When Garret Dillahunt is really, really good on Raising Hope, it can inspire regret that he’s spent so much of his film and TV career pigeonholed as the skeeviest guy in the room. Dillahunt traipses off with this season’s Halloween episode, which is devoted to the new-normal commonplace that Halloween is, as Jimmy puts it, Christmas for gay people. (Yes, we all know that gay people enjoy Christmas too. But the boy is trying.) Jimmy is trying to find a way to fit in better when he and Sabrina hang out with her gay friend Jordan (Chris Eckert) and his boyfriend, Elijah, played by Harvey Guillen, who was in Huge and a very weird commercial for the Toyota Prius that I haven’t seen in a while but would still appreciate having explained to me. So Jimmy drags Burt down to Natesville’s gay bar, the Polka Dot, so he can observe and pick up some tips on how to make and understand clever references that can be appreciated by gay men and the straight women who love them.
Burt is happy to share with Jimmy everything he knows about gay men, but he doesn’t know anything other than some of them like handkerchiefs—“When I used to watch Will & Grace, I’d fall asleep”—and really gets into the research. He has the evening free anyway, because it’s Virginia’s Bunco night, and going to the gay bar quickly becomes the guy thing he can do while she’s having her night with the girls. As he tells Virginia, who is bemused but unable to think of anything wrong with it, he finds the whole experience liberating: For one thing, he can dance, and instead of being repulsed by his moves, as woman have always been, the guys just form a circle around him and clap.
Inevitably, most of the characters end up at the Polka Dot on Halloween, so that the actors can get in on this “dressing up in funny costumes” thing that has been de rigueur for late-October sitcoms ever since Halloween episodes became some kind of semi-mandatory thing. (I haven’t actually done any research on this, but I blame Roseanne.) Burt has one of the simpler and funnier Halloween costumes of the TV season, hitting the dance floor dressed as a mailman who’s part of the Village People. It’s funny because that’s obviously what he’s meant to be, even though, as he happily admits, there was no mailman in the Village People. Virginia, meanwhile, becomes jealous of all the fun he’s having and crashes the scene as Charlie Chaplin. Not recognizing her at first, Burt compliments her by saying, “Not a lot of people can pull off Hitler.” You know what else not a lot of people can pull off, which seems to be stopping fewer and fewer of them these days? Jokes about mistaking someone dressed as Chaplin for someone dressed as Hitler. How about we nip this in the bud right now and just bestow official custody of this knee-slapper on Borat?
Jimmy, meanwhile, has dressed up as the Hulk, because Barney has also dressed up as the Hulk at work, and he needs to give Barney a reason to send him home and call in Sabrina to replace him, as part of his cunning plan. So there’s a thought process behind this, but the fact remains that, for a decent stretch of this episode, there are two actors lumbering around dressed as the Hulk, which qualifies as some kind of abuse of whimsical license. Jordan and Elijah want a baby and have asked Sabrina to be their surrogate mom, and Jimmy isn’t really good with this, so his plan is to dump Hope on them for a few hours and sour them on the idea of having a child. But when Sabrina drags Jimmy back to their house to set things right—“Jimmy, you ruined Halloween for two gay men. Sorry’s not gonna cut it”—she finds the guys have done a triumphant job with Hope, even managing to get her to spurn her pacifier and go quietly to sleep. They credit the parenting books they’ve been boning up on. “Who’d have a child without doing the research?” “Maybe,” Jimmy fumbles, “someone who was willing to make a series of hopefully entertaining mistakes?”
The denouement is rather sweet—the guys are so impressed with Hope that they ask Jimmy to be their surrogate father, without Sabrina’s participation (it would be “too weird”), which makes her as uneasy as the thought of her carrying someone else’s baby to term made Jimmy. Still, when Burt isn’t expressing himself on the dance floor, a lot of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Me What To Do” is pretty tired. Both the plot situations and the jokes are, actually—when Sabrina reacts snobbishly to having her uterus swapped out for that of a girl who’s a barista, her friends point out that she’s a grocery store clerk herself, and Sabrina protests, “I’m doing it ironically!” Any sitcom writer who has a character spit that line into the void one more time had better have a better excuse than writing super-meta-ironically.
- Burt, filled with patriotic fervor by his wife’s cooking: “I don’t care what those guys running for president say, this is the best country in the world.”
- Straight guys’ burning questions, No. 1: “Do they have a women’s bathroom, or just two urinals?”
- Straight guys’ burning questions, No. 2: “I have a lot of dreams about dolphins. Does that mean anything?”
- Straight guy moment of insight: “Oh, I get it. A bear is a guy! That makes way more sense. But it’s much less impressive.”
- Canonical sitcom husband/boyfriend line: “I didn’t agree to anything. I just lost the argument.”