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Family Portraits Cause Crises in Raising Hope's Say Cheese

By Edited Sep 15, 2015 0 0

Raising Hope, the goofy, family-centered comedy created by Gregory Thomas Garcia and airing after GLEE on Tuesday nights on FOX, got off to a ridiculous start. In the first episode, nearly all of the characters were a little too moronic to take, even the incredibly sweet-natured Jimmy, who finds himself a single father after the woman with whom he had a one-night stand is arrested for murder and ultimately executed. The pilot episode was so absurd that I couldn't see the show continuing for long. But then it began to tone down the stupidity, and by the fourth episode, Say Cheese, we're stuck with a family who is still very weird but is starting to feel plausible.

In this episode, Jimmy, in a fit of nostalgia, decides to buy some Shrinky Dinks, figuring that Hope will eventually have as much fun with them as he did when he was a kid. When he tells Sabrina, the snarky grocery store clerk on whom he has a raging crush, that he wishes he could use them right now, Sabrina doesn't make fun of him. Instead, she offers to join him for an afternoon of good old-fashioned fun at his house. This will be their first chance to hang out together outside of her place of employment, and Jimmy is psyched - but he's also worried. How can he let her into his loony bin of a house without scaring her away?

Martha Plimpton is again the standout actor in this episode, portraying Jimmy's rough-around-the-edges mother, Virginia. She wants Jimmy to make a move on Sabrina, so she agrees to get her husband and grandmother out of the house for a few hours. It's bad enough that Burt has been standing in one spot all day, trying to break the family record for keeping a balloon aloft by batting it back and forth with his hands, but daffy Maw Maw is convinced that she is going into labor. That really isn't something that Jimmy wants Sabrina to see. Still, as much as Virginia wants to give Jimmy his big chance, she also can't contain her curiosity about this girl, and she wants to make a good impression on her. She can't stay away for long, and soon she is busy explaining to Sabrina how she is the glue holding her zany family together.

Say Cheese is an interesting episode in that quite a bit of it occurs during flashbacks. Hope is barely involved in this episode, since she spends most of her time out of the room during the present scenes and most of the flashbacks take place before she was born. We get to spend some time with various younger versions of Jimmy, who is cute but not very well-adjusted. All of the flashbacks involve Virginia's obsession with getting a perfect family portrait taken, a discussion sparked by Sabrina's discovery of the family photo album.

Each year, Virginia meticulously chooses a theme for her family, forcing them to wear uncomfortable costumes in hopes of having an impressive portrait to show off to anyone who might happen by. However, each year, she becomes so irritable and stressed out in the process that the rest of the family ends up miserable and the portrait session is a disaster. We learn that Jimmy has an embarrassing affliction; whenever he becomes really nervous, he begins pulling out clumps of his own hair and eating it. Pretty gross, but it also makes you feel sorry for him, as this is clearly a guy who doesn't do well with disharmony.

The stress of taking family portraits has been at the heart of classic episodes in several television series, including Everybody Loves Raymond and Modern Family. The high expectations and the many things that can go wrong are elements that many families can relate to, and I found the reasons behind Virginia's obsession to be very sympathetic. She comes across as pretty nuts at times in this episode, but we understand that she merely wants the best for her family and is frustrated that she usually can't afford it. The disastrous photo sessions are amusing, as are the resulting photos.

I watched this episode the day before going to see Celtic Thunder in concert, and as one of the songs I was most looking forward to was Paul Byrom's posh but hysterical rendition of Phil Coulter's Doo Wacka Doo, I got an appreciative chuckle out of the fact that a song with virtually the same title - Do-Wacka-Do - but written and sung by Roger Miller is a big part of this episode. Burt turns the radio on and wants to groove along with Roger as he amusingly states his envy for whoever he is addressing, while Virginia doesn't want to hear it. A car radio war ensues, and we return to it near the end of the episode, when Virginia's apparent victory leads to a rare moment of pure family harmony. The speaker, like Virginia, longs for all the things that everyone else seems to have, but in the end, we get the sense that the Chance family has what's important already.

I'm curious about cousin Mike, who seemed poised to be a major character in the first episode but then disappeared. Will he be making a return appearance? It was fun to hear Cloris Leachman sing in this episode, and I thought it was nice that Jimmy once again got to show off his artistic talents by creating Shrinky Dink versions of himself, Sabrina and his family members, which he then attached to a mobile that he hung over Hope's crib. Jimmy's such a doofus in so many ways, it's good to be reminded of the few things that he does extremely well. Of course, one of those things is caring about his family, even when he's very frustrated with them, and that aspect of the show is what may keep Raising Hope from being relegated to the ratings graveyard. Raising Hope remains silly, but it's definitely got heart.



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