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Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Raising Hope raises the stakes

RAISING HOPE is back for a third season on FOX. Picking up months after the season finale, Sabrina (Shannon Woodward) inherits a house from her dead grandmother that she can only take possession of after getting married. While Sabrina does love her boyfriend, Jimmy (Lucas Neff), and trusts that he isn't just trying to scam a new dwelling from her, she is hesitant to get hitched under these circumstances. Also, she doesn't want Jimmy's parents to move in, and they're already practically measuring drapes. Jimmy does his best to ease her doubt and give her those warm, romantic feelings that she longs for.

It's a bit of a shame that no mention is made of last spring's finale. That episode brought Jimmy and Sabrina to a very fragile, emotionally raw place. A lot could have been built off of that before returning to the comedy roots that anchor RAISING HOPE.

That being said, it makes sense tonally to move on. RAISING HOPE only flirts with drama when it serves the heartwarming message of the episode, and doesn't like to make any stakes too serious. If it had taken time to explore those powerful emotions evoked previously, it would have shifted the course of what they are doing with the show. For that reason, it's hard to be too disappointed that the writers choose just to move on.

Where dark drama may be lacking, a sweet love story takes its place. Jimmy has been head over heels towards Sabrina forever. Once she gets on board in year two, there is no stopping that train. While having these two young people get engaged after so little time spent together as a couple does feel a tad rushed, there is no denying by the end of the half hour that this pair is made for each other. In the face of such a perfect fit, what kind of grinch stands in the way of their happy ending?

Oh, right. The grinch is Sabrina's mommy dearest (Melanie Griffith, Twins, Working Girl). Viewers are introduced to Jimmy's soon-to-be mother-in-law in this season premiere. Griffith brings a fun, exciting new element to RAISING HOPE. Her character is written in such a way that it makes sense that she's been out of Sabrina's life for so long, while her motivation to become involved now is murky enough to be interesting. Plus, she fits really nicely into the ensemble, broadening the world a bit, especially as it pertains to Sabrina.

I hope she sticks around, joining the terrific B team of recurring players, many of whom appear in this episode. She already gets her introduction to the hallmarks of RAISING HOPE supporting character status by appearing in a flashback during Jimmy's goth phase. I can't ever get enough of that era!

The only thing that bothers me about Sabrina's mother is her sudden about face mid-episode. She goes from not caring about Sabrina, to wanting to be back in her life, even lying to Sabrina to protect her. Mom could be trying to stay in Sabrina's good graces so that she can stay in the house, though she seems to have money, so that may not be a huge issue. Or grief over losing her own mother could shift Sabrina's mom's priorities and make her feel really bad about their history together. The character works, but I do wish that we would have seen a bit more of what exactly causes this change in her.

One noticeable shift in RAISING HOPE's return is a sharper, dirtier edge to the humor. It's one thing to have Burt (Garret Dillahunt) want to touch the fake boobs that are now a piece of art on the wall. That actually brings to mind other boob art in an episode from last season. But having Jimmy walk in on Virginia (Martha Plimpton) giving Burt a hand job in the bathtub of someone else's house goes a bit further than I believe the show ever has before. This isn't a good or a bad thing, it's just different enough to be surprising.

The fact that Jimmy stays in the bathtub while his dad rinses off and gets dressed is much more disturbing. I don't think that it's supposed to be noticeable, nor do I believe it means anything. But upon reflection, what this scene implies is disturbing and unwanted. Thankfully, it's probably also an accident.

In all, RAISING HOPE returns just as good as it left, with some new, intriguing arcs set up. The show doesn't take itself too seriously, but as far as a light, family-friendly, quirky good time goes, it fits the bill perfectly, and stands a touch above its peers.

RAISING HOPE's third season begins October 2nd on FOX.

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