“Baby Monitor” is quite possibly the most (only?) meta episode of Raising Hope so far.
Not only does the episode feature guest stars Jaime Pressly and Ethan Suplee (from Greg Garcia’s previous hit show, My Name Is Earl), but the A-plot centers around the voyeuristic enjoyment of watching/listening in on other people’s lives. Inevitably, many of the jokes are little tongue-in-cheek jabs at the nature of television, often breaking the fourth wall or at least threatening to do so.
Here’s a sample of the metahumor, right at the start of the show. Burt (Garret Dillahunt) reacts in surprise upon hearing another couple’s voices on Hope’s baby monitor. Virginia (Martha Plimpton) is nonplussed, saying “I saw this on Modern Family and countless other sitcoms.”
Modern Family, indeed.
I suppose all mainstream sitcoms have to endure the Modern Family or Gleecomparisons at some point, but Raising Hope has really come into its own over the course of its freshman season.
This episode followed Burt and Virginia as they dealt with the angry confrontations overheard on the baby monitor. Burt involves himself in the other couple’s affairs, just as the audience becomes more involved in this new family’s affairs. I don’t want to keep harping on this voyeurism/tv/metahumor angle, but it’s omnipresent in this ep.
Burt and Virginia invite the couple over for dinner, in order to show the demanding wife (Jaime Pressly) an example of a calm, non-yelling wife who also deals with an immature husband. Of course, in accordance to sitcom law, the baby monitor malfunctions in such a way that the plan is overheard and the evening devolves into a yelling match. Ultimately, the neighbor wife redirects her anger from her husband to Virginia. Burt convinces Virginia that it’s better to be hated than to let their neighbors fall back into their old destructive routine. Happy ending? Eh.
The B-story involves the employees at Howdy’s Markey, led by the unflappable Barney (Gregg Binkley). Again, Frank (Todd Giebenhain) has some choice lines that light up the episode. Howdy’s Corporate is going to choose an ad to run for the chain. Every year, “Howdy’s West” wins and Barney’s pitch isn’t used. This year, Barney turns to his employees for help.
After failing to brainstorm an idea that’s acceptable to all, the group splits off to create their own commercials. Frank’s is delightfully creepy. Jimmy (Lucas Neff) presents an ad that is basically exactly what you would think Jimmy would create. There are magical swords and elaborate drawings and a Gollum-like creature (“My prices! My prices!”). Sabrina (Shannon Woodward) enlists the aid of her cousin (Kate Miccuci), Jimmy’s Maw Maw (Cloris Leachman), and Jimmy’s baby daughter to create her 1960’s-inspired musical ad. It’s somewhat interesting, but like most of Sabrina’s characterization, fairly flat.
While I’m glad they created a nemesis of sorts for Barney (in the character of the Howdy’s West manager), the B-story ended on a saccharine moral. Barney chose to submit nothing, rather than to drive the employees apart in competition. He cares about teamwork. Hoorah.
In its own way, Raising Hope is often fairly subversive. Many storylines never get resolved, and some that do, don’t get resolved in happy endings. The closing of the Burt/Virginia story was one of those situations. However, it flowed naturally, while the ending of the B-story seemed tacked-on and overly sentimental. Greg Garcia and co. have a tough line to hoe with Raising Hope. The show has broad mainstream appeal, but is just quirky enough to also gain critical consideration. In short, the show is good. Modern Family good? Ask me again in Season 2.