This was Raising Hope's first episode back after a couple of weeks away due to the World Series, and it felt as if the show were trying to regain the identity it developed over the course of its first season, like someone trying to wriggle back inside the skinny jeans after a brief, losing struggle with chocolatis. The show hasn't just been splayed out in a ditch, but it has felt uneven and a little unsure of itself, as if the confident vulgarity of the first season had been watered down. Unless I'm mistaken, this was the first episode of the season to include the full version of the opening credits, which was enough to give it a certain "starting over" quality. (This must have been a special thrill for Gregg Binkley, who plays the grocery store manager, and who's had to wait for this unveiling to have his elevation to series regular made official.)
The biggest indicator that the show was trying to get back to its roots was in Cloris Leachman's Maw Maw. Throughout the first season, Maw Maw was mostly lost in space, though some of Leachman's funniest moments came in those rare, brief moments when she achieved lucidity. In the early episodes of this season, Maw Maw seemed mostly lucid, or at least no worse than dotty, only drifting past the bounds of sanity when it was absolutely necessary to have a crazy person in play in order to keep the plot moving. It was as if someone had circulated a memo to the effect that senile dementia isn't funny. Apparently somebody shredded that memo while everyone in the front office was watching baseball, and tonight Maw Maw was fully consigned to the fog, eating refrigerator magnets and being affectionately compared to a goat.
Maw Maw was being encouraged to indulge herself because the family needed to clear out the refrigerator before moving out onto the lawn so the house could be sprayed for termites--the "poor little wood-eating bastards," as they were called by Garret Dillahunt, a man blessed with empathy for all God's creatures. With the family trying to make the best of being shut out of their home without a backup destination, there was a fair amount of humor about where to have sex or go to the bathroom when you don't have a house. The situation also pointed up what's scary about the Chances' position on the socioeconomic ladder, where they wouldn't need to descend more than a few rungs to achieve homelessness. It didn't get far beyond Burt saying something to the effect that living out doors sure did make him glad they weren't poor, which gave Jimmy the chance to irritably point out that they are poor. Burt, or maybe the writers, couldn't even think of a comeback to that, so they just dropped the subject. Probably they felt that they'd gone come dangerously close to bringing in a subject that would just be a downer. But watching a show that's reduced to having the characters complain about having to take a dump in the good bucket can be a downer, too.
This was all just grist for the main subject, which was Burt and Virginia's concern that Hope, who had taken to hitting people at daycare, might be showing signs of becoming a serial killer, just like her mommy. Jimmy's assurances that Hope is still just a baby got him nowhere; as Virginia pointed out, so were Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy, once upon a time. "And remember Son of Sam? At one point, Sam was going around saying, 'This is my brand new baby!'" I thought that was pretty funny, though it may have been the way Martha Plimpton sold it. On the other hand, when she met Jimmy halfway by agreeing that Hope wouldn't be much of a danger to them in her current state even if she did turn on them, because the soft spot on the top of her head was like "an emergency off switch"--well, let's just say that there are limits to even Martha Plimpton's salesmanship. It's probably a good thing to be reminded of that from time to time, but maybe not with a bad line that hits you between the eyes with such impact that it leaves a welt.
His parents' concerns did move Jimmy enough that he got to worrying about the effect that all the bitching and arguing going on around his daughter might be building up and feeding the killer inside her. Cue the montage of bitching and arguing, which did include at least one great, unexpected grounds for family discord: Virgina, behind the wheel of her car, turning to Burt and saying, "My battery's dead again. Have you been using my headlights to practice your stupid shadow puppets?" (Trying to show her that it was all worth it, Burt stuck out his fingers and demanded, "What's that look like?" "It looks like an idiot who keeps leaving my headlights on." "Wrong! Moose antlers!") Jimmy got so bent out of shape that he had a Trainspotting-influenced nightmare about Hope's eventual murder spree, complete with Burt lying on the couch with a crank sticking out of the side of his face and a jack-in-the-box popping out of his mouth. It must be said that Garret Dillahunt, a veteran of such films as The Road and the Last House on the Left remake, looked very much at home with this material.
Greg Germann put in a guest appearance as Hope's maternal grandfather, now in prison and reduced to picking up litter on the side of the road, decked out in a hairstyle designed to indicate that he's the (pre-psychotic breakdown) Tobias Beecher of his cell block. Germann's scenes kind of summed up the place Raising Hope finds itself in when it doesn't get it just right: he's a welcome presence, but though he worked hard to find a way to make his character's plight funny, he couldn't quite pull it off, and his scenes just left you feeling uncomfortable. But at least they were trying for something. Far more ominous was the moment when Dillahunt ran into the house to get something, even though it was full of toxic fumes: "I'll hold my nose and close my eyes," he said, "like when I eat Indian fumes."
This might just be the hackiest line I've ever heard on Raising Hope, and it was that much stranger, and that much less funny, because of the bewildering presence of the dog-walking neighborhood weirdo who wore a purple turban and exploded with a mystifying, broadly played laugh, when he wasn't taking pictures of Virginia on the toilet. At least the geeky Chinese guy who talks funny on 2 Broke Girls is a familiar, worn-out stereotype; you can't figure out what the hell he's doing on a network show broadcast in the year of our lord, 2011. but he's too worn-out a joke to seem worth getting upset over. Raising Hope almost seemed to be trying to create a brand new ethnic stereotype with its hyena-laughing Indian. I would propose that the show's writers have better things to do with their talents.