Raising Hope: "Baby Monitor"
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Raising Hope: "Baby Monitor"

Hey, look! It’s a skinny version of that guy from Mallrats!

Tonight's episode of Raising Hope,"Baby Monitor," features guest stars  Ethan Suplee and Jamie Pressly, playing variations of their My Name is Earl characters. While their appearances had the potential to steer the how into a self-referential vortex, "Baby Monitor" actually escaped almost entirely unscathed. It was, in fact, one of the strongest episodes of a show that has gotten sweeter and mellower with age. Suplee reprises his role as a dopey, possibly sub-literate type, married to a hectoring, verbally abusive wife played by Jamie Pressly. So while neither performer is exactly stretching it, they're both put to effective use. Virginia accidentally hears the neighbors bickering via the baby monitor—“I saw this on Modern Family and countless other sitcoms,” she explains—but it’s Burt who becomes engrossed in their domestic disputes. (Speaking of Burt, if you haven’t done so yet, do yourself a favor and read Todd’s great interview with Garret Dillahunt.)

He feels obliged to help out his fellow man, but Virginia is reluctant to get involved because she doesn’t want to become the “meddling busybody stick-your-nose-in-other-people’s-business snoop.” Burt’s first step is to remove the stump from Andrew’s yard. Then, with Virgnia’s grudging cooperation, Burt invites Donna and Andrew over. The ostensible reason is for a dinner party, but Burt has ulterior motives: sending Donna to “wife school” to learn how to be a nicer spouse. Virginia plays along, and the gambit seems to work, until Donna overhears Burt explaining the plot to Andrew.  Virginia gets blamed for the conspiracy, and suddenly she’s the neighborhood busybody she dreaded becoming. 

Of course, it all works out in the end. With Donna’s animosity focused entirely on Virginia, Andrew is off the hook. And, as Burt points out, it’s more important that Andrew and Donna are happy than that everyone likes Virginia. Raising Hope often ends with these kinds of heartwarming counter-intuitive twists, and it’s something I enjoy about the show.  It’s got a soft, gooey heart, but the sentiment is hardly ever served straight-up.

While Burt and Virginia are running “wife school,” Jimmy and the gang are brainstorming ideas for a Howdy’s commercial. The goal is to finally triumph over Howdy’s West uninspired campaigns (“We just have apples. They’re cheap and round and red, like God intended.”) but there’s dissent among the ranks. Barney decides the only solution is to have everyone submit their own commercial to him, and then he’ll decide the winner. “It will be individuals working within a larger framework,” he explains. “Like Al Qaeda?”  Frank asks. (His character was on fire this week, wasn’t he?)

Frank’s ad is basically a creepy version of one of those video personal ads from the ‘90s. “I’m a Pisces who was born in the year of the rat,” he says. As for Howdy’s, he doesn’t really care one way or the other about food. “What’s the point? It all eventually ends up in the toilet.” Exactly, Frank. Exactly.

Jimmy’s geeky ad—in which he plays a Gollum-esque character—appears to have had a much higher budget than Frank’s, but maybe that’s because Barney is cast in the lead role. But Sabrina’s ad, complete with girl-group costumes and a catchy theme song, is the real showstopper. I think Sabrina’s would have been my favorite, had it not been for that damn singing baby. I might as well come clean: I have a long-standing aversion to digitally-altered infants. They’re everywhere: Quizno’s, Ally McBeal, and now Sabrina’s spec commercial. This scourge must end!

In any case, Barney can’t decide on a favorite and, unbeknownst to his employees, he doesn’t even submit them for consideration. He’s too afraid of the tension it might create among his team of slaves.  This was sweet in a weird way, but it also the most expedient way to wrap up the storyline.

Singing babies notwithstanding, this was an all-around excellent episode. I might have given it an A, but for one other smallish quibble: The whole nagging wife/dopey emasculated husband thing.  Now that’s something I’ve seen on Modern Family and countless other sitcoms.  This has been a television trope since forever, and it reminds me how strange it is that you hardly every see the opposite: the berating husband. Sure, there are the uptight guys with the spacey wives, but you never really see them get mad, or publicly shaming their wives for making trivial mistakes. There are obvious reasons for the disparity, but it makes me wonder: when’s the last time we actually did see something like this on TV? I keep thinking of how Ricky used to put Lucy over his knee and spank her. Usually, she'd done something only slightly worse than bringing the wrong crackers to a dinner party. And with that image in mind, I bid you all a good night.

Stray observations:

  • “Burt, it’s been 15 minutes. I don’t think the boomerang’s coming back.”
  • “Shame on you for making me use my rape whistle in a non-rape situation.”
  • “How did they build the pyramids?” “With slaves.”
  • Frank had the best lines of the episode: “Wonder why people riot in Tunisia? Look no more.”
    “Nobody’s done blackface on TV for a while.” “How many more dead birds gotta fall from the sky before you guys wake up?” “We have food, if that’s your thing.”
  • While we're on the subject, what are the chances that Frank is a 9/11 Truther? I'd say at least 60 percent.
  • “Do you need us to step out so you can tear him a new one?” “First of all I can’t see why I’d want him to have two of those. Second of all, it’s no big deal.”
  •  “He reminds me of me. We’ve both got brown hair and hate museums.”
  • “Love ‘em. I can eat 6 of them in a minute with no beverages. Or 9 if there’s butter on them.”

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