Wednesday, November 16, 2011

"Burt's Parents" visit Raising Hope

     On this week's Raising Hope, on FOX, "Burt's Parents" come for Thanksgiving. Burt (Garret Dillahunt) feels ashamed at the lack of accomplishment in his life, and so, to impress them, the family moves into one of Virginia's (Martha Plimpton) client's houses, who are out of town. They even get Barney (Gregg Binkley) to pretend to be a servant. The scheme works, until the real owners of the house return from vacation early and catch the family in their beds. Then Burt's dad (Lee Majors, The Six Million Dollar Man) admits they are broke, and Burt agrees to let them stay in the real house. It's not long before Burt's parents can't take being poor, suck up their pride, and go to stay with Burt's more successful brother.

     The entire plot about taking over another family's dwelling, and then getting caught, is wholly predictable. What sets Raising Hope apart is that they are caught midway through the episode, and "Burt's Parents" goes on from there. Setting aside the completley unrealistic lack of anger or legal charges by the house's owners, it's a great story about trying to earn a parent's approval, and how perspectives change as an adult. Burt realizes that he should be proud of what he has done, and Burt's parents give Burt long overdue credit for just how hard he works, admitting they couldn't possibly do the same.

     Casting Lee Majors and Shirley Jones (The Partridge Family, The Music Man) as Burt's parents is a wonderful get. Both are veteran actors, who can handle comedy, but also the real emotional punch of such a story. Raising Hope treats the situation lightly, per the usual tone of the show, but there is some real heart in a very relatable tale. Dillahunt plays it excellently, proving he can be the heart of the series, and works well with the other two performers. Hopefully Majors and Jones will agree to return from time to time to continue the characters they very successfully begin this week.

     Sabrina (Shannon Woodward) cannot resist getting in on the lie. She enjoys the Chance family very much, and obviously likes their uncooth ways. She jumps at the chance to spin a whole false reality for Burt's parents because of how wrong it is. It is her idea to play Jimmy's (Lucas Neff) wife, because it makes sense with her age and their chemistry. But is there something more to it. Jimmy obiously pines for Sabrina, but can her feelings for him really be so platonic? She spends much of her free time with him and his relations, and doesn't complain about practicing kissing him over and over. Plus, the whopper she makes up about Jimmy losing a testicle treads on pretty personal territory. She clearly feels very comfortable with him. Why can't she go after something more?

     In short, Raising Hope covers a lot of ground already covered in plenty of other sitcoms, but it gives it a unique twist that makes it seem fresh and original. Enhanced by a really fantastic ensemble, which also includes Cloris Leachman, who gets hysterical video chatting with a young man this week, there is something special going on here. Also, it's very, very funny.

     Watch Raising Hope Tuesdays at 9:30 p.m. ET on FOX.

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