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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

RAISING HOPE Raises My Hope Again

Article first published as RAISING HOPE Raises My Hope Again on TheTVKing.

FOX's Raising Hope got a late start this week with a pair of new episodes, "Deja Vu Man" and "Burt Bucks," that made it worth the wait. This series is goofy in the best of ways, and isn't shy about poking fun at itself or its subject matter before ending up in a warm, love-filled place. Season four gets started right.

"Deja Vu Man" begins with a scene unrelated to the rest of the story in which Maw Maw (Cloris Leachman) forgets Hope's (Baylie and Rylie Cregut) name, as well as many other things. To refresh Maw Maw's noggin, the family and a few friends sing songs about what's happened in the first few seasons, reminding us Maw Maw who the characters are and certain events in their lives. Yes, it's a cheap excuse to recap for the audience, but by building it believably into the fabric of the show in an original way, it really, really works. Especially as Maw Maw hopes that Hope is named Edgar.

In "Deja Vu Man," Virginia (Martha Plimpton) finds out that the guy that hangs around every so often snapping pictures of the Chance family is none other than her father (Jeffrey Tambor, Arrested Development). See, Maw Maw lied about Virgina's dad being dead because he abandoned his family. Now, Virginia has a chance to reconnect with her parent, who claims to have left because Natesville was unaccepting of homosexuals and he is gay.

Of course, it's a line of bull. Tambor's character is charming enough to fool people for a little while, but viewers and Virginia alike soon come to see just how selfish and terrible a person he is. (Burt sees it right away, a credit to how smart he is, even if it's not book smart.) It wouldn't really make sense for a father who loves his child to stay away from them, no matter how hostile neighbors might be, so at the end of the day, we need to see he's a scoundrel, which we do.

That doesn't mean he shouldn't return to guest star in other episodes, though. And no tears for Virginia, who had a great man to take care of her in Paw-Paw (Terrence Beasor, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story).

In the second installment, "Burt Bucks," Virginia and Burt (Garret Dillahunt) find they can barter their services for the finer things in life, then try to get their friends to barter with one another, too, ultimately creating a new currency, which Virginia and Burt keep printing more of so that they can live the high life. As Burt insists, probably necessarily given the IQ level of the town, despite the label not really making sense, this is not a pyramid scheme. Of course, it all collapses.

I love this commentary on our economic system and our government. It doesn't necessarily take a Republican or a Democratic viewpoint, instead, zeroing in on the system itself. This keeps the episode from being controversial, but also illustrates large economic issues in a way that's simple to understand.

I did keep thinking that the new system would catch up with Virginia and Burt, and they would no longer have U.S. currency to get things they need outside of their barter system, but that didn't happen. I guess there's only so much that can be gotten through in half an hour, and the focus was on satire, not keeping the zany characters stuck in the laws of reality.

An interesting thing happens in "Deja Vu Man" and "Burt Bucks" - Sabrina (Shannon Woodward) and Jimmy (Lucas Neff) make a conscious effort to stay out of Burt and Virginia's schemes. I can't say I'm not disappointed, as I love seeing the whole family together. Yet, Sabrina and Jimmy are newlyweds who live apart from Burt and Virginia, so they should have their own things. I'm sure they won't stay divided every week, and I guess the characters have to show growth, but it's a turning point that is still a little sad.

This doesn't mean Sabrina and Jimmy aren't in the installments. They have their own comedic situations, often involving Barney (Gregg Binkley) and the store. And I don't want less of the recurring cast, which has many talented players like Kate Micucci and Todd Giebenhain. I just love it when both groups mix, as they do in the opening of "Deja Vu Man."

Either way, these are still sharp, witty, welcome episodes. Clearly, Raising Hope has lost nothing during its break, and I'm glad to see it back on the air. Raising Hope now airs Fridays at 9 p.m. ET on FOX.

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