Well-worn sitcom tropes being what they are, it’s sort of amazing that it’s taken this long for Raising Hope to do an episode about someone wanting to get a dog. The most innovative thing about “Man’s Best Friend” is that it’s not little Hope who wants a dog; it’s Virginia and Burt. And they don’t even really want one: They’re just following through on a suggestion by Jimmy, who is sick of them hanging out at his home at all hours and pulling Hope out of school to play with her and thinks that a pet might be the best cure for their empty-nest syndrome. Seriously, what kind of grandparents are they? Don’t they care about Hope’s grades. “We stopped caring about report cards when you were in the first grade,” says Virignia. “Both times,” adds Burt.
So Virginia and Burt mosey down to the Natesville Animal Shelter, where the volunteer at the desk is Michael Rapaport. Rapaport’s performance here can easily be differentiated from his performance in the current season of Justified by the fact that he wears sleeves and has a skin tone that looks as if, at some point in his life, he’s eaten a vegetable, but I would still be reluctant to allow him to park on my street without notifying representatives of the Neighborhood Watch Program. He ends up getting a lot closer to the Chances than just parking on their street. Michael—for it is by this name that his character is known—all but throws Virginia and Burt out on their ears after discovering that their names are on the no-dog list. This turns out to be Jimmy’s doing; he used to borrow dogs indiscriminately to use as bait when he was single. His parents are hurt at first, but decide that since they ruined his credit and used to fake his childhood vacations, it all balances out.
The Chances return to the animal shelter and manage to impress Michael with their enthusiasm. He agrees to sign them up for a three-day trial period that will give them a chance to prove themselves. Burt thinks that sounds like a piece of cake: “There are things in this house we’ve been trying to kill for 20 years. I’m pretty sure we can keep a dog alive for three days.” What he doesn’t realize is that, for purposes of the trial period, Michael moves into the house with them, wearing a dog hand puppet. This was where the premise started to feel shaky to me. Except for Nina Conti on Family Tree, I can’t think of many examples of a comedy that gained anything from having a crazy person act as if his puppet was real. And though I never thought I’d ever have the chance to make this comparison, Michael Rapaport is no Wayland Flowers. His best moment comes when Burt offers the puppet a treat that would poison a real dog, and Michael disgustedly pulls the felt creature off his arm, slams it down on the kitchen table, and pronounces it dead. Burt says that he didn’t know what he was doing was wrong but now that he does, can’t they have a second chance? Rapaport snaps, “I’m not sticking my hand in a dead puppet!’
By the time Rapaport is frisking about in a dog costume, I was praying for more time with the B story, which isn’t anything special itself: It involves Jimmy, who has progressed from using dogs to charm the ladies to using his daughter, making a fool of himself trying to get lady hot dog venders to offer him a free soda without dragging Hope into it, to prove to Sabrina that he still has the game that he began the episode claiming never to have had in the first place, which is why he used to resort to using dogs. The laughs, which are fairly plentiful in the episode’s first half, die off by the end, though the sweetness blossoms: Sabrina admits that she used to hate kids and only pretended to find Hope adorable as an excuse to talk to Jimmy, and Burt and Virginia, having admitted to themselves that they’re just not dog people, fill their spare hours by volunteering to entertain children at the hospital. Can I get an Awwwwwww!?
- Michael stresses upon Virginia that dog ownership is a great responsibility. “I started raising a baby in the 11th grade,” says Virginia. “If that doesn’t say responsibility, I don’t know what does.”
- Michael also wonders if the Chances have any previous experience at taking care of a pet. “There’s something living in our chimney,” says Virginia, “but we haven’t had a mouse in two years, so we don’t ask questions.”
- Burt, who is of two minds about the whole dog-adoption idea because he regards dogs as the natural enemies of lawn-care workers, happens to spot a dog he knows in a kennel at the animal shelter and can’t resist the urge to rub it in a little. Kneeling on the floor so that he can look the dog in the eye, he murmurs, “I wouldn’t want to be a pretty dog in a place like this.”
- Where is Maw Maw in all this, you ask? She’s gone on the road in search of the Grateful Dead—“I’ll be back when I’m either grateful or dead?”—only to return in time for the closing credits, lamenting her discovery that Jerry Garcia’s been dead for 10 years. She’s off by nine years, but is that a symptom of her dementia or just the writers making a mistake because they’re in denial about how fast time is slipping away? Because I can relate.
- Series finale next week! Talk about what a long, strange trip its been…