Do you spend a lot of time wondering what was going on with Burt and Virginia back in the early '90s, when they were having all kinds of wild adventures that Jimmy was then too young to remember? Do you tune in every week hoping that the characters' ongoing story will be put on hold so everyone can stand around the living room, taking turns filling us in on what they were up to in 1992, ideally using the classic Akira Kurosawa film Rashomon as a rough template? Me neither! But Greg Gracia must be a sucker for this kind of thing, since he did create a whole series (My Name Is Earl) that was set up as an excuse for the hero to talk about how he got to this point and tell wild stories on himself week after week. It's a good format for the telling of wild stories, though I get the feeling that what Raising Hope most needs right now is to tell some slightly less wild stories, in the hope that as it's doing so, it can begin the process of feeling its way back to Earth.
I liked tonight's episode more than I did last week's. (On the other hand, I like the season premiere less in retrospect than I did before I realized that its cartoon broadness and comic randomness constituted, to steal a phrase from Virginia, the show's "new normal.") But this season, Raising Hope is starting to feel less like the show I liked so much last year than like a live-action version of The Simpsons, circa, say, 1998. How you feel about that may depend on what you think of The Simpsons itself, in its current incarnation, and how important you think it is that American culture have some kind of Simpsons-y thing on the air that's trying to consistently rise to the level of slightly better than half-assed.
The first third of tonight's episode brought on Sean Bridgers, looking much healthier and smarter than he ever did as Johnny Burns on Deadwood, not that that's saying much. Bridgers played a hippie drifter named Jack, whose few possessions included a van and an impressively long ponytail, which he had named "Magnus," the best joke of the evening being that it looked like a Magnus. Back in '92, Burt and Jack had met in a gas station parking lot while Virginia was inside being hit on by Roy, a short but romantically determined security guard played by Whit Hertford, a large-eyed, hard-working character actor who ought to reconsider his IMDB photo.
In the present day, Jack's drop-in visit to the Chances set off a wave of pandemonium and much konking of people in the back of the head with the TV set—"sort of my go-to thing," Virginia explained—because all this time, Virginia had believed that Jack had kidnapped Burt at gunpoint and held him prisoner for weeks, until Burt was able to make his escape and return home. In fact, the two guys had just gotten to talking, with Jack extolling the virtues of the open road and a life free of commitments, and Burt confessing that he felt tied down by his wife and child but didn't think they'd even really miss him all that much if he were to disappear, and the next thing they knew… well, you can see where this is going.
Ultimately, of course, Burt had to go back, not, as you might expect, because of some epiphany that caused him to realize how much he missed his family, but because he work up one day to find that Jack was kissing him. It's typical of Raising Hope's redeeming sweetness and open-hearted attitude toward all outsiders and fringe dwellers that the awkwardness of the situation was conveyed without a hint of queasiness about Jack's sexual orientation, whatever it was supposed to be. (He had a speech about how guys who like girls but whose scrounging lifestyle guarantees that girls won't be interested in them have to get used to liking guys that sounded like a parody of all the men on the down-low who are very insistent about how having sex with men doesn't make them gay or anything. On the other hand, his fixation on "kissing" made it seem as if he were mentally stuck at some pre-sexual level.)
Yet the episode actually did okay at selling its message that Burt and Virginia are fated to be together and will always land in each other's arms, even if he once needed a break from her and the kid and that, in his absence, she came this close to committing to the love-lorn Ray. There were some funny things in the episode, but it's that sweetness that really keeps you rooting for Raising Hope to get its act together when it's on the verge of spinning out of control. To a degree that a lot of more polished, nay, even Emmy-winning comedies could emulate, it believes in its own characters. Now it just needs to pick a reality for those characters to inhabit and then stick with it,
- The effort to remake Sabrina to bring her fashion and hair sense into line with her new identity as a runaway heiress continues. Last week, even before the big reveal about her family background, she showed up at the Chance household looking like a junior intern on a show about a pricey legal firm. Tonight, she was back to buying her clothes at Thrift World, but she also had short, shiny Lois Lane hair. That's probably somebody's idea of a compromise.
- "Get me half a Slim Jim. They do that for me here."
- "Did you come out of an owl's mouth? 'Cause you are a hoot."
- "How did you never tell me Dad was kidnapped?" "We didn't want you to be afraid of strangers."
- "To earn beer money, we sold our blood. And because we had less blood, it took less beer to get us drunk."
- "The more I paid attention, the more I noticed how different we were with Roy here. We were nicer, more cooperative. Like poor, white Cosbys."