Fox // 2010 // 506 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // October 2nd, 2011
They're trying to survive her childhood.
"Take her to the fire station and let them take care of her. They give you six hours to change your mind."
There are many ways one can become a single father. Here's how it happened to Jimmy Chance (Lucas Neff, The Beast):
1. He had a one-night stand with a woman.
2. The woman turned out to be a convicted serial killer, and was arrested the next morning.
3. Nine months later, the woman gave birth to a child and was subsequently executed.
Now Jimmy's stuck attempting to figure out how to raise a child. His parents Virginia (Martha Plimpton, The Goonies) and Burt (Garret Dillahunt, No Country for Old Men) certainly aren't much help, as they have alarmingly little knowledge and even fewer financial resources which could be of use to Jimmy. His grandmother (Cloris Leachman, Young Frankenstein) is also of little use, as she has entered a bizarre period of senility in which she only gains lucidity in brief spurts. Can Jimmy find a way to raise his child, make an income, and romance the charming Sabrina (Shannon Woodward, The Riches) without falling flat on his face?
When Fox debuted their new comedy lineup in the Fall of 2010, Raising Hope certainly wasn't the show generating the most buzz. No, that was Running Wilde, the heavily-promoted, Mitch Hurwitz-created extravaganza featuring well-known stars like Will Arnett, Keri Russell, and David Cross. Surprisingly, Running Wilde tanked, while the scrappy Raising Hope snatched up all the ratings and the critical acclaim. It's a deserving survivor, offering a rather satisfying fusion of Modern Family, My Name is Earl, and Raising Arizona which grows increasingly enjoyable as it proceeds.
The showrunners walk a tricky tightrope with these low-income hayseeds, managing to generate an enormous amount of comedy at the characters' expense without ever becoming smug or mean-spirited. Sure, there are moments of cartoonish absurdity (particularly a lot of the material involving Leachman, who seems game for just about anything the series throws at her), but there's just enough reality buried there to make some of it amusingly familiar. There were a few years during my childhood in which my family was just getting by, and the show offers some hilarious glimpses of extreme penny-pinching (collecting plastic bottles to turn in at the recycling place) and low-budget innovation which hit that comic sweet spot of mildly exaggerated truth.
Raising Hope is imperfect and has room to grow, but what gives me hope (no pun intended) for its future is the chemistry of the cast. These people are a lot of fun to hang out with, even when their adventures turn into tired sitcom plots (say, the episode about Virginia's jealous cousin played by Amy Sedaris, Strangers with Candy) or unfunny randomness (again, a whole lot of the stuff involving Leachman -- the show seems to get a much bigger kick out of the whole "old lady doing childish and/or inappropriate things" than most viewers will).
Though the nervous, overwhelmed Jimmy is the series' lead (and an effective one, I might add), Raising Hope belongs to Dillahunt and Plimpton. These two have a blast tinkering with the absurdities of their characters, and they're particularly fun when revealing previously untapped depths of wit (in Plimpton's case) or stupidity (in Dillahunt's case: "I tried putting a condom on a banana before we had sex, but she still got pregnant"). They often behave with less maturity than their son, treating his efforts towards being responsible as mere party-pooping. The show allows both characters to wander down enjoyably reckless paths at times (such as an episode in which Dillahunt deliberately attempts to stop taking measures to prevent Leachman from getting killed in an accident to see how long it will take her to die), but generally concludes on moments of sweetness and sells them with surprising ease.
While many shows fall into the trap of becoming unpersuasively gentle after 19 minutes of biting comedy (like the aforementioned Modern Family), Raising Hope usually manages to retain a little bite during its inevitable jaunts into sentiment. For instance, a Christmas-themed episode has Dillahunt and Neff gathering up popular dolls from stores over the holidays and then re-selling them at ridiculously inflated prices on Christmas Eve. At the conclusion of the episode, Neff selflessly agrees to give up his share of the money ($800, to be precise) for the sake of his daughter. In an inspired moment of goodwill, Dillahunt agrees to give up his share, too. "That's another $800!" Neff exclaims. "Actually, it's $1200," Dillahunt casually confesses. "I was holding out on you a little bit."
Raising Hope: The Complete First Season arrives on DVD sporting a perfectly ordinary 1.78:1 TV-on-DVD transfer. Though all 22 episodes are stuffed onto three discs, compression doesn't appear to have damaged the image too badly. Detail is sturdy, colors are bright, and blacks are respectably deep. The Dolby 5.1 audio is also fine, with sharp dialogue and a well-mixed music track (the show could stand a better theme song, though). Supplements include an unaired version of the pilot, an extended version of the finale, a cast and crew commentary on the official pilot, three disposable featurettes ("Meet the Hopes," "Moments with Mrs. Chance," "Taking Chances: Shooting the Season Finale"), a gag reel, and some deleted scenes.
Note: Raising Hope was originally titled Keep Hope Alive, which would have been one of the stronger pun titles television has produced. Alas, it was not to be.
The show needs to find a better use for the gifted Ms. Leachman and could be a little bolder on a narrative level, but Raising Hope is generally fun stuff. Here's hoping it continues to improve in the years to come.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 506 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Unaired Pilot
* Extended Finale
* Deleted Scenes
* Gag Reel
* Official Site