I suppose it’s just a coincidence, but when circumstances resulted in these two episodes—the first of them the second half of a two-parter—being aired back-to-back, the end result was one heavily self-referential hour of TV comedy, courtesy of a show that I don’t think anyone has ever pictured as a challenger to 30 Rock or Community in the “meta” sweepstakes. I don’t want to say that it got to feel a little numbing, but toward the end of “Sex, Clown And Videotape,” when Mike O’Malley and Liza Snyder suddenly appear as their characters from Yes, Dear—the longest-running, and most inexplicably so, of all Greg Garcia’s creations—I did cringe a little. But their scene with Burt and Virginia was far and away the best thing about either episode. So keep giving Raising Hope the credit it deserves for being unpredictable.
A certain amount of self-referential humor is to be expected in the Hollywood setting of “Yo Zappa Do,” which has some fun with the idea that studio audiences (of the kind that Raising Hope pointedly does not make use of) are trained seals who, paradoxically, cause the people jerking their chains to go crazy from trying to elicit ever more positive responses from them. Martha Plimpton gets to make a joke about the career arc of child actors, who “could star in a Spielberg movie and still end up playing the nutty mom on some sitcom,” and Garret Dillahunt gets to kick a representative from NBC in the nuts to avenge the premature cancellation of My Name Is Earl, at a point when Jason Lee still had way more misdeeds on his list to atone for. (“That was eight network presidents ago,” groans the wretched man as he crumples to the ground in a heap. “I loved it!”) Since the specialty of young Camden Garcia’s character when he’s “riffing” is to surprise his co-stars by kicking them in the nuts, even this bit was in-jokey on a couple of different levels. Or maybe it’s just in my nature to look for broader meaning when I’m watching a show where somebody or other is getting kicked in the nuts every five minutes.
Simple weirdness seems the best explanation for the Maw Maw-and-Barney subplot. Barney tags along with Maw Maw when she goes to track down the woman who had an affair with her late husband, so she can throw his ashes in her face. But, as the woman’s granddaughter explains when she opens the door, the old woman has died, leaving Maw Maw to restore order to the balance sheet by seducing her dotty old widower. Which is fine, but the granddaughter, who is played by Ellen Rutherfurd, and who Barney is obliged to court as part of Maw Maw’s cunning plan, has a heavy growth of facial hair, a real conversation-stopper of a detail that serves so little detectable purpose that I actually felt the need to check online to make sure that Rutherfurd hadn’t actually developed a condition since The New Adventures Of Old Christine.
Cloris Leachman is put to much better use in “Sex, Clown…” if only for the scene where she peddles containers of brownish liquid at a yard sale. “This is 100 percent authentic bathtub gin,” she tells those gathered ‘round, “as passed down to me by my great-aunt Blind Lizzie, to her daughter, Blind Betty, and finally to her sons, Blind Barry and Sightless Sam, who spoke the recipe to me. 10 bucks a jar, because this is probably the last batch I can make, because my eyes aren’t what they used to be.” The Chances are having a yard sale to raise money to buy the contents of Virginia’s storage room, after she failed to keep up the rental payments, because they don’t want their old sex tape to fall into the wrong hands. No, wait, they're having the yard sale to raise back the money Virginia spent at the storage auction, only to discover that the tape wasn’t there. Despite what should have been a pretty clear storyline built around a simple and understandable goal, it does get a little involved.
What made it all worth it was the discovery that Jimmy and Christine—you remember, from Yes, Dear—were the people who’d gotten a hold of Burt and Virginia’s sex tape, and that they had fallen in love with it for the non-sexy parts—the moments when Burt and Virginia, apparently oblivious to the fact that they weren’t having sex but the camera was running anyway, listened to and supported each other. (Not that they hadn’t also gotten something out of the sexy parts: “Why don’t we role-play as a maid and a lawn guy doing it in an old haunted house?”) This is Raising Hope at its best, finding ever stranger ways of pointing up the reasons that Burt and Virginia Chance might just be the best married couple on TV. If an NBC executive has a problem with that, he might consider asking Burt to come in and give Adam Braverman some tips on how best to remain compassionate and understanding when his distraught, ailing wife wakes him up in the middle of the night to show him that she’s shaved her head. Then he can kick him in the nuts.
- After last week’s wedding episode, I was wondering if anyone was even going to remember that Jimmy and Sabrina got engaged in the first place so they could move into her grandmother’s house, but the transition took place tonight, and it was admirably smooth: All of a sudden, they and Hope were just there, in their new digs, while Burt and Virginia were still in the old place with Maw Maw. And when Sabrina—at the end of an extended parody of Homeland that felt a little more like a parody of Saturday Night Live’s parody of Homeland—deduced that Jimmy was sleepwalking because he missed his stuff back at the Chance residence, he and Sabrina did what a couple of human beings would do—i.e., get his stuff and put it in a room of the new house—instead of doing what a couple of sitcoms characters might well have done: throw up their hands and decide they’d just have to move back in with Burt and Virginia. Bravo.
- Burt, in response to studio chief Brian Doyle-Murray complimenting the artistry of his landscaping skills: “The art’s already in there. I just try to carve away the rest of the bush so you can see it.” That’s actually kind of beautiful. Maybe Burt is a critical genius who should be writing these reviews.
- The director of the kiddie TV show, calling for another take: “Let’s shoot this steaming pile of show business!” Okay, that guy is a critical genius who should be writing these reviews.