TV Review: Oddball ‘Raising Hope’ Returns For Second Season

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CHICAGO – One of the nice twists of the Fox sitcom “Raising Hope,” is that it doesn’t so much rely on the cute baby named Hope, preferring to focus on the strange people who are in charge of “nurturing” her upbringing. The wackiness continues for a second season starting September 20th on FOX. Television Rating: 4.0/5.0
Television Rating: 4.0/5.0

It is not the strongest of second season beginnings, but it still manages to rise above the average by essentially creating dysfunctional situations managed by less-than-normal and funny characters. Returning is Jimmy, Virginia, Burt and Maw Maw Chance, caring for Jimmy’s surprise love child Hope, and they continue to get it blessedly wrong, which turns the family comedy upside down.

In case you’re wondering about the origins of the story, Hope is shown at her daycare in the beginning of season two, at a facility that is for dogs. The hippie-esque caregiver conveniently and hilariously sums up the first season in song, re-introducing the skewed cast and circumstances. Jimmy (Lucas Neff) is an aimless slacker who fathered a love child with a now-executed serial killer named Lucy (Bijou Phillips). He lives with his youngish father Burt (Garret Dillahunt) and Virginia (Martha Plimpton), and has in residence his great grandmother, Maw Maw (the one and only Cloris Leachman).

Shannon Woodard (Sabrina), Cloris Leachman (Maw Maw) and Lucas Neff (Jimmy) in ‘Raising Hope’
Shannon Woodard (Sabrina), Cloris Leachman (Maw Maw) and Lucas Neff (Jimmy) in ‘Raising Hope’
Photo credit: FOX Network

The main premise of the second season opener is that Jimmy was a musical prodigy as a younger boy. Old video shows him at 13-years old, crooning pop songs and playing the piano with star making potential. The only problem is he can’t remember ever being that gifted. The story behind the rise, fall and faulty memory involves the rest of the family, and their latest project in trying to unleash the hidden talent again is the white whale waiting to be harpooned.

The characters, while stereotypical, still generate some decent laughs in their convenient cluelessness. Greg Garcia, the series creator, used this same effect on “My Name is Earl.” There is a potential, like Earl, for this use of character to get tiresome, but the strong start for the second season bodes well in balancing between the personalities. Jimmy, Burt and Virginia are all the same psychological age, probably about 14 years old, and get most of their intellectual stimulation from television. Cloris Leachman is given almost too much latitude as a dopey oldster, her similar turn on “Malcolm in the Middle” was much better.

There are several laugh-out-loud moments in the episode, including a doctor’s visit when the physician warns it’s “dangerous to get medical advice from TV comedy,” a nice meta-mocking of the hand that feeds them. The re-introduction of Jimmy to his so-called musical talents plods a bit, but has a nice payoff in the end. Shannon Woodward as Sabrina, Jimmy’s potential love interest, makes a nice on-line joke contribution in the epilogue.

Season Two Begins with Garret Dillahunt (Burt), Martha Plimpton (Virginia) and Greyson Chance (Young Jimmy)  in ‘Raising Hope’
Season Two Begins with Garret Dillahunt (Burt), Martha Plimpton (Virginia) and Greyson Chance (Young Jimmy) in ‘Raising Hope’
Photo credit: FOX Network

To keep Raising Hope working, Garcia will have to avoid the laziness that was evident in My Name is Earl. There was too much of a reliance on the characters being less that smart, and the redundancy of their stupidity is what killed that show. Burt, Virginia and Jimmy walk the line, throw in an age-addled Maw Maw and suddenly it’s the third season of Earl.

Where is baby Hope in all this? Walking around in the background and waiting for her cue to smile disarmingly. She is willing to wait for her close-up, which makes her raising, despite the adults in life, interesting enough to keep tuning in.

”Raising Hope” starts its second season Tuesday, September 20th, at 9:30pm EST/8:30pm CST on FOX. Check local listings for channel location. Featuring Lucas Neff, Martha Plimpton, Garret Dillahunt, Shannon Woodward, Gregg Binkley and Cloris Leachman. Created by Greg Garcia. senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Senior Staff Writer

© 2011 Patrick McDonald,

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