Barreling into its third season, Raising Hope is full of bounce and confidence in its ability to be broadly cartoonish and still make you care about its characters. The results are uneven, but it’s nice to see the season kick off without the kind of sophomore jitters I thought I detected at the start of last season. Those episodes introduced a new wrinkle in the storyline—redefining Sabrina as a rich girl who, depending on which scene you were watching, appeared to be either struggling to be her own person without familial wealth or slumming just to spite her parents—that eventually led to Jimmy and Sabrina becoming a couple. In theory, I wasn’t crazy about the new direction for Sabrina’s character or where it was heading, though when the romance actually happened, the show stuck the landing.
Ever since Jimmy and Sabrina got together, I’ve been waiting for them to break up. I’ve actually been dreading it, especially since it would be awkward for them to keep having scenes together if it happened, and Shannon Woodward’s slightly toasted-looking expression of seductive befuddlement has turned into one of the show’s most dependable assets. I was almost convinced that a breakup, or at least the threat of one, would figure into the season finale. Happily, they didn’t split, which turned out to be the only thing about the season finale that anyone could be happy about. There are still plenty of reasons for Sabrina not to be with Jimmy, but what I’d forgotten was that Greg Garcia is such a romantic at heart that he’s probably blissfully unaware of those reasons. In “Not Indecent, But Not Quite Decent Enough Proposal,” the show goes in an optimistic direction by having Jimmy and Sabrina get engaged. Because Garcia finds it necessary (not without reason) to camouflage his warm, sloppy heart with a layer of gross-out comedy crud, the engagement is the culmination of a series of events that begins with a funeral, where the deceased is laid out in the kitchen, surrounded by the buffet, to make sure that the people noshing on canapés will remember why they’re there.
The deceased is Sabrina’s grandmother, played by Tippi Hedren because Sabrina’s rampaging bitch of a mother is played by Hedren’s daughter, Melanie Griffith. I was never a fan of Nip/Tuck, and I blacked out during her scenes in the one or two episodes of Viva Laughlin that made it to air, so this is the first time I’ve seen Griffith in action since Cecil B. Demented. I was very happy to see that, through a presumed combination of physical training, late-developing maturity, and psychoanalytic breakthrough, Griffith no longer delivers every line as if she were an 8-year-old girl imitating Betty Boop. She might be able to do some real acting again if her face wasn’t so frozen in amber that she’d need the assistance of a sandblasting crew to change expression. I wouldn’t linger on this if the show didn’t, crossing the line between good-natured kidding and “Too soon!” awkwardness when it makes jokes about her character’s addiction to plastic surgery. (In a flashback, she struts around the grocery store with augmented breasts and a Lee J. Cobb nose.) It’s like inviting Robert Blake onto your show so you can have him do one-liners about wanting to shoot his wife.
The bravely weird plot involves Sabrina’s grandmother leaving Sabrina her house—a real Don-Draper-in-the-suburbs beauty, complete with a stereo and a shelf full of records, a VCR, and paintings that must have been done by whoever did the cover art for Henry Cow’s Unrest—for when she gets married, and Jimmy proposing to Sabrina so they can move in posthaste. What’s weird about this is that, after giving it some thought, nobody sees anything untoward about Jimmy and Sabrina getting married so they (and Burt and Virgina) can move out of Maw Maw’s decaying place into the home of their dreams. As Jimmy points out, they were going to want to take the next logical step at some point, so why put it off any longer now that a jackpot comes with it? Sabrina doesn’t immediately leap at this, but she comes around pretty fast when it’s pointed out that it’ll mean Hope has the opportunity to go to better schools. (Driving home how important this is, Virginia tries to show how poorly educated Jimmy is by demanding that he name “four consonants.” “America, Europe, Mexico, and the North Pole,” he says proudly. “Is that right?” asks Virgina. “I don’t know, I went to same schools.”)
It’s a little scary thinking what, say, the writers at the op-ed page of The Wall Street Journal might make of this demonstration of what the lower orders will do to get a free roof over their heads—at least until the property taxes kick in, that is. (Sabrina’s grandmother herself was apparently a pistol; she leaves the rest of her estate to “a non-profit organization dedicated to getting rid of non-profit organizations.”) The trademark Raising Hope sweetness at the heart of the situation comes from Sabrina’s taking tips from Virginia on “faking it” so she can make Jimmy happy when she say “Yes,” and Jimmy’s desire to propose to her in a way that will make her want to say “Yes” for real. One of the most appealing things about this show is the way the characters’ sweetness keeps peeking through, especially when they’re doing their damnedest to be coldly practical.
- This episode is gratifying on the kind of jokes that circle back and ricochet over a line from earlier in the show, which makes them easier to laugh at than to quote. My favorites were Burt telling Virginia that he enjoys it when she fakes orgasm, because she puts on a hell of a show, “and then I get to watch Mike And Molly.” Trust me, it’s great in context.
- Gregg Binkley is still in the opening credits. I guess it would have been awkward to take him out, after they added him last season, only to realize they had nothing for him to do. This could easily be rectified by making room in the opening credits for Todd Giebenhain, who deserves it just for Frank’s failed “subliminal” engagement video, and for the way he says, “Wow! Jimmy just proposed the crap out of that girl!”
- Early on, there’s a not especially pertinent scene in which Maw Maw catches Burt in the bathroom and sees his “meat whistle.” They later mention that this is the first time it’s ever happened. Really? I’ll take their word for it, but it seems unaccountable, like hearing that after two full seasons, no one on Hawaii Five-O has ever chased someone down on a beach before. Besides uttering the words “meat whistle,” Cloris Leachman’s character also steals clothes from a corpse, eats a meatball picked off the floor of a car, slips in a heroin reference, and speaks the line, “And even though it started out with what today they would call ‘date rape,’ our marriage lasted 67 years.” Somehow, all of this is less disturbing than seeing Tippi Hedren say, “By the time you see this, I’ll be in heaven, getting plowed by my dead husband.” And did I mention Melanie Griffith’s fake nose?
- When Jimmy hits Sabrina with the climactic proposal, Woodward fixes him with a bleary-eyed stare that goes on forever, then sighs, and then seems to glower at him before giving her answer. Now Hedren can tell people she’s worked with more than one master of suspense.