“Murder, She Hoped”
With every passing week this season, Raising Hope feels a little less like Raising Hope. There’s an obvious explanation for that in “Murder, She Hoped”: The episode, which begins with Virginia flouncing in with her hair in a modified Grace Kelly ‘do (“I got it at the senior center. I like that it’s free. What I don’t like is that they give you the last hairstyle they remember having.”) and soon slaps a cast on Burt’s leg, is a burlesque of Rear Window. The Raymond Burr part is taken by Diedrich Bader, grinning like someone you want to steer well clear of at Burning Man, as the new back-yard neighbor in what Virginia refers to as ‘the weirdo house.” When Sabrina asks whether Casa De La Chance isn’t the weirdo house, Virginia says, no, they live in “the lovable eccentric house.” Jot that down for future reference, continuity-mythology fans.
Was this episode conceived with the idea that the show might be returning earlier in the season than it did, in which case it would be nice to have something vaguely Halloween-appropriate in the chute? It’s not as if the regular characters, still living recognizably in their usual world, are dropped into a familiar movie plot. It’s set in some alternate reality that might be called Hitchcockville; along with the set-up out of Rear Window, there are stray references to Vertigo, Psycho, and The Birds. Melodramatic music hums and zings on the soundtrack, and Virginia keeps striking glamour poses and slipping into period fashions, while helpfully pointing this out for the benefit of any blind people in the audience. (“In this old-timey underwear, I feel like my boobs are stuffed into party hats!”) Things get really weird when Burt makes a phone call and turns into James Stewart. Turns out Garret Dillahunt does the world’s worst James Stewart impression, but is that part of the joke? Hard to tell. Suffice to say that I was inordinately grateful for Virginia referring to It’s A Wonderful Life as “that Christmas movie where everybody is better off without him.”
A couple of Christmas seasons back, Raising Hope did its own riff on It’s A Wonderful Life, in a holiday episode that gave Jimmy a chance to envision how much poorer his family, friends, and town would be if he weren’t around. It was not, to put it mildly, the most original comic idea in sitcom history, but the point is that, besides using the gimmick pretty well, the show managed to fold its parody into the established world of a Raising Hope episode. This feels more like one of the weirder episodes of Tales From The Darkside, in particular one about an alien visitor (Jack Carter) that was staged as a parody of I Love Lucy—for no discernible reason except that the script wasn’t strong enough to stand on its own without an extra layer of gimmickry laid over it. Or one of the crazier fantasy episodes of NewsRadio, a show that could get away with sending its characters into outer space once in a while, because the actual setting had come to define the show less than the chance to watch the case members cooking together. Raising Hope is not that kind of show, or hasn’t been. But maybe it’ll turn into something else, if the current production team is just looking for ways to stay amused while running out the clock of the last season.
The most gratifying moment of “Murder, She Hoped” comes when Sabrina suddenly mentions that she and Jimmy have their own house and announces that it’s time to go home. Considering that it was acquiring their own home that set those two crazy kids on the road to matrimony, it’s nice that someone remembered. The show still betrays no interest in leaving the Chances’ home for any great length of time; when Jimmy, Sabrina, and Hope leave, the camera sticks around to hang out with Burt and Virginia, and that doesn’t really change until Burt and Virginia sneak into Jimmy and Sabrina’s place to wreak mischief on them. After bringing up the subject of, well, raising Hope in the season premiere, the show hasn’t seemed interested at all in showing what’s going on with Jimmy and Sabrina’s young marriage, and with them living apart from his parents, it’s more Burt and Virginia’s show than ever.
How Jimmy and Sabrina are doing is still a subject that transfixes Burt and Virginia, and tonight, damned if they aren’t curious about their son and daughter-in-law’s sex life. When Burt, who has no filter, quizzes his son, who in this respect is normal, about how regularly he and his wife have been sweating up the sheets, Jimmy says that he has nothing to say on the subject. Burt interprets this to mean that there’s nothing going on in Jimmy’s and Sabrina’s bedroom. Burt and Virginia have worked out a syllogism about how keeping the spice in a marriage works, based on their own experience: “Every marriage needs stress. Stress leads to tension. Tension leads to massages. And massages always lead to sex.”
Burt and Virginia themselves have become so conditioned to their own madness that they can only get hot together if they have something to worry about—“That flesh-eating virus I thought I had turned out to be spaghetti sauce,” says Burt, sadly—so, good parents that they are, they set about trying to make Jimmy and Sabrina feel as if the sky were falling. Their master plan involves inviting Sabrina’s old boyfriend, who has fallen on hard times, over for dinner, to drive Jimmy into a jealous tizzy. The fact that the writers themselves felt the need to make Sabrina and Jimmy hip to what was going on, and to give the ex-boyfriend a speech about how horribly he’s been used, may be taken as proof that even the people responsible for this episode could tell they were going to a place best left unvisited, but were committed to keep heading in that direction until someone came up with something better. But no one did. That includes whoever had the brainstorm of dressing Cloris Leachman up in funny costumes.
- Reunited with his lucky 50-cent piece, Jimmy says, “I knew it would turn up. There’s nothing luckier than a Kennedy!” Somehow, after the recent glut of 1963-anniversary TV, this felt like a case of Too Soon.
- For the second week running, I can point to no clearer evidence that this show may be going into creative free fall than to point to the dismal, desperate quality of Virginia’s malapropisms. (“Obama made a law where everyone has to have car insurance. It’s called Obama-car.”)