Last January, Fox decided that the thought of airing one more episode of the sweet, funny Ben And Kate was so unbearable that they began tearing through the second half of the current season of Raising Hope by airing two episodes a week. The show disappeared from the airwaves a month ago, and now, out of the blue, here are two more episodes—which comprise the season finale, but aren't even airing on the series’ usual night. More people probably would have seen them if they’d aired in the usual time slot three weeks ago, but they were held back until now because the people who make the show, not having anticipated these kinds of gonzo programming tactics, designed them to go with Easter and Mother’s Day. And this is how networks treat the shows they presumably want to have around, from creators they understand and with whom they have good working relationships. I guess Raising Hope should count its blessings and just be grateful it’s not Community, where, thanks to network fiat, they now celebrate Halloween on Valentine’s Day.
“Burt Mitzvah—The Musical”
Thanks to the current incarnation of TV Roundtable, I have just recently become something of an expert on musical-themed episodes of TV series that are not Glee, Fame, or Cop Rock. I’m not sure how much good this is going to do me in the coming zombie apocalypse, but who am I to turn up my nose at the chance to acquire knowledge, any knowledge? This premise of this musical episode is that Burt’s parents have come to him with the news that his mother has just learned that she’s Jewish. This means that Burt himself is Jewish, and Mom and Dad insist that he be bar mitzahed and become a man, which, as Burt says, is something “I thought we covered when I got married and had a baby at 17.” (Shirley Jones and Lee Majors are on hand to reprise their roles as Burt’s parents. Jones, who is the WASPiest American actress alive this side of Meryl Streep, looks as if she’s having a good time getting to say “Bubbeleh,” though Majors—who gave it his all trying to prove he could do comedy in his previous appearance, and in the process established that his all ain’t a hell of a lot—acts as if someone off-camera is operating him by remote control.)
Greg Garcia isn’t exactly the first person to detect a specifically Jewish strain of American musical-comedy theatre, and by tying this plotline to this kind of musical spoofery, Raising Hope gets to indulge in some ripe ethnic humor, as well as some of the silliest jokes I’ve ever embarrassed my wife by laughing at. (Talking about how he’s never finished anything, Burt laments that he never even completed “that book report on people from Finland. I don’t even know what they’re called.” Maw Maw: “Finnish.” Burt: “I’m trying!”) The first big number is a Fiddler On The Roof-style routine set in a deli where Burt has gone to explore the subject of his heritage; it includes singing sandwiches and a crowd hoisting Burt aloft in a chair with a coffee filter draped across his head. In the second number, Barney gives Virginia a history lesson about the chosen people that takes over the aisles of Howdy’s. (At the conclusion, Virginia hits her mark and triumphantly shouts, “Molotov!”)
This is fun stuff. I’m not so sure about Jimmy’s big song encouraging Burt to go through with the ceremony, which is done in a hair-metal style, with an echo of the theme from St. Elmo’s Fire, as if it were out of a Rock Of Ages-type jukebox musical. It has its funny moments, but I hate to encourage that sort of thing. It does inspire Burt to make good on his promise, even though the rabbi has to correct his pronunciation of every word he has to deliver, so that the ceremony goes on for three hours. Also, it turns out that Burt isn’t really Jewish; it’s just a scam so that his parents can use the bat mitzvah money he gets from all their friends to go on a cruise. I promised that I wouldn’t be too hard on anything that happened in the season finale so long as Nancy Grace didn’t show up again, but this is a real wet blanket of a punchline, and I don’t know why anyone felt it was necessary. On a show that managed to bring the romantic leads together and marry them off with such winning casualness, and where one recurring character has come back from the dead more often than the allure of vinyl records, what difference does it make if Burt suddenly becomes Jewish? For all I could have told you, he might have been a Druid before now. But it’s almost worth it for the moment when Burt first learns that people honor the occasion by giving him cash. “With sound investments,” Sabrina explains, “some people can turn that into a nice nest egg.” Burt: “I’m gettin’ a jet ski!”
As Mother’s Day nears, the family is discussing how little they know about Maw Maw’s mother. Virginia shoots down Burt’s idea that Maw Maw “might be the first Mother” with no progenitor of her own, and suggests that he visit the house where Maw Maw grew up and take some pictures of it, as a holiday surprise. There’s a surprise waiting there, all right: Maw Maw’s still-living. 104-year-old mother, played by Cloris Leachman with a missing tooth, flaking complexion, and a long, scraggly Riff Riff wig that somebody used to mop the bathroom floor. This child of God is in even worse shape mentally than Maw Maw: She thinks she’s been dead for the last 20 years, and when Burt brings her back home with him, she thinks that Virginia is God and the house is Heaven. She gives the place the once-over and mutters, “I gave up 5,000 Sunday mornings for this?”
This episode serves a couple of purposes that I imagine were dear to the creative team’s heart. For one thing, by offering an alternate version of Maw Maw, it makes you appreciate how well Cloris Leachman really is keeping it together. Also, somebody here must be a really big fan of the 1993 movie version of The Beverly Hillbillies, in which Leachman played Granny, and was eager to see her do some of her moves again. (At one point, Virginia, wanting some time to conspire with Burt, tells her to “go in the backyard and see if you can get us a varmint for dinner.” She returns dragging a sack, and says, “I couldn’t find a varmint, but I got three critters and a rascal.”) Finally, when Maw Maw and her mother are reunited, and, of course, remember how mad they’ve been at each other for decades, we get to watch a couple of Cloris Leachmans kicking the shit out of each other. Just because the doctors don’t have a name for this yet doesn’t mean that it’s not a real perversion.
The sweet stuff comes in Virginia’s scenes, where she is forced to confront the fact that not only does Hope now see Sabrina as her mother, but that Sabrina may actually be coming to know the child a little better than Virginia does. At first, Virginia’s resentment of this seems unreasonable, but then she confesses that, with Maw Maw permanently out to lunch and her own mother barely a dim memory, “The only good female family relationship I had left was with Hope.” Sabrina comes to the rescue, pointing out that her own mother was never a mother to her, and in fact will never, ever be seen on this show again, and that she herself thinks of Virginia as, well, kind of as a mom. Sabrina, who didn’t always seem like a good fit for this household, has the last words of the season: “I’m with my family.” It’s about as touching and blissful a curtain line for this season as anyone could imagine. But the part of me that blisses out on jokes about inappropriate touches still wishes that Frank had more to do than check in, alongside the equally underused Kate Micucci, via cutaway shot.