Some nights, Raising Hope manages to trip over its own feet when it’s clearly trying to make a point. (I would refer you to last week’s episode, in which, to steer itself towards Burt experiencing and sharing an insight about the selfless and uncelebrated nature of truly doing good works, the show put Sabrina in a pig harness.) At other times, the show seems completely scattershot, but somehow pulls itself together in the end, into a more cohesive whole than seemed possible. Tonight’s episode begins with Jimmy catching Sabrina off guard at home and seeing her, for the first time, wearing her eyeglasses. Sabrina, it turns out, is self-conscious about how she looks in her thick lenses and big clunky frames, which were a legacy from her grandfather. (“They saved his life in the war. Apparently the Japanese thought he was too ridiculous-looking to kill.”) Jimmy, typically, can’t understand why Sabrina would ever lack confidence in her own attractiveness, but manages to turn this revelation into an excuse to stoke his own insecurity: “Is this the first time,” he asks, “you’ve seen me clearly?”
Sabrina needs her glasses for studying. Stoking Jimmy’s jealous paranoia, her new study partner is a studly fellow named Philip who says things like, “Thanks for letting me borrow Sabrina. We did some good cramming in there.” Jimmy tries to tell himself that Sabrina and Philip must just be good friends, but Virginia breaks it to him that men and woman can’t be “just friends”: “Ashton Kutcher proved that in, like, five different movies last year.” Jimmy is thunderstruck and begs his parents to help him come up with a plan to help save his relationship. For his part, Burt professes himself a little bored with the whole “Jimmy and Sabrina” thing and says that he’s more than ready to let nature take its course.
Virginia will not be deterred, however, and she concocts a plan that involves stealing Philip’s phone so that she can program her own number in as Sabrina’s and then send him flirty messages under Sabrina’s name, to see if he’ll take the bait. (“Jimmy could learn a lot from this guy” she says, when the phone is in her hands. “Look how many times he calls his mother.” “To be fair,” Burt says, “he probably doesn’t live with his mother.”) The tricky part is coming up with messages that will sound “young and hip” enough to be convincing. “What if we tell him he’s the bomb?” says Virginia. “I feel like that’s making a comeback.” “Don’t ask me,” says Burt. “Ever since the UPN went off the air, I’ve been having trouble learning new phrases.”
Virginia finally sends Philip a message sufficiently incomprehensible that his fiancée asks him if his study partner is “a black guy from the ’90s”, and Philip messages back that he’d love to pursue this conversation further, but he’s just stepping into the shower. After Virginia/Sabrina replies that he might be able to shower faster with four hands, and the fiancée sees it, the plan unspools rapidly, and Jimmy is put in the position of explaining to everyone how it came to pass that Philip’s fiancée has treed Sabrina by driving her to the top of her refrigerator. Everyone takes this explanation surprisingly well. Sabrina isn’t thrilled about what the Chances have done, but she doesn’t bar them from her life and just sounds weary when she apologizes for basically dating a family that’s insane. The fiancée takes that part well, too: “Philip’s parents,” she says, “have Rapture insurance.” “That’s not so weird,” shrugs Virginia. “If you’re gonna get left behind, you need some extra cash to get through the Tribulations.”
The twist comes when Sabrina takes on a new study partner, a strutting muscle head who readily confesses that he sees Jimmy as beneath Sabrina’s league. It isn’t until Shelley points out that Sabrina always makes sure there are back-ups for all the household supplies that Jimmy puts it together, and confronts Sabrina about her compulsive need to have a back-up boyfriend handy, just in case. It’s nice that Raising Hope believes it has better things to do with its time than have Sabrina put up much of a struggle against realizing that Jimmy is right: She’s even quick to connect the source of her neurosis to the breakup of her parents’ marriage: “When I was 6, my dad left my mom for absolutely no reason. And she would have been devastated, had she not been sleeping with her tennis coach.” The nice thing about this show is the way it mixes this sort of thing with its sweet side: I found it oddly endearing that part of the insane plan to test Sabrina’s loyalty involved luring her into the living room by telling her that Hope was saying her name. This sort of detail might be the Greg Garcia touch.
- Kate Micucci’s Shelley, delivering the mantra of girls’ night: “Sabrina, come help me drink these margaritas, or it’ll be your fault if I drunk-dial my AA sponsor again.”
- Sabrina, on why she dumped Philip as a study partner: “He was driving me crazy. The guy’s a French major, so everything we learned had to be repeated back in French. So, c’est la vie!” Jimmy, always eager to be of service, smiles and replies, “La vie!”
- In the subplot, Burt becomes entranced by a novelty wall decoration: a couple of mounted coconut shells that look like breasts and jiggle while “I’ve Got A Lovely Bunch Of Coconuts” plays. Soon he’s welcoming all the wayward men in the neighborhood to come hang out in the living room and watch the things gyrate. For most of the episode, these scenes appear to be here mostly to push Burt one step, or maybe more than one step, deeper into Homer Simpson territory when it comes to surreal, slack-jawed idiocy. But then, Virginia urges him to think about the effect his behavior might be having on Hope when his mind is in the gutter, and he has a vision of the grown Hope as a stripper, writhing languorously while slow, sleazy music plays. What makes it all worth sitting through is that the music is the Bada Bing-friendly version of “I’ve Got A Lovely Bunch Of Coconuts.”