In an age of ambitious, sometimes pretentious TV, Raising Hope never made any grand promises, but over the course of four uneven but honorably entertaining seasons, it actually delivered a lot. It’s one of the few contemporary shows that depicts working class people as decent and worthy of an audience’s time without ever getting misty-eyed, and it proved that Garret Dillahunt, previously best known for playing multiple despicable characters on Deadwood and impersonating Jesus on that “controversial” NBC thing that was canceled during its first commercial break, is one funny son of a bitch. (In the case of Martha Plimpton, no further proof was necessary; if she isn’t being deluged with offers from sitcom producers, then we do not deserve to continue as a species.) The series ends as it begins, unassumingly and further under the radar than it deserves to be, with two episodes run back-to-back for no especially good reason other than that Enlisted was also a very funny show, and Fox wanted to screw it over too.
“How I Met Your Mulllet”
Thanks to Virginia’s elevated rank at the cleaning company, she’s now making more money than ever, something that Burt finds out when he discovers $320 stashed in a heating vent. Sweetheart that he is, he rushes out to use it to buy Virginia the gift of a new, big-ass chair. “I thought Paw Paw must have put it there,” he reasons, “but when I asked Maw Maw about it, she said, ‘Who’s Paw Paw?’ So I think we’re good!” Virginia has to confess to him that she’s been hiding the extra money she’s been making for fear that he’ll feel emasculated. To Burt’s great credit, he does not. Instead, after eyeballing her pay stub—“There’s a comma in it!”—he decides to retire and live a life of leisure. Within a trice, he is bored out of his mind. Virginia comes home to find him stretched out in a chair, surrounded by surfboards and rubber chickens and toy airplanes, having spent a frustrating day failing to locate his “passion.”
Salvation arrives in the form of a TV commercial featuring reality-TV star Mullet The Bounty Hunter, who is modeled on who you think he’s modeled on and played by Michael Bowen, though when he first appeared, I thought it might be Bradley Whitford impersonating Bono, or vice versa. Having donned “a fishing vest full of flasks and Bibles” for protection, Burt hits the street, and chases down such miscreants as a hardcore scribbler of defamatory graffiti. (Chased up a tree, he threatens to draw a penis on it in permanent marker.) It’s only after Mullet himself shows up and threatens to hit the tree with a flamethrower that Burt realizes that he doesn’t love bounty hunting as much as he thought he did; he realizes, in fact, that his passion has been landscape work all along.
It’s a satisfying resolution, and there’s also a subplot involving Jimmy and Sabrina’s relationship with their maid that includes the funniest, and best-motivated, slap upside the head in the show’s history. But this episode’s single greatest contribution to Raising Hope/ Natesville mythology—something that I have just this instant decided is a thing—is the news that Frank and Maw Maw engage in Downtown Abbey cosplay. There’s a scene of them sitting on a red loveseat in the back room at Howdy’s, watching the show while dressed as Bates and the Dowager Countess, that by itself justifies the entire fourth season.
“The Father Daughter Dance”
As does this perfectly titled episode, which brings back Jeffrey Tambor as Virginia’s footloose, narcissistic, emotionally withholding father. He shows up in town at Howdy’s, where he lets everyone know what’s on his mind by “doing dramatic readings fo the Father’s Day cards.” “He should read the sympathy cards,” snorts Virginia, “because our relationship is dead.” I was concerned that Tambor was going to play the “I’m dying” card, but instead, he explains that he’s met “someone even more special than myself,” and wants Virginia to plan their wedding. She’s too much of a softy to say no, especially since this is her big chance to plan the dream wedding she never had. Maw Maw, though, is suspicious. She asks Frank to help her find out what’s really going on with Tambor and expose the lying sack of shit. “I’m in, Barbara June,” says Frank, “mostly because I want an answer to this ‘will they or won’t they” that is our relationship.” For maybe the first time in decades, even Cloris Leachman looks as if she thinks a line has been crossed.
It turns out that Tambor doesn’t really have a fiancée. But his motives are pure: He wants Virginia to plan her dream wedding so that she and Burt can use it to renew their vows, and he’s even brought along a copy of Princess Diana’s dress for the occasion—for Virginia to wear, not Jeffrey Tambor. He also talks a big game about paying for Hope’s college tuition, which causes everyone to snap into action; they’ve all been going through the motions regarding Hope’s future, because it never occurred to anyone that she might go to college. At the wedding, Virginia and her father share a dance, and he regrets not being able to send her on her dream honeymoon. She tells him that it’s no big deal; “I think that cool murdering whale got send to some marine park in South America anyway.”
Overcome with emotion, Tambor reveals that he doesn’t actually have the money to send Hope to college; in fact, he blew what was left of his bankroll on the wedding. He doesn’t even have a place to stay. Virginia is outraged, but Jimmy steps up and gives Tambor his old room, reminding his parents that, just a week ago, they told him it would still be his if his marriage to Sabrina didn’t work out. (Seriously, says Sabrina, a week ago? “Just to be clear,” says Virginia, “he told us he was getting you a box of envelopes.” “The first anniversary,” Jimmy reminds everyone, “is paper.”) By bringing Virginia’s father into the fold, Raising Hope manages to expand its universe and end with the suggestion of whole new stories yet untold without anyone dying or getting pregnant, which is some trick. The series ends with everyone around the Chance dinner table, while Jimmy delivers the message that “Not everyone becomes a parent at the perfect time”; whether it happens when you’re too young, or too old, is less important than how you deal with it when the time comes. Which is, well, perfect.
- The finale does pretty well by Gregg Binkley and Todd Giebenhain. Not so Kate Micucci, who is invited to the wedding but given nothing to do there.
- Two notable guest appearances in the finale: Lou Wagner, who puts in one final appearance as Wally Phipps (“Do you know a good lawyer?” “We know a lawyer.”), and Kenny Loggins, who provides the entertainment at the wedding with an acoustic solo version of “Danny’s Song.” It is the closest thing to a good song ever associated with Kenny Loggins, except maybe for “This Is It,” and I don’t really want to listen to a solo acoustic version of “This Is It.”
- The line to go out on is provided by Barney, in response to Loggins saying that he doesn’t as much like “Kenny Loggins” as he used to because it isn’t the ‘80s anymore: “In Natesville, it’s always the ‘80s!”