing, and what have you. But as you go on, you want to populate the world. We did the same thing on 'My Name is Earl.' We like to find a lot of side characters. And I don't want to just have them in the show once and then they go away. So certainly, we like to keep introducing new characters, but then learn more about them. And I think we're going to do that in season two as well. To me, it keeps it fresh.

Martha and Garret's characters are also a little bit more savvy, a little bit aware that maybe they made mistakes in bringing Jimmy up.
Yeah! I think that's by design, only because I think that given the situation they're in, and having to ... you know, they're older now than they were when they brought Jimmy [played by Lucas Neff] up, and they know more, regardless of the baby being in the house or not. They do know more than they did when they brought Jimmy up. And I think early in the series, your knee jerk reaction is to defend yourself and say oh, no, what we did was just fine, you know, in a defensive manner. Whereas, as you live with this baby, and you're a little older, and a tiny bit wiser, I think you can start to realize, oh man, maybe we did screw up. I'm gonna defend myself still, but also, maybe we did screw up a little bit. So I think that should show through.

Tell us a little about what is going on in the season finale.
It's actually a flashback episode. It's funny we were talking about flashbacks earlier. But this flashback is five years ago. It's an idea we were talking about it, and we felt like it really was a great idea for the season finale. The story itself explains why they live with Maw Maw and sheds a new light on that, which was a fun story for us to do. It also provided an opportunity to really bring back a lot of the characters we've met during the first season, and answer a lot of questions about who they are, and why they are, and where they're at. So it's fun. It certainly stands on its own, if you've never seen the show. It's probably my favorite episode of the season. But if you did watch the show throughout the season, there's a lot of little fun nuggets for you as well.

So are we going to see Amy Sedaris or J.K. Simmons again, or some of the other folks we've seen along the way?
Everybody that's kind of more of a semi-regular character is around. But there is a couple little surprises. But it's not ... no, it's not bringing back some of the bigger characters like that. Although now that we've met those people and they're relatives of our family, I'm hoping to see more of them in season two.

There was word that maybe Amy was going to come back next year, and perhaps be a regular. Any way you can talk about that? Or anybody else that might come back next year that we only saw semi-regularly this year?
Well we made a deal with Gregg Binkley, who plays the grocery store manager, and he'll be back on a semi-regular basis. I wasn't aware there was some word that Amy would be coming back as a regular, but I love Amy to death and love working with her, so I'd love to have her come back at some point.

One of the more interesting parts of the season has been kind of this dynamic between Jimmy and Sabrina. It's a very low-wattage will-they-won't they scenario? How do you keep that from becoming the dominating part of the show?
Yeah, that's the dance with it. Like how much do you do? And we've figured things out from here to there. We've had different options, and then it's always kind of felt right, at least for the first season, to just kind of keep it in the background and let it flare up from time to time. We're not 100% sure what we're doing in season two. And by we, I say me, because I've been a little bit wishy-washy on this, and I go back and forth. And there are certain people who have ideas for either way that they lobby for, and I'm always a little nervous, because I feel like, like you said, you don't want it to become... it can take over. So it's something we're going to be discussing in the next couple months, and see how we'll deal with that in season two. I don't think that romantic comedy has been my strong suit of writing...relationships and that kind of thing...and I think that's why I have a little bit of a fear of when we delve into it.

Where does the fear come from?
That I won't do a good job with the relationship kind of stuff.

Isn't it tough for pretty much any writer to figure it out, that romantic part?
Maybe. I mean, I just know for me, when we talk about, "OK, this happens in the relationship," I get too obsessed with "OK well then what does that mean in the next one, and the next one, and the next one, and where is that going to take us, and is that going to take it down a bad road?" And once we do something drastic one way or another, then we're set on that path. So it just makes me a little nervous. Whenever you change dynamics with characters in a show, all of sudden, now you're on a different path. And that just makes me a little nervous, that's all. But we'll figure it out.

Where do you go with Maw Maw? Can you keep doing every episode with, her just being semi-lucid, not lucid, thinking it's 50 years ago, thinking that Garret's her husband?
Um...you know what? You either do it in small doses and you get a lot of bang for your buck when you're using it, or you're right, you have to find different things. I mean, for the most part, the only times we can really delve into her character is when she's lucid. In the flashback episodes, she's lucid. So it was really an opportunity to see more Maw Maw and use her in a different way.

But it's a good question, and I think it's something that we will continue to ask ourselves and struggle with. Because when you have a character who is crazy, then how do you make them more than just crazy? I think that's a good question. We can't all of a sudden cure her from being crazy, but we can certainly lengthen our moments of lucidity from time to time. And we don't want to fall into a trap that like oh, Maw Maw's being lucid is the solution to the story every week, you know. So it's something that we keep an eye on. I don't think there's an exact answer to it, but she's a great actress, so you want to use her as much as you can.

Anything in Cloris Leachman's personality, or anything that she's suggested that's made it's way into Maw Maw at all?
Well she'd tell me stories. She used to live with a family member who suffered from dementia, and she would tell me some stories about that. And you know, some of the stuff her character does, I think, we've used that as inspiration. She's more, actually, she'll spend more time quizzing me and forcing me to figure out things about her character than she will necessarily suggesting. But she'll constantly be asking me, you know, what did she do for a living, what was her back story, and I have to shamefully admit I'm not sure, (laughs) and then have to go come up with stuff.

Damn it, those Oscar winning actresses.
Yeah, I know. They want to do everything right. But you know, the thing about her though is just, on set and everything, I mean, she does have ideas, and she's very smart with comedy. There'll be times where she'll suggest something, like she'll want to be hiding under a table eating candy in the Halloween show, and I just had her sitting in the chair, and I go, oh, I don't want you to have to get under a table. You know, here I am thinking oh, you know, you're 85 years old, I don't want to have to get ya... And she's like, "but it's funnier." And I was like, "Yeah, you know, it is." And then she gets down there and it's funnier. So she's a joy to have around.

But she's more active than probably you or I ...
Oh my god, oh, way more. She has chased me down. She didn't want me to eat a crèpe one day because it was going to be bad for me. And she chased me down on stage, grabbed me, and held onto me. I could not get away. She's like cheetah if she wants to be.

That's interesting. She just goes, "Don't eat that crèpe it's bad for you," and she basically held you back from eating it?
Yeah! She said it's bad for you, she didn't want me eating the crèpe, and then I took off running and I figured well, I can outrun an 85 year old woman, and if she catches me, I'm pretty sure I can get away from her. Neither of those things were true.

After that episode, I was just a little bit more afraid of her to ever say no to her about anything, knowing that she could kick my ass. That was pretty much it. (chuckling) That's what I left that experience with.

'Raising Hope' airs Tuesdays at 9PM ET on Fox.

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