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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Raising Hope: “Hey There, Delilah”

Illustration for article titled Raising Hope: “Hey There, Delilah”
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This episode is  distinguished by the welcome return of Amy Sedaris as Virginia’s hated cousin Delilah. Delilah appears in the living room like a persistent bad smell and announces that she has been making a fortune in Florida, with her chain of “solar-powered tanning beds,” a revolutionary idea that “harnesses the power of the sun to tan people.” Now she wants to make the rest of the family is as securely shored-up as she is. She’s pointed out to Maw Maw that Virginia and Burt half been living in her home and leeching off her. Maw Maw agrees that this is so. Setting the record straight, Burt explains: “Yes, we live in your home. Yes, we leech off you. Yes, I thought I would think of something that would make that all seem okay by the end of this sentence.”

Delilah wants to persuade Maw Maw to take out a reverse mortgage on the house. Burt and Virginia are stymied for a response to this until Burt digs some chocolate chip cookies out of the trash, and Virginia recognizes them as the cookies that are dispensed at blood banks. “What kind of wealthy suntan mogul has to sell her own blood?” she asks. “I was gonna say Delilah,” says Burt, “but that’s too obvious.” But it is Delilah. She is actually down on her luck—“It turns out that in the tanning bed business,” she says, “you’re always one irregular mole away from being Yelped out of business.” Maw Maw takes pity on her and offers to let her stay in the house, but with a condition: Whichever of the two women is the first to resume hostilities will be exiled, while the other will receive possession of the house. Virginia and Burt agree to these terms, but realize they have underestimated the depths of Delilah’s resentment and dedication to her own survival when she breaks her own arm over the back of a kitchen chair and pins the blame on Virginia.

Burt and Virginia end up living in the back of their van, until Virginia realizes that she has to suck it up and do what she has to do: Accept a promotion at the cleaning company, which will give her a significant enough raise in pay that she can have some breathing room in the war for Maw Maw’s heart and mind. As soon as she announces she’s taken the job, Maw Maw reveals that this was all part of her cunning scheme to overcome her natural reluctance to put herself out there and accept more responsibility in life. (Her secret agenda completed, Maw Maw throws Delilah out of the house. “I broke my own arm for nothing?” she hisses.)

And here we have a neat summing-up of the difference between the show this used to be under Greg Garcia and the show it seems to be trying to be now. Burt and Virginia (and Jimmy) used to be fated to be losers, with their heads already resting about as high under the glass ceiling as they can ever get, given their lack of brains and ambition and the sort of skill set that counts for something in the post-industrial age. The show was realistic about the ways in which this made their lives harder—that was the main source of its comedy—but it also didn’t present their situation as tragic, and it was steadfast in viewing them as good people who were doing their best.

Now, it turns out that Virginia was just one promotion away from making a real living wage; all she needed was, as Maw Maw says, a kick in the butt to make her reach for the brass ring, which was always there within her grasp. (She doesn’t even have to fight her Hispanic co-worker friend Rosa for it; bowing to the inevitable, Rosa has been trying to talk her into the job, pointing out that she herself cannot afford to take the extra time away from “my telenovela.”) I don’t want to make too much of the politics of a show as silly as this one. But if someone took a Republican Congressman’s speech about how it’s necessary to terminate unemployment benefits on the long-term unemployed to get them to put down the remote and get off their lazy butts and go look for work, it might look a lot like this.

There is also a wholly separate plot involving Jimmy and Sabrina, but that only serves to emphasize how much this is now the Virginia & Burt show. The setup: Jimmy and Sabrina have tickets to go to CoverFest, where they hope to get down to the second-hand fusion sounds of such bands as N.W.AC/DC and Maroon 5 For Fighting, but they need a babysitter. The big joke, once we get past the guy whose C.V. is written in blood, is that a decent babysitter is so hard to find that, when Jimmy and Sabrina encounter an excellent prospect, they’re willing to do anything to keep her. It’s an old joke, and I’ve seen wilder variations on it than the employer being forced to tell the babysitter’s boyfriend that she doesn’t want to see him anymore. But I did laugh at Sabrina’s line: “”Jimmy, I hope I never have to say this again, but go outside and break up with that teenage boy, for the sake of our marriage.”


Stray observations:

  • Tonight, we finally learn why Burt is always so much more mellow than Virginia. He has perfected the art of finding his “happy place,” and we get to see him there, on a tropical paradise called Burt Island, where he gets paid in big sacks with dollar signs on them, “cinnamon toast Italian hoagies grow on trees,” and all the women look like Virgina (natch). This sequence alone is worth a notch or two in the episode grade. I haven’t come across anything quite like it since Mojo Nixon sketched out the details of “the amusement park in my mind” on her version of “This Land Is Your Land.”
  • Burt thinks that a reverse mortgage is “egagtrom,” also natch.