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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Raising Hope: "Cheaters"

Illustration for article titled iRaising Hope/i: Cheaters
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Whether you use the term sap, schlemiel, schlimazel or schnook, the lovable loser is archetype that's practically encoded in sitcom DNA. Friends had Ross (and, for that matter, Joey), Family Ties had Skippy, and Raising Hope has Jimmy, a character so pathetic even his own mother can't deny it. “I'm your mother, and I love you. But let's face it, you're no prize,” Virginia tells Jimmy. Boy, is she right.

As we all know by now, the greatest of Jimmy's various weaknesses is his undying affection for Sabrina. It's easy to see why he likes her (more on this later), but let's just say, he's going about it all the wrong way (apparently, he has never read The Game). When Jimmy turns down a date with Zoe, a quick-witted girl who likes pancakes, claiming that he already has a girlfriend, Burt and Virginia stage an impromptu intervention with their beloved son. It's time for him to quit pining, and do something about Sabrina, especially given that her boyfriend, Wyatt, is away at college and almost certainly cheating on her. Jimmy, in his own passive-aggressive way, heeds their advice, dropping hints over the lunch table that Wyatt might have a wandering eye. It works, and Jimmy and Sabrina set out to crash Wyatt's fraternity's “Pimps and Hos” party. Yes, the pimps-and-hos thing is a little tiresome—if I never see a furry pimp hat on Halloween again, it will be too soon—but I suppose this was kind of the point. It was at a frat party, after all.


Sure enough, Jimmy and Sabrina catch Wyatt in flagrante delicto with another woman. Finally, it looks like Jimmy's chance has arrived, and maybe, just maybe, Sabrina will follow through on her vow to sleep with the next man she sees.  Sadly, fate—not to mention Jimmy's healthy fear of dying in a fiery auto crash—intervenes.

Lucas Neff, whose blandness has always been one of my sticking points with Raising Hope, was actually pretty great in this episode.  Stuck in the backseat of Wyatt's car as it careens wildly down the highway, Jimmy panics and convinces Sabrina to give Wyatt another chance. Cut to the next scene, and Wyatt and Sabrina are “making up” all over the hood of the car. No matter what he does, Jimmy just can't win. (There are lots of subsets within the “lovable loser” archetype, and Jimmy, technically speaking, is definitely a schlimazel.) It was a strong episode for Neff, but still, I feel like he's missing that extra oomph—a particularly expressive face, say, or a gift with physical comedy—that would make Jimmy a memorable loser, rather than a “meh” one.


The real standout in this episode is Shannon Woodward, who's so sweet-looking that it's easy to forget she's actually a very funny actress. Sabrina is pretty, sweet, and smart but still has a bit of an edge. It doesn't seem out of place hearing her say things like, “Can you only be quiet when you have a mouth full of slut-tongue?” In other words, it's easy to see why Jimmy's got such a die-hard crush on her.  The question is whether she'd ever fall for someone as milquetoast as Jimmy. I'm sure she will, eventually, but for now, it looks like Jimmy might have something good going with Zoe and her perfect nose.

As in a Woody Allen movie or a Neil LaBute play, the question of cheating was on everyone's minds this week. Maw Maw, a.k.a. Barbara June, briefly strikes up a relationship with Mel, a friend from day care who's at least as senile as she is. Burt thinks the romance is sweet, but Virginia objects to it on moral grounds. Maw Maw, in her senility, doesn't remember that her husband is dead, so she thinks she's having an affair. Virginia explains the moral quandary with an apt metaphor: If you steal a candy bar from the grocery store, but someone else pays for it without telling you, it's still wrong because the intention is there, even if the actual transgression is not. I have to say, I found this idea interesting in a freshman-Intro-to-Applied-Ethics kind of way.


In any case, Mel and Barbara June's December-December romance is short-lived. It all goes kaput when Mel, who thinks he's still fighting the Korean War, moves on to his next fling, an elderly Asian lady he met at the grocery store. “Things happen during wartime; doesn't mean anything,” he explains, a bit defensively. You have to hand it to Raising Hope: The show really goes for broke with the un-PC humor, and, as in this episode, it often works out.

Naturally, all this discussion of infidelity and mortality leads Burt and Virginia to consider what they would do once the other one died. (This very question was also the subject of an episode of Modern Family a few weeks back; great minds think alike, I guess?) Burt is reluctant to have the conversation. “I don't want to think about you dead. That's so sad,” he says, and you believe him. I've said it before, as have my esteemed colleagues, but at the risk of being terribly redundant, I'll say it again: Garret Dillahunt really is the best thing about this show (before a mutiny begins in the comments, allow me to say that Martha Plimpton is a close second). I like to think of his performance as a microcosm of what Raising Hope ought to be: dopey, fun, and bawdy, but ultimately a big softie. This show has its work cut out for it from week to week, striking a balance between irreverence and sincerity. This week, Raising Hope got it just about right.


Stray observations:

  • “Noses are the unsung hero of the face. Ties the whole thing together.”
  • “Fantastic shoes… that people of all colors would love. This is Jimmy.”
  • “A pine log, which is the worst kind of log. Best kind of log? Yule log. Best yule? Yul Brenner. Best Brenner? David Brenner. Best David… that's where it starts to get complicated.”
  • I love the Glenn Beck-ish conspiracy theorist Virginia and her work buddies were listening to on the car radio, warning about a “big government” cover-up of the “impending disaster of 2012.”
  • “Do you think about me dead?" “Occasionally, but only because you're such a sound sleeper.”
  • “I kind of figured it out when I woke up and my mouth tasted like Big League Chew.”
  • “Can you only be quiet when you have a mouth full of slut tongue?”
  • “Looks like you have a lot of fun over there at triangle-b-triangle.”

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