You know things are bad when even a guest appearance by Amy Sedaris can’t get you an "A." But, I’m afraid to report, not even the considerable comedic abilities of Ms. Sedaris were quite enough to salvage this installment of Raising Hope, which was plagued by a lame Maw Maw-related subplot.
One of the recurring themes on Raising Hope is how Virginia and Burt gave up their own dreams to raise Jimmy; they’re constantly reminded of what might have been. This week, it’s Virginia’s mean-girl cousin Delilah (Amy Sedaris) who shows up to do the reminding. Watching this episode, I was reminded of the immortal words of Langston Hughes: “What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?"
Actually, that's a lie. I was reminded of an episode of Strangers With Candy that I recently re-watched for the first time in years, the one in which Jerry stars as “Mama” in Mr. Jellineck’s production of A Raisin in the Sun. Anyway, I swear it’s relevant, and not just because of Amy Sedaris. Delilah and Virginia share a rivalry that dates back to the first Reagan administration. Childhood fights over clothing and sleeping arrangements evolved into adolescent spats over boys—namely, an OP-wearing stud named Burt. Delilah’s fledgling romance is forever thwarted when Virginia tells Burt that her cousin is indisposed (with her period, diarrhea, and, presumably, the pursuit of Sapphic pleasures).
Two decades later, Virginia and Burt are still together. So even though she may have won the battle for Burt’s lifelong affections, Virginia fears that she may have lost the war. Over the years, Delilah, a pharmaceutical sales rep for an erectile dysfunction drug (just like Jake Gyllenhaal!) sends postcards with updates about her glamorous lifestyle—business trips to eastern Lake Erie, a job in the tallest building in Scottsdale, two years at an accredited college in Iowa City. Yes, the quirk and the irony are both off the charts here, as usual, but underneath all the self-conscious whimsy is something genuine: Virginia’s jealousy of her cousin’s relative affluence. When Delilah calls to say she’s sort-of going to be in town and wants to visit Maw Maw, Virginia lies and says that Maw Maw has died.
This does not have the desired effect of discouraging a visit from Delilah; in fact, Maw Maw’s (fake) death gives Delilah all the more reason to stop by. That’s because Delilah’s finances are not all they’re cracked up to be. She’s got an upside-down mortgage and a botched nipple surgery to contend with and is hoping to get her hands on a piece of Maw Maw’s estate. Rather than settle the matter with lawyers, Virginia agrees to let Delilah have what she really wants: finally getting to second base with Burt after all these years. Delilah and Burt’s “date” is probably the highlight of the episode. We’ve seen Amy Sedaris do this kind of thing before—that is, partaking in hilariously graphic sex talk while wearing hideous and unflattering costumes—and we’ve seen her do it better. Still, it’s Amy Sedaris, and that’s always a good thing. It’s just too bad that cousin Delilah, spooked by Maw Maw’s “ghost,” seems unlikely to return anytime soon. She may have been underutilized in this episode, but Sedaris and her sensibility would be a perfect addition to Raising Hope, steering the show towards irreverence and absurdity and away from quirk and sentimentality. Fingers crossed.
In addition to her feud with Delilah, Virginia also has to deal with the not inconsequential fact that Maw Maw is not actually dead. Naturally, she is unwilling to do the obviously right thing by coming clean to Delilah, because a confession would only lead to greater humiliation. (“It’s a vicious cycle, but not a vicious cycle I’m willing to break,” she says.) Instead, Virginia insists that Jimmy help perpetrate the lie. This leads to one of the most tedious B-plots in recent memory. Jimmy dutifully takes Maw Maw to work, where he tries to keep her busy by greeting customers, but this doesn’t work out too well. (“Hi lesbos,” she inevitably greets two frumpy females.) Jimmy decides that a supervised session with Shelley is just the thing, only Maw Maw manages to escape using various improbable means of transportation—a moped, rollerskates, and a bicycle built for two. It’s the worst kind of pre-packaged zaniness. The “Wacky Old Person” archetype has been a sitcom staple forever; even Strangers With Candy had one. Still, Maw Maw is a woefully one-dimensional, even for an archetype, more like a funny talking prop than an actual person. Think about it: In this episode, Maw Maw even appears in a display case, as if the writers just want to tell us, “Look! It’s a funny thing! Laugh at it.” I am sure Cloris Leachmean could do much more with this role, if given the chance. If we're lucky, Maw Maw will have a prolonged lucid phase in the near future.
Some memorable lines:
- “I’m afraid all that working outdoors might have made your hands a little too scratchy for my girly parts.”
- “Sometimes, family has to make sacrifices for each other. Like the one my lower body made pushing out that beachball-sized head of yours. You owe me for that.” “You owe us both for that.”
- “I was hoping you’d be fat and bald but you are hot and hairful.”
- “There’s a house band at the Airport Sheraton that’ll make you swear you’ve met Phil Collins.”