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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Raising Hope: “The Thrilla In Natesvilla”

Illustration for article titled Raising Hope: “The Thrilla In Natesvilla”
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Tonight, Molly Shannon returns as the passive-aggressive entrepreneur Maxine, and Barney steps up to court her. I know what you’re thinking: How is the show going to make this all about Virginia and Burt. It pulls it off in such a way that it seems quite natural. In fact, it closes on the image of Virginia and Burt kicking off their shoes and rubbing their socks on a shag carpet, so that they generate electrical charges when they kiss. Martha Plimpton puts a period to the scene by squinting and giggling in a way guaranteed to make you go “Awwww,” which is one hell of a testament to this show’s continuing ability to swing from one extreme tone to another, considering that the other high point is Frank’s answer when Sabrina points out that his fly is unzipped. “Can’t sell,” he shrugs, “if you don’t advertise.”

Barney, who’s been out of the dating scene for a long time, has entered into a “relationship” with Maxine that he describes as “long-distance and mostly virtual,” and as their first real date approaches, he chokes and begs Virginia and Burt to, as he puts it, “make it a four-way.” First, though, he asks Jimmy and Sabrina, who bow out because that’s the night they take fencing lessons. Having come up with that beaut of an alibi, they then have to go down to the fencing-lessons place to steal a pamphlet, but they become entranced by the spectacle of actual fencers and decide to actually take the plunge. Staring off into the middle distance, Jimmy says, in voice-over, “It was then that I realized that narrating other people’s activities was just a way of disguising the fact that we had none of our own.” I’m not sure what to make of the fact that, as the show leaves Jimmy less and less to do, the jokes he does get are becoming more and more self-referential. His other big line of the evening is telling Barney that his parents will definitely be free to go out on Tuesday, because their favorite TV show got moved to Friday night. He doesn’t say anything about it being bumped to a time slot half an hour later at the last minute, probably because it hadn’t been when this episode was put to bed.

The dinner date goes badly, with Maxine and Barney becoming jealous of Virginia and Burt’s shorthand, longtime-couple rapport, until Maxine begins to openly mock Barney for his failings, such as his inability to snap his fingers, or tiptoe. (“I was an obese child raised by two lesbians who only wore sandals. I never had a chance!”) But while Maxine has all the high-strung irrational characteristics of a Molly Shannon character, she is also practical-minded, and offers to pay Virginia and Burt for their relationship counseling. This is where that rug comes in. Virginia and Burt explain that they moved past domestic squabbling after hearing Sally Jessy Raphael say that all arguments between married couples are about sex, parenting, or money. Then, having pressed this wisdom upon Maxine and Barney, they hustle out to use the money they’ve earned to buy a new rug, to replace the one that Maw Maw had been using to cure road kill. But to their dismay, they get into an argument over which rug to buy. Is it possible their happiness is built on a false premise? The argument has nothing at all to do with sex or money. “And as happy as it would make me,” says Burt, “I can’t think of any way to pin this on Jimmy.”

It all turns out all right: Virginia and Burt come to their senses after seeing Frank and Maw Maw arguing about money, Sabrina and Jimmy en guarding their asses off over parenting issues, and Barney and Maxine fighting about sex. It reminds them of what’s important, and for the viewer, it’s also nice that Jimmy suddenly remembers that he has a daughter named Hope, whose name is still in the title of the series and everything. Mainly, though, it’s an excuse for us to see Virginia and Burt make up, with the aforementioned static electricity and giggling and all. Are these two the cutest couple on TV now? They’re certainly in the running, especially now that Amy Poehler and Adam Scott on Parks And Recreation are starting to get on my nerves. I figure the main competition would have to be Monroe and Rosalee on Grimm, which is on at the same hour. I'm thinking of starting an urban legend that if you switch channels between the two shows really fast, your TV turns into a rainbow doing it with a unicorn.

Stray observations:

  • In the long list of things that Virginia and Burt agree on: Which animals go to Heaven, “Dogs, cats, bigfoots, elephants.” I guess “bigfoots” does make more sense as the plural of “bigfoot” than “bigfeet,” but I’d just play it safe and say “skunk apes.”
  • I kind of feel as if this is a B minus episode. But I’m elevating it a notch just because, for a while there, I was absolutely sure there was going to be  a cameo by the actual Sally Jessy Raphael, and I’m so glad there wasn’t.