Now that Raising Hope has fixed Jimmy up with Sabrina, it is faced with the problem of what to do with them as a couple. I envision tearful misunderstandings and speeches about their insurmountable differences that will provide the occasion for perceived betrayals and possible breakups that, when they materialize in time to provide an end-of-season cliffhanger, will have us all spending the summer on the edge of our seats. For now, though, the show is doing a better job of keeping this unlikely coupling sparkly and funny than I would have thought possible. It's probably a good sign that the show itself wants us to know that it's aware of the dangers. “This was way more interesting when you were chasing her,” Virginia tells Jimmy, as if to head off every fan with a Twitter account who might be itching to be the first person to announce that the shark has been jumped. Clearly the show was concerned that having love in bloom might cost it some edge, so tonight's episode was especially full of gross-out humor, as if it were daring us to look at Jimmy and Sabrina in bed together and go, “Awwww!” Damned if it didn't still feel sort of romantic, albeit romantic in the way that it's sweet how Cameron Diaz in There's Something About Mary feels comfortable enough with Ben Stiller to just reach out and borrow a dab of his hair gel.
The jokes grew out of that rarity, a solid theory about the nature of enduring love that might have been designed to be propounded by Virginia. As she explains, love is about tolerating what's weird about the other person in your life, the trick being to find the ideal partner with whom you can co-exist on a scale of more or less equal weirdness. As Virginia fails to mention, the catch is that you may not know for sure just how weird your partner is, because he or she may not trust your powers of understanding, and so may be keeping something from you. She doesn't have to mention it, because most of her listeners are already way ahead of her. Burt, it turns out, has been keeping his deepest, darkest secret from her all these many years. He shaves his feet. “When I was 14,” he says, "my feel started getting very hairy. At first, I was psyched. I thought I was Teen Wolf. But the girls at the pool did not treat me like Michael J. Fox.” Burt is confiding this in Ethan Suplee, despite the fact that turning to Ethan Suplee for advice and moral support is an almost unbearably potent symbolic an image of a drowning man begging someone to throw him an anchor. "Do you think I should tell Virginia?” he finally asks Suplee, who replies, “I don't think you should have told me.”
Silliness aside, the show also found a really strong contemporary image for the scary risk that goes with the trust that love demands when Sabrina, moved by Virginia's encouraging the young lovers to have the courage to be themselves in front of each other—a piece of advice inspired by her discovery that they had been reluctant to fart in front of each other—announces that she's going off her meds. Jimmy hadn't known that she was on meds. Turns out that, at her ex-boyfriend Wyatt's urging, she had been taking mood stabilizers that she got from Wyatt's father, “which is weird, because he's a dentist.” To Jimmy's delight, the unmedicated Sabrina is just like the old Sabrina except more so, which is to say that she's more impulsive, fun-loving, and, finally, libidinous. Being a smart woman, she waits until after she and Jimmy have had sex for the first time before letting him know the weirdest thing about her. She has a deathly phobia about spiders that stems from a time when she was a child and spiders crawled into her ears as she slept. “My mother was a Buddhist, so she wouldn't let us kill them,” she says, reminding me of a childhood phobia I myself developed after two many readings of Dr. Seuss' Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose. (If you don't know it, check it out of the library—if you dare!) Jimmy's first clue that there's something wrong comes when he sees that, as part of her regular routine before going to sleep, Sabrina has pulled a pair of pantyhose over her head. Seeing how he's looking at her, she says, “We should probably talk about this.” “Okay,” he says. “Are you going to rob me?”
The last act of the show was a stirring testament to the power of love and people's ability to bridge the gap created by each other's fears, personal issues, and other weird stuff. It was also a go-for-break strip mining operation on the comic possibilities of a fear of spiders, and it turns out there's more gold in that subject than you might have suspected. (The only non-senile adult member of the household who proves immune to the phobia is Burt. After Jimmy has brought a number of especially big, ugly eight-legged specimens into the house as part of a therapeutic experiment, Burt is unperturbed by the possibility that one of them may have gotten loose and gone under the couch” "There must be something under there that can kill a spider,” he says.) What's really exciting about the liberation of Sabrina is the way it liberates Shannon Woodward. She's a blast here, whether she's screaming in terror or cooly obliterating a hospital patient who's been snippy with her man. There are a few flashes here of something that made me think of a twentysomething Patricia Heaton, except that I liked her more than I've ever liked Patricia Heaton. Maybe Heaton ought to go off her meds and see what happens.
- You could tell how determined the show is to not be seen as going soft in the way it turned Cloris Leachman off the leash. “Wilfred and I had just the right mix of weirdness,” she says at one point. “He liked to put raisins on his pizza, and I couldn't have an orgasm unless he choked me.” She also got to act out the night Maw-Maw lost her virginity (“my favorite Christmas memory”) and close out the show by lying in bed with a giant spider exploring her face. By comparison, the cameo by Jackass' Chris Pontius. as a judgmental fellow sitting in a hospital bed with an arrow through his neck, could have been introduced by Alistair Cooke.
- Jimmy, describing his and Sabrina's evenings of pre-coital domestic bliss: “We ordered a pizza and watched a movie, The Sixth Sense. I totally didn't realize Bruce Willis was dead.” Virginia, surprised: “Me neither! I knew he was old…”