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Raising Hope Is Hopelessly Over-the-Top

By Edited Nov 15, 2013 0 0

Several years ago, I recall sitting transfixed to the television as an aberration known as Life on a Stick premiered. The show had been heavily promoted throughout airings of American Idol, and I had to see if it could actually be as bad as it looked. Ever since, that has been the gold standard to which I have compared potentially awful series. This year, it may have found some competition in Raising Hope, another FOX sit-com, this time airing after GLEE.

Created by Gregory Thomas Garcia, Raising Hope stars fresh-faced Lucas Neff, who boasts only two previous acting credits, as Jimmy Chance, an astonishingly clueless 25-year-old. When I began to watch the show, I assumed that he was in high school, which still would have made him just about the dopiest high school student I ever heard of. But no, Jimmy is midway through his 20s, and he doesn't seem to know anything about anything. He is a reasonably talented artist, but he is, to borrow a quote from Sheldon Cooper's mother on The Big Bang Theory, "as dumb as soup".

Still, he's a nice guy. A guy with dreams who wants to make something of himself, to find a sense of purpose and change the world for the better. His astonishing lack of knowledge and common sense caused me to roll my eyes throughout the premiere, but at least he wants to learn. He's a trooper, and he's kind and considerate. Plus, he spends the first few minutes of the show wearing an amazingly awesome, deliciously random t-shirt featuring Abraham Lincoln coming to blows with Bigfoot. Random is a word that could easily apply to many of the things we see in this episode, and usually it just elicited a "Huh?" from me. But man, do I want that t-shirt! Similarly awesome is the fact that Sabrina (Shannon Woodward), the quirky grocery store employee he has his eye on, is shown reading a book by David Sedaris. But that's not enough to tip the balance in the show's favor.

As shocking as Jimmy's stupidity is, he comes by it honestly. He lives with four family members, three of whom don't seem to have a lick of sense. His cousin is an airhead party animal who reminds me of Steve Zahn, particularly in That Thing You Do! He's even dopier than Jimmy, and that's really saying something. I'll grant that he's vaguely likable; he seems to be in high spirits all of the time, and I got a chuckle out of the ridiculous tattoo of a mustache that he gets on his finger so he can hold it underneath his nose and pretend he has facial hair. But he's also the kind of guy whose presence would no doubt drive one nuts after a couple of days.

His dad is even worse. In the first scene, I don't think we're meant to realize that when Jimmy walks off his pool-cleaning job, he's dissing his own dad. Realizing that his father is his boss makes you feel for the guy more because Burt Chance (Garret Dillahunt) is the most juvenile guy in the bunch. In his late 30s, he still appears to be the teenager that he was when he became a father, and goodness knows how he's managed to keep a business going when it's standard practice for him to blow leaves into the pool that his employees have just cleaned and push them into thorn bushes.

Jimmy's great-grandmother, whom everyone calls Maw Maw, is a senile chain-smoker who frequently mistakes Jimmy for her late husband and wanders around the house - and sometimes out of it - with little to no clothing. Whatever possessed Cloris Leachman to take on such an embarrassing and borderline offensive role in such a poorly written sit-com?

The only one in the family who has her act together at all is Jimmy's mother Virginia, played by the well-established Martha Plimpton. She played moody teenagers in the 1980s, and here she's a cynical adult, though life has not stripped her of all her capacity for tenderness yet, as she demonstrates in a sweet scene in which she sings Kenny Loggins' Danny's Song as a lullaby to the new member of the family despite her objections to Jimmy bringing her home. She, too, is a chain smoker, and she peppers her speech with invented words like "philostrophical" and "dramastically". In flashbacks, we see that she wasn't much smarter than Jimmy was when she became a mother, and she's not the brightest bulb now, either, but experience has given her some wisdom, and she's probably the most dynamic character in the bunch.

The new family member is the titular Hope, a baby who Jimmy pledges to raise after a thoroughly ludicrous series of events leaves him a single father. After a one-night stand with a woman who turns out to be a murderer, he visits her - eight months later - to find her hugely pregnant. Flash forward another seven months, and we witness her execution, leaving Jimmy holding the baby. Capital punishment seems like a pretty crass thing to joke around about, and it's certainly presented in a jokey manner, though I confess I chuckled at the guard's comment about her cleverness in requesting a Shamrock shake and a McRib for her last meal, since those two never seem to appear at McDonald's at the same time. Still, it's a jarring way to start the episode. And we're supposed to believe that, after apparently never even meeting his baby prior to this day, he can simply walk out of prison with her and raise her? Wouldn't it be just a bit more complicated than that? It's odd, too, because in every other respect, the day that Jimmy brings Hope home feels like the day after the beginning of the episode.

Did the show get a laugh or two out of me? Yes. And the protagonist is genuinely likable, and it's nice to see him taking such initiative. One would assume that eventually, he will not spend most of his day unintentionally putting Hope into life-threatening situations and projectile vomiting over the state of her diaper. It's a tad uncomfortable, though, to see her in so many dangerous circumstances, even though we know this is a silly sit-com and nothing bad will happen to her. Besides, most of the dialogue is truly cringe-worthy, and the whole thing is just so over-the-top that I can't imagine it finding a sustained audience. Then again, GLEE is not exactly known for its subtlety; perhaps some viewers will be willing to take the ludicrousness to the next level. But I wouldn't put too much hope in Raising Hope getting a full season.


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