A theme runs through tonight’s double scoop of Raising Hope: Jimmy’s and, especially, Sabrina’s frustrated yearning for adult friends. This is presumably a complete accident, considering that the people who conceived these episodes had no way of knowing they’d be run back-to-back on the same night, and in neither instance is it developed past the point of serving as a springboard for a goofy story that has little to do with it, but you take your deeper meaning where you can find it on a Fox Tuesday night comedy block.
“Making The Band”
Jimmy and Sabrina have taken to hanging out at the playground in the hope of finding some parents they can tolerate so that Hope, who has an underbooked 3rd-birthday party coming up, can make friends her own age. In the course of the episode, both Jimmy and Sabrina will meet exactly one parent of their respective genders with whom they might have a real rapport, but then they find out that these people come yoked to spouses who would be a nightmare to have around, so they shrug it off, and that’s that. It’s not a big deal anyway, because the real point of the episode is to stage a My Name Is Earl reunion.
While doing their discount best to pitch in on planning Hope’s party (“I still can’t believe people just leave their broken piñata pieces in the park after their parties.”), Burt and Virginia see Jason Lee, returning to the role of washed-up rocker Smokey Floyd, on a celebrity rehab show. (He’s partnered with recovering masturbation addict TV’s Tim Stack, who plays himself, just as he used to on selected episodes of My Name Is Earl. All of which raises the question: When the hell is Night Stand With Dick Dietrick coming to Hulu?) Since he was last on the show, Smokey’s been through the mill. Having realized—from seeing himself on the viral video of his dust-up with Burt—that he had become “a monster, a liver-spotted, turkey-necked monster,” he went to get plastic surgery in Mexico. “They were so-so with the knife, but real liberal with the painkillers. Next thing I knew, I’m hooked on vikes, perks, oxy, and coffee enemas. I’m told I burned my house down.”
Stop me if you’ve heard this one, but now that he’s on the path to a better life, Smokey has a list of people he’s wronged and to whom he must make amends, so he shows up at the Chances’ door, hoping that by spending a week with them, he can make it up to them for having robbed them of “the Smokey Floyd experience.” At first, Burt and Virginia are stoked to have a rock star hanging out with them, but the reality is a crushing disappointment: “The only Stones he has stories about,” moans Virginia, “are the ones in his kidneys.” Smokey ultimately redeems himself by singing for his supper at Hope’s party, accompanied by a makeshift band comprised of Burt and Virginia, the recurring characters played by Ethan Suplee (sporting a mustache that makes him look like a young Mr. Wilson in Dennis The Menace) and Jaime Pressly, a pizza delivery guy played by Eddie Steeples, and a bouncy young lady played by Nadine Velazquez. Every time one of these beloved figures first sticks his or her head through the Chances’ front door, a musical sting is heard, like in The Barbarian Invasions, French-Canadian auteur Denys Arcand’s 2004 sequel to his 1986 movie The Decline Of The American Empire, where each appearance by a character from the first movie was greeted by an orchestral theme that made it sound as if they’d won an Academy Award just by showing up. You just read a reference to Denys Arcand in a review of Raising Hope. Isn’t this a great time to be alive?
The Chances and the My Name Is Earl survivors decide to form a kiddie band, and for a time, Burt and Virginia are able to live out their rock-star fantasies, but after a near-death experience in an airplane, they decide—or Smokey decides for them, it’s sort of a toss-up—that their real lives as Jimmy’s parents and Hope’s grandparents are far more important and fulfilling than any fantasy made flesh could be. As for the episode itself, Jason Lee does some wonderful things, such as when he gracefully pantomimes breaking up the band, and it goes down easy, though it depends on a certain amount of warm feeling from the viewer based on seeing Greg Garcia “getting the band back together,” get it? What people who’ve never seen an episode of My Name Is Earl might make of it, I have no idea.
“The Old Girl”
This is a bit meatier, benefiting from a charming guest performance by Hilary Duff and fresh insight into just how thoroughly, well-meaningly insane Burt and Virginia’s parenting style has always been. It seems that since he was knee-high to a grasshopper, Jimmy has always been a romantic, prone to getting his heart broken, and Burt and Virginia were quick to define the root of the problem as his tendency to reach for girls who were out of his league. (“What’s the matter with that boy?” asks Burt, as Virginia is on the phone, scaring off cheerleaders. “Right down the block is that buck-toothed redhead with the one Frankenstein shoe. She’s perfect for him!”) So they got into the habit of doing whatever it took to break up his romances with hot girls, lest they become serious, and the inevitable heartbreak be too unbearable for all involved. Duff, in flashback, plays Rachel, the girl Jimmy met and connected with at college. “I was thinking of going to college,” he explains, “so I drove out to one, thinking if I didn’t end up going to college, I could still say I went to college, and hope the questions ended there.”
Jimmy and Rachel hit it right off, so Burt and Virginia do what they feel they have to do: Show up at Rachel’s college, pretending to be siblings, befriend Rachel and a boy named Richard who likes her, and set about trying to steer them into each other’s arms. “You and Richard harmonize well together,” says Virginia, after they’ve all been to rehearsal for the campus a cappella group. “You should have sex and get married.” She is unimpressed with Rachel’s insistence that she has a boyfriend, a nice Natesville lad named Jimmy: “Sounds like a kid with a big nose and a bad haircut who probably wet the bed until he was 7.”
All this is coming out now because Sabrina has become friends with Rachel and invited her over, though neither of them realizes that they have a man in common. Nor has Jimmy known until this night that it was his parents who broke them up. In their defense, Virginia points out, if they hadn’t they might still be together, and he never would have wound up marrying “the cutest girl” at Howdy’s—and the little celebratory wiggle that Sabrina does upon hearing herself so described would almost be enough to make this episode, all by itself. Jimmy remains unconvinced: “I guess I should just run down to the pharmacy and get a card that says, ‘Thank You For Secretly Breaking Up My Relationship And Hoping I Stumble Into Something Good.’” “They do have some crazy ones,” agrees Burt. “I saw one that said, ‘Sorry Your Bird Died.’” In the end, Rachel storms out, and Sabrina is still lonely, but the message is the same one as in many a Burt-and-Virginia-centric episode: Whatever works.
- The song that the My Name Is Earl vets perform for their child audiences is pretty good. On the other hand, the multiple versions of “Ain’t No Sunshine” threaded throughout the Hilary Duff episode are pure genius.