With a month to go before it ambles off the air for good, Raising Hope may never again produce an episode as consistent as the best episodes of its first three seasons. It’s still got a hell of a cast, though, and the odds remain good that they might do something that counts as the funniest thing seen on television in a given week. Tonight, the big payoff comes when Burt has to perform “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” on a local TV telethon. It’s not that he’s under-rehearsed; he and Virginia have been trying to do this act on one of Natesville’s telethons since 1988, but something has always gone wrong, starting with the year that Virginia went into labor while waiting in the wings. But they’ve planned it as a duet, and when Virginia doesn’t show, Burt has no choice but to galumph about the stage, singing his half of the song and trusting that the audience will be able to fill in Virginia’s side of the act with their minds. When judging the level of talent at a Natesville telethon, one naturally grades on a curve; other acts include “Seamus O’Flathery counting to 100 in a Mexican accent,” and “a six-year-old girl talking about her parents’ divorce.” But it’s after Burt has gone on that Barney, the master of ceremonies, hisses that “People are taking back their donations!”
How did Virgina come to leave Burt hanging out to dry? She has, as she admits, been “seduced by the glamor of assistant regional management,” and has been allowing her boss, Judith Light, to drag her along on all her business rounds, all of which are conducted at male strip clubs. (When she’s not making it rain, Light is coming to dinner with her boy-toy husband, Talon, in tow. “I know it looks like there’s a huge age difference,” she says of herself and Talon, “but that’s just because I can still pull young tail.”) Virginia is so drunk from the prospect of rapid career advancement, and so eager to see “this beautiful glass ceiling” that Light tells her is waiting for her at the top, that she even investigates squash after Light has told her how much she loves it; Virginia hastily proclaims that she loves it too, and is brought up short when she discovers that “It’s a game!?” Burt helps her to master the fundamentals, but she still feels that “this game would be a lot more fun if it was just people throwing squash at each other.”
While Virginia is learning what’s really important to her, Jimmy and Sabrina are concerned that Hope may, as Jimmy puts it, “take after her mother” because she fails to show any tearful emotion at the death of her goldfish. The episode is full of self-referential lines referring to the fact that this is a sitcom where the characters do the kind of things that sitcom people do; most of this stuff is affably harmless, though some of it is a little more pointed, such as when Jimmy and Sabrina say that they fear they’ve reached crisis point with little Hope, and Burt scoffs: “A crisis is when they move your favorite show to Friday nights.” So it may not be a coincidence that Hope not reacting appropriately to the death of her pet is so reminiscent of a classic early episode of The Cosby Show.
Here, though, it’s an excuse for black comedy: Hope’s mother was, after all, a serial killer. In one of the least grandfatherly lines ever spoken, Burt admits that “I love her, but when I’m alone with her, always have an exit strategy.” Jimmy and Sabrina decide to test Hope’s reflexes by seeing how she reacts to a more cuddle-friendly pet: A mouse, which they get from Frank, who was just going to feed it to his snake anyway. The mouse, he tells them, is named Len. Jimmy is surprised that he bothered to name the mouse; doesn’t that make it harder to feed it to a snake?”Some people feel that way,” says Frank, “but I believe it gives him a dignity in death.”
In the end, everything turns out all right: Virginia rejects Judith Light’s gilded rat race, she and Burt get to kiss on TV at the telethon, and Hope’s concern when Jimmy accidentally pulls a book case over onto himself comfirms that she really does have a compassionate side; as Sabrina puts it, she just isn’t “a pet person.” But has Virginia screwed up her chances of promotion, thus guaranteeing that she’ll close out the series in the same crummy job she’s always had? I don’t know, but I know this: Seamus O’Flathery’s act had better be included as a bonus feature on the DVD box.