To be honest, I was dreading tonight’s episode. Raising Hope hasn’t been on the greatest roll this season, and too often in recent episodes, the gross-out humor and the scatological nastiness have been replacing the sweetness instead of balancing it. So my heart sank a little when I took in that title, and the first couple of minutes promised quite the full-blown, Technicolor nightmare to come. Yes, it’s about a walking race to raise awareness of “the poopy disease,” ABS, which stands for “Angry Bowel Syndrome.” The Arthur Carlson behind this particular plummeting turkey is the indefatigable Barney, who explains to the troops at the grocery store that ABS is “similar to irritable bowel syndrome. Except that your bowels are in a blind rage.”
Naturally, Barney is a past sufferer. Even more naturally, he has sad memories of how the condition, like everything else under the sun, has adversely affected his personal life. Most naturally of all, his speech includes references to everything from pinching a loaf to not wanting to make a stink to an extensively drawn-out metaphor—it winds its way into your house and makes its way to the TV after practically starting in the parking lot—involving a turtle; it’s like the probable result of Steve-O and Cartman working on the Manhattan Project. While Barney keeps cluelessly, unintentionally talking about doo-doo, the grocery store workers snicker and giggle until they’re all writhing in their chairs from barely suppressed laughter. Fox should try sending viewers a sample of whatever they’re on.
When Jimmy and Virginia tell Virginia about the race, she’s appalled at all the misplaced hilarity. “I can see how lots of diseases are easy to joke about,” she says. “But this isn’t some disorder that makes you walk or talk funny.” Virginia’s humorlessness is, of course, borne of a mother’s love: With Sabrina still in earshot, she outs Jimmy as a former sufferer of JABS, or “Juvenile Angry Bowel Syndrome.” Things start to click back into place as Virginia explains that Jimmy had it because of all the stress he had to endure as a child, when his parents appointed him the tie-breaker in all their arguments, such as whether to have glazed or jelly-filled for dinner. Just to help everyone get the idea, there are flashbacks. In my favorite, Virginia has to shoot down Burt’s plan that the family take a little road trip to Los Angeles and just pick up a TV or two. “The riots aren’t real, Burt,” Virginia tells him. “It’s a TV show! Remember when I changed the drapes, and you thought we’d quantum leaped?”
Since the family clearly needs a change of subject, the Chances head out for dinner at a hibachi restaurant. It’s a socially awkward situation: Sabrina’s ex-boyfriend Wyatt is there with his parents, who have not forgiven her for breaking their boy’s heart. (They wonder aloud how anyone could have treated a fiancée so shabbily. “In my day,” says Maw Maw, “we called women like that ‘whores.’ But it never bothered me.”) Spurred on by his parents’ rudeness, Wyatt says something so loutish to Sabrina that my best advice to Jimmy would have been to see if he could help his former rival do better with the ladies by holding his face against the grill until it turned a more interesting color, but I’m not writing the show, and it is theoretically a family comedy, as Fox shows go. Virginia, meanwhile, is horrified when the chef addresses Sabrina, and not her, as “Pretty lady” and lobs a shrimp in her direction. She vows to turn back the clock for herself and Burt by buying new clothes at a trendy store—Burt thinks it’s called Apple Crappy & Felch—and going out to hear live music, the gale force of which twists Garret Dillahunt’s face into an expression that would come in handy if you were auditioning to play a torture victim in Zero Dark Thirty. But Virginia will not be deterred. “If those 40-year-olds on Glee can act like teenagers,” she decrees, “so can we.”
By the halfway point, it’s clear that the writers’ strategy this time is to throw as many plot threads into the mix as possible, so that there’s enough going on that the toilet jokes won’t overwhelm the flavor. It works out pretty well. (It helps that Wilmer Valderrama is back as Radishes pitching sensation Ricardo Montes. Facing the crowd at the race, he tells them that, having just learned what this event is in support of, “I will not risk startling you by firing the pistol to start.”) Sweetness, and the inspiring bond of the Chances, is reaffirmed in the race itself, with Jimmy trying to outpace Wyatt to win back an ice cream maker that Sabrina once gave him as a gift; Wyatt’s repellent parents are on the sidelines, chanting, “Walk! Walk like the love of your parents depends on it!” But Burt, who has showed up with pitch-black hair and eyebrows that transform him into Dermot Mulroney’s stunt double, and Virginia realize that love and teamwork can transcend creaking bones and sweaty hair dye runoff. “Hair dye in my eyes!” Burt yelps as he staggers to the end of the field with Virginia in his arms. “I’ll be your eyes, baby,” Virginia yelps back, like what else is new? “Bear left!”
- Maw-Maw: "Getting old isn't so bad. You can say whatever the hell you want, and nobody pays any attention." "Maw Maw," Virginia replies, "Stop babbling! We're trying to talk about something here."
- Jimmy consults Ricardo for advice on the whole reclaiming-gifts-from-ex-lovers issue. "The only gifts I give my lovers," says Ricardo, "are the things I do with my mouth. So if they want to return such gifts after we break up, that's up to them."