Raising Hope is now officially my favorite new series of this past TV season. Like all good season finales, this episode left the audience wanting more, while also tying together and advancing many season-long plot arcs. I’ve noted before how impressed I am with Raising Hope’s stable of recurring characters, and many of them play great roles in making this episode a success.
For example, during the opening voiceover, we get a sequence of guests arriving at the Chance home. Recurring characters like Cousin Mike* (Skylar Stone) and Jimmy’s friends Javier (Ray Santiago) and Marcus (Jermaine Williams) appear. We also get a subtle visual joke: Barney (Gregg Binkley) arrives sheepishly with an empty 4-pack carton, while Sabrina (Shannon Woodward) and Frank (Todd Giebenhain) each bring in two bottles.
Another great sight gag was Burt’s shirt in the start of the flashback: “I’d Rather Be In Virginia,” indeed.
Anyway, the plot is simple sitcom fluff. Jimmy (Lucas Neff) and Maw Maw (Cloris Leachman) celebrate their birthdays together, as they have done every year since Jimmy can remember. Except for that one year…
We then spend the rest of the episode in a flashback. It’s a fun way to show the growth of the Chance family, but also to fill in the backstory for some of the side characters. I especially appreciated the appearance of Hope’s mother (Bijou Phillips), and the revelation of why she became a serial killer.
Something that never stops being funny is Past-Jimmy’s goth rocker makeup. Lucas Neff portrays Jimmy as an incredibly harmless, somewhat bland guy. The contrast with the Hot Topic “Drakkar Noir” is wonderful. Naturally, past-Sabrina was extremely attracted to the gothy, makeup-wearing stranger. And, just as naturally, present-Jimmy makes his present-father promise never to mention his past-phase to present-Sabrina. Whew. It’s like I’m reviewing Lost.
This episode provides a great chance for Cloris Leachman to play an almost entirely different character, a lucid Maw Maw, harshly kicking out her mooching daughter (Martha Plimpton) and her family. Virginia and Burt stay with Rosa’s family, but Jimmy runs away and decides to sleep in the DVD bin at Howdy’s.
The grocery store scenes are great fun, with Frank, Shelly (Kate Micucci), and a braces-wearing Sabrina (Shannon Woodward). We find out that Sabrina only planned to temporarily work at the grocery store, that Barney was morbidly obese, and that Frank was the one that hit Shelly’s dead tooth. Hope’s mother also appears in a few scenes, arguing with her boyfriend until Shelley recommends she “get rid of that guy,” which she does, before returning to buy lots and lots of blood-cleaning bleach.
Eventually, Burt and Virginia discover that Maw-Maw is showing signs of senility, so they decide to move back in to take care of her. Jimmy/Drakkar runs afoul of the law, and decides to go back to being Jimmy. Everyone grows up a little, and the episode closes with all the family and friends together, under the heart-tugging strains of “Home” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros.
The one complaint I have about this episode is that Jimmy’s rebellious phasedoesn’t seem to jibe with his parents decrying his wimpiness in Sleep Training. Specifically, Burt (Garret Dillahunt) complains that Jimmy has never slept more than ten feet from his parents’ door, but he is shown to have done so five years ago in this flashback episode. For a continuity error, it’s fairly minor, though, and the rest of the episode is spot-on with the way it deals with Raising Hope‘s characters and their interconnected universe.
*I have a morbid fascination with characters who are written off before they’re sufficiently developed. Cousin Mike was annoying but forgettable in the pilot. However, since then, every time he appears, I feel like a bird-watcher spying a rare species.