Much of last week’s episode, the set-up to tonight’s season finale, was devoted to special guest Nancy Grace, playing herself. Consequently, much of last week’s review was devoted to complaints about how distracting, displeasing, and generally not-entertaining it was to have someone like Grace taking up space in a comedy. The suggestion may have been made that, if the idea is to expose her to ridicule rather than give her credibility, maybe an actual actor could have been employed to play someone transparently modeled on Grace, someone who at least knows how to deliver a line. This week, Grace is still hanging around like a bad smell, and she gets to play a scene with Jackie Hoffman, who is playing a character transparently modeled on Gloria Allred.
This throws a monkey wrench into the argument, because Hoffman isn’t funny at all. That may not be her fault, given that she doesn’t have any decent lines and seems to have been hired mainly for how well she can fit into a red suit. Also, it’s distracting to look at her, because it’s hard not to wonder why her part isn’t being played by Gloria Allred. Is it because Greg Garcia, possibly after suffering a mini-stroke or something, decided that he was okay with helping Nancy Grace in her quest for respectability, but Gloria Allred was where he drew the line?
It’s the kind of mental drift one might have experienced watching The Larry Sanders Show, when a guest actor such as David Paymer would appear as Larry’s agent, and you didn’t know whether you should feel happy or sorry for him that he was among that select group of familiar working actors who were on that show playing someone other than themselves. Was this a tribute to his great skill as an actor, or was the casting based on the idea that David Paymer wasn’t enough of a name to play a version of himself as a rightful claimant to a corner of Larry’s couch? Of course, that was never as great a distraction on The Larry Sanders Show as it might have been, because what that show was, mostly, was funny. No such impediments to thinking deep thoughts will bedevil anyone watching the second-season finale of Raising Hope.
The stunt casting is just one thing on this episode that may remind you that, in judging whether a work of popular art is successful, perspective can be everything. What was the aim, the intention? How is success defined? In the case of Heartburn, the 1986 film version of Nora Ephron’s novel about the train wreck that was her marriage to Carl Bernstein, Ephron and the director, Mike Nichols, apparently felt that they had not succeeded, a view shared by virtually everyone who bought a ticket to their movie. However, Carl Bernstein, who, thanks to threats from his lawyers, was allowed some uncredited consultation work on the script, has said that he was delighted with the movie turned out, because if a movie was going to be made about how he messed up his marriage by screwing around, what he mostly wanted was that it not be a movie that anyone would recommend to their friends.
The motor of this episode is the news that Lucy (Bijou Phillips), the serial-killer one-night-stand who is the mother of Jimmy’s child (and, we only just learned last week, his wife), is still alive, having survived the electric chair and been cut loose by the prison after being handed a large check. Both this idea and the episode that results from it might seem brilliant to a lot of people, if what they were mostly interested in was an answer to the question, “Hey, Bijou is always fun to have around—can’t we find some way to justify inviting her to the end-of-season cast party?” (Just to be clear, it would be wrong to knock Bijou Phillips, who deserves some kind of trouper’s award just for the scene of her staggering around the prison corridor with her hair in an electrified cloud after regaining consciousness on her way to the morgue.) I think it was Steven Soderbergh who said that you can tell how much fun some movies were to make, just from how little fun they are to watch. This episode looks as if everyone who worked on it had themselves a blast.
The courtroom scenes, with Lucy improbably winning custody of Hope from the Chances, provide an excuse to bring back a whole string of guest stars from this past season, including the stars of Garcia’s previous hit My Name Is Earl, Jason Lee and Jaime Pressly, with David Krumholtz, doing a triumphant reprise of his blind man from that episode with the pig. (He’s called as a character witness and testifies that the Chances strike him as “a strong African-American family.” Informed that the Chances aren’t black, he asks, “Bryant Gumbel’s white, right?”) The procession of faces from the recent past is like an homage to the series finale of Seinfeld. If that’s meant as a joke, the humor inherent in paying tribute to one of the most reviled series episodes in TV history is overwhelmed by the chutzpah factor. (If someone like Greg Garcia isn’t going to learn from Larry David’s mistakes, what point is there to Larry David even making mistakes? It’s not as if Larry David can learn from his own mistakes. Not learning from his own mistakes is Larry David’s whole shtick!) There’s also an afterlife fantasy that establishes that the gates to both Heaven and Hell are guarded by Ed Begley, Jr. It’s one of those things that never would have occurred to you but that makes perfect sense as soon as someone else suggests it.
The episode ends with a twist that essentially pushes the restart button, returning things to the way they were so that the next season can pick right up without having to deal with any of this crazy shit. The second season of Raising Hope had a shaky start, but by midseason, it had reclaimed its standing as one of the best network comedies not on NBC on a Thursday night, and even in a finale as indulgent and messy as this one, the regular cast members come to play. (The silent exchanges between Lucas Neff and Shannon Woodward made for a lovely, crowning touch on the job they’ve done at selling the romance between Jimmy and Sabrina, a development that I’m not sure anyone was really rooting for before it took flight.) The show has been renewed for a third season and will be back in the fall, which I’m happy about. Happier than ever, in fact: After this, the show really owes me something.
- Burt is bowled over by Virginia’s courtroom outfit: “You look like the hooker from Pretty Woman, but in the movie where she was a lawyer!” Virginia explains that it’s the suit Maw-Maw bought to buried in, but “she didn’t expect to live past the ’80s.”
- Jimmy’s reaction to Lucy’s invitation to come to Tibet with her and Hope: “We’re not moving halfway across the country!”
- Remember a few years ago, when suddenly, lots of comedies starting having characters standing in the street get suddenly hit by a truck that comes out of nowhere, and it always seemed to get a shock laugh, even as we all knew that at some point, it would get tired and we’d be able to anticipate when it was about to happen? The Seth Rogen cameo in last Sunday’s Eastbound & Down marked the first time I’ve seen that gag coming from a mile away. Which means that, when Raising Hope pulls it out of the trick bag tonight, it’s the first time I’ve seen that joke since getting the word that it had officially died.