Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Raising Hope: “Last Christmas”

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Everybody does stupid things. Sometimes people on Raising Hope do really remarkably exceptionally stupid things. Sometimes the people who make Raising Hope do things that, at the very least, make you stare at the screen in unamused wonder, which is to say that this episode was sailing toward A-minus territory until that business with the gobbing alpaca. But I digress.

The point, and it’s a very Raising Hope sort of point, is that whether or not somebody is doing something super-plus stupid may say less about their true character than how, exactly, how they choose to address the stupid idea that’s taken root in their brain. For instance, last year, when all those people who were listening to that pinhead in Alameda with the radio transmitter and the John Carradine face who’d announced that Armageddon was at hand, there were reports of believers who’d spent all their money and maxed out their credit cards, on the assumption that they wouldn’t need to worry about the kids’ college fund anymore. This sort of thing bespeaks a quitters’ attitude, and can make you wonder if, for whatever personal reasons, some of them might have actually been looking forward to God turning out the light, just so they wouldn’t have to pay the gas bill. Tonight, Virginia and her co-worker Rosa both fall for a Mayan-calendar end-of-the-world prediction, and spend the two years leading up to the end planning accordingly. But as you might expect, Virginia faces Armageddon with a fighter’s spirit.

Virginia’s plan for surviving the end of the world is based, like any smart low-income shopper’s, on extreme couponing. By the time the last days of man on Earth are approaching, she has turned her basement into a well-stocked survival shelter, loaded with such materials as “three cases of dog food labeled ‘zombie bait’.” “While the rest of you are fighting each other over a sip of water from a radioactive puddle,” she tells the doubters at the grocery store, “I will be sitting safely in my survival bunker, sipping a nice, hot cup of static-free, rain-scented java.” That’s the voice of someone who’s used to putting up with hardships and has just three words for the Four Horsemen: Bring it on. Taking in her bounty, Virginia muses, “We’re gonna be billionaires if I’m right about dental floss being the new currency.”

Because even she can’t do it all, Virginia also drills the rest of the family and assigns them tasks. Jimmy earns his keep partly by dressing up in a multi-armed costume and allowing Burt to practice kicking the crap out of him. (“Kick him in the neck. We have no idea where aliens’ testicles might be.” Because his job of “handling any mutants, zombies or aliens” requires him to know how to reason with the freakish and subhuman, Burt also puts some time in watching Dr Phil on TV. “Aw man,” Burt says to Virginia, “he just said, ‘You can lie to yourself and pretend you’re on a first-class flight to London, but everybody else knows you’re on a freight train to Stupid Town.” “That should make her stop huffing paint,” says Virginia, approvingly. (Is this really how Dr. Phil talks? I should start watching his show.) Jimmy is surprised to learn that Burt knows perfectly well that this end-of-the-world talk is just so much balloon juice, but Burt is prepared to humor his wife for a couple of years if it’ll keep the peace. Besides, as he puts it, “We’ve got four years’ worth of ice cream sandwiches in the basement, plus I get to spend my weekends fake-fighting aliens. It’s a win-win.”

The situation only comes to a head when Virginia insists on celebrating Christmas early, since “by the time December 25 rolls around, Santa Claus will just be a desperate old man peddling reindeer meat.” Finally fed up with her messing with his daughter’s holiday, Jimmy outs the whole family, telling Virginia that no one believes in her apocalypse. Virginia settles in to wait for the clock to tick down, and a part of me was actually sort of hoping that the show would pull a curveball and have the damn apocalypse really happen, like in the Michael Tolkin movie The Rapture. Instead, Virginia is chastising herself for having been foolish when Rosa and her family show up, having—yep—spent all their money and hitchhiked from Disneyland, where they had planned to see in the apocalypse from the ironically appropriate vantage point of Tomorrowland. Virignia redeems herself by using all the good she’s stockpiled to help Rosa and Carlos get back on their feet—a happy ending, but one that skirts a little too close for comfort to the image of the not-to-bright but plucky and resourceful Anglos saving the even dumber Hispanics. The last few minutes take some of the air out of this episode, which had already disappointed me by failing to offer  the sight of Frank in a Santa suit, or even reindeer antlers. But basically, Raising Hope is one show that can take on the holidays without bringing out the Grinch in a man.

Stray observations:

  • Obviously, this is a very personal thing, but Cloris Leachman in a wheelchair versus Shannon Woodward is not my dream holiday catfight.
  • Maw Maw’s one night stand, pausing to introduce himself as he shuffles out to raid the refrigerator: “Just for the record, her pelvis was broken when I got here.”
  • Confession: I’m not really sure whether a Hispanic family leading around an alpaca is an ethnic stereotype or just surreal. I wouldn’t mind all that much either way if somebody hadn’t decided that it would be hilarious to have the thing spitting on everyone and everything.
  • That’s it for this show until January. God bless us, everyone.