The question hanging over the heads of Raising Hope fans all summer has been, how will the show—in what many observers believe will probably be its final season, no matter what happens—hold up with the departure of creator-producer Greg Garcia. On the basis of the first two new episodes, I’d say that the show may have backslid a bit since its peak, but that it’s in better shape than The Millers, the CBS show that Garcia went off to oversee. And given that previous seasons of Raising Hope haven’t usually led with the strongest episodes imaginable, it’s probably too soon to even take that backsliding business too seriously. These episodes are cartoonishly broad, which is fine so long as they’re also funny. Mainly, the total effect of this hour is to emphasize how much of this show has always come down to the teamwork between the cast mates, and how solidly Martha Plimpton and Garret Dillahunt have the race for the M.V.P. trophies sewn up.
“Déjà Vu Man”
The season premiere is an excellent testimonial to this show’s ability to use silliness to take the air out of subjects that other shows might have been eager to treat in an emotional, heavyweight Very Special Episode sort of way. Jeffrey Tambor is the title character, who has long been known to Burt as “Cookie Man”; he pops up from time to time, offering the Chance children cookies. Virginia, who has always assumed that Cookie Man was a fantasy of Burt’s has known him as Déjà Vu Man, a stranger who materializes and snaps candid snapshots of her. “At first, I assumed he was a pervert,” she explains, “but when I saw he didn’t have a mustache, I thought he must be an undercover modeling scout.”
After the Chances track Tambor down at the barber shop, they learn that he is actually…. wait for it: Virginia’s birth father. He’s an itinerant actor who was seduced by Virginia’s mother after a performance in Pippin: “Local critics said I was mesmerizing,” and I was so mesmerized just by the thought of Jeffrey Tambor starring in Pippin that I lost the thread for a few minutes and had to rewind the episode when I returned to the land of the living. He also claims that he never had a chance to be the father to Virginia that he wanted to be, because he’s gay and was driven out of Natesville by homophobes. Virginia accepts this story at face value. Sure enough, Maw Maw spits curses at any mention of Arnold, and Maw Maw’s penchant for intolerance has to be given as much weight as all the evidence we have from other shows that Jeffrey Tambor is not a good dad.
But it’s Maw Maw who’s in the right for once; when she sees that Arnold has entered Virginia’s life, she spits that he was so hated by everyone in town because he’s a “first-class narcissist.” This throws everything he’s done since reconnecting with his daughter in a new, selfish light, and when called on to defend himself, Tambior reverts to full, Tamborian assholism, which is an amazing thing to see. Throwing back his head, he declaims, “Not one for melodrama, so—goodbye forever!” Happily, the whole encounter serves to make Virginia recognize what a tremendous, loving father figure she always had in Mr. Maw Maw, who is seen looking warm and approachable, like a Hobbit I. F. Stone, in old home movie footage. This also casts every previous mention of gramps on the show in a different light, since I can only remember him being brought up in the context of Maw Maw’s pervy ravings, but clearly he was a man with many sides.
Raising Hope takes on the economy with an episode in which Burt and Virginia create their own barter economy, trading what they have to offer in terms of services for such goods as lobsters, maple syrup, and knitwear. They wind up delivering a lecture to prospective participants in their living room, complete with the line, “I cannot stress enough, this is not a pyramid scheme!” As a cherry on the cake, they even make things official by having mass quantities of “Burt bucks,” with Burt’s picture on one side, printed up and ready for distribution. “We are living the good life,” Virginia announces, “and even though I haven’t eaten anything but lobster, butter, and maple syrup for the last three days, I have never felt better.” Alas, in their zeal, they flood the market with Burt bucks, their own currency becomes hopelessly devalued, and there’s hell to pay when the printer’s bill arrives. Paul Krugman isn’t actually credited as a writer on this episode, but I assume he used a pseudonym.
The subplot, having to do with Jimmy’s feelings of inadequacy after Sabrina saves him from choking with the Heimlich maneuver and he is frustrated in his attempts to save her life in turn, is presumably here just to remind the audience that there is a guy on the show named Jimmy, who has a daughter named Hope, and who got married last year, at which point some of cried and threw rice at our TVs which our own wives made us clean up. Poor Jimmy is even made fun of, especially after a video of him trying to save Sabrina and having to be saved himself lands online. “I’m all over the Internet,” he laments. “I’ve got 58 views, and every time I check it, it gets higher!” (The worst part of being a grocery-store laughingstock is that even Frank joins in, though he takes a moment to apologize and explain that he’s just deflecting attention from himself: “As you know,” he says, “I’m a veritable minefield of mockable traits.”) But then Sabrina discovers that Jimmy has been intercepting the snarky letters she receives from her rotten, hateful, off-screen Mom, and has the chance to point out to Jimmy that he’s her protector after all, and it’s all good. If Jimmy takes this far enough to keep Melanie Griffith off the set if in the unlikely event she ever tries to return to Natesville, we’ll owe him one.
- At the beginning of the hour, there’s a “Previously on Raising Hope”-style prologue, staged as a backyard gathering designed to jog Maw Maw’s memory, with Kate Micucci singing along to images from past shows. Since the number of past episodes is well up into the 60s, they had a lot of choices available to them, and I have to give them credit: They’ve decided to really own that candy-war episode.
- Once the Chances figure out that Cookie Man, Déjà Vu Man, and Super Curious Man are one and the same, they decide to confront him and find out what he wants, because that always goes so well “on Grey’s Anatomy,” I feel bad that, after all these years, I still haven’t seen enough of Grey’s Anatomy to get that joke.
- Arnold dresses the Chances up in cheap Gatsby-wear to take their Christmas-card photo, and because there’s never a bad reason to have Shannon Woodward dress as a cigarette girl. “I love costumes!” gushes Virginia. “Oh boy,” says Arnold, “do I have a parade to take you to next summer!”
- Special points to the second episode for best use so far this season of a Pet Shop Boys song. Still, the night is young.
- “If I didn’t have daddy issues,” Virginia tells Burt, “I might not have gotten knocked up at 18, and then where would I be?” Of all the things this show might have lost with Greg Garcia, the most important would have been its way of looking at things like forced marriage between horny teenagers with zero future job prospects in the sweetest way possible without just seeming ostrich-stupid. A line like that makes me optimistic.