“The Chance That Stole Christmas”
I like a good parody as much as the next person, but when a once-sprightly comedy, a show that had its own identity and a lot of imagination, seems to having trouble coming up with its own plots, that might be a legitimate cause for concern. Raising Hope has been good at Christmas episodes in the past, and tonight’s takeoff on HowThe Grinch Stole Christmas is better than last week’s burlesque of Alfred Hitchcock; at the very least, it feels like an episode of Raising Hope, instead of an experiment that escaped from the lab before it could earn its creator a grade of “Incomplete.”
One reason parts of it feel like a classic Raising Hope holiday episode is that parts of it are excerpts from classic Raising Hope holiday episodes; clips from previous holiday bust-ups are sandwiched in between the new scenes. There’s also a montage of clips meant to demonstrate that Burt is a good Samaritan at heart, which means getting to see David Krumholtz and his seeing-eye pig again. (Was I hard on that episode at the time? Let me just say this, for the record, with my hand on my heart: That David Krumholtz is a trouper!) it starts to feel as if the producers of this good-hearted show wanted to be sure and give the fans something enjoyable for the holiday, and thought to themselves, “Shoot, there’s lots of good stuff in the oldepisodes!” This, too, may be a legitimate cause for concern.
Here’s the premise: Natesville Mayor Suzie Hellman (played, again, by the always very welcome and increasingly Lucy Lawless-like Mary Birdsong) shows up drunk for the town Christmas parade, waving and swaying atop the float she’s riding, and literally falls off the wagon, yuk-yuk. Someone has to bite the bullet and serve as interim mayor while Hellman is drying out in rehab, and Burt is eager for the job: He sees it as his big chance to let Virginia fulfill her dream of lighting the tree at the town’s annual Christmas festival. “That’d be the greatest gift ever!” he gushes, as the cylinders are turning in his head. “I usually just get her batteries, ‘cause I know she’ll use them.”
The campaign itself would do George Papoon proud, with Virginia hollering into a bullhorn, “Burt for Mayor! Why not Burt? You got anybody better? I didn’t think so!” Soon, Burt is swept into temporary office, to the sound of throngs cheering, “Why not Burt!?” (He comes in second, after “More Fresh Vegetables,” but those votes are discounted on the grounds that Howdy’s didn’t clean out their old suggestion box before using it as a ballot box. Ralph Nader comes in third.) The scene is not without its ominous side. As it is pointed out, there have been other interim mayors, and they all went mad with power and ridden out of town on a rail. “I’m not like those other mayors,” Burt insists. “They took the job with a special agenda. I just want to get some free treats for my family.”
He is over-optimistic. It turns out that the Mayor has driven Natesville to the edge of a financial cliff—a fertilizer company to which she in debt is about to swoop in and “build a giant poop factory” on top of the town pool—and Burt can only save things by taking the bullet and canceling the Christmas celebration, knowing that it’ll make him look like the bad guy. (In this, he is like the previous interim mayors, who also fell victim to Mayor Hellman’s habit of retreating to rehab whenever the roof is about to cave in.) In the end, Burt does the noble, self-martyring thing, but the town gets its Christmas celebration anyway. I couldn’t quite follow the details, but I did get to see Sabrina rip the head off a robotic Santa that was trying to throttle Barney, so I was good. There are also some choice visuals when the Grinch connection goes fill homage, including a shot of Sabrina wreathed in, well, wreaths, and a beautiful shot of Burt, looking down scornfully at the Natevillians while wearing a Santa hat and clutching the ugliest dog I’ve ever seen in prime time. Elsewhere, the fact that this is all a Grinch spoof is hammered home mostly by a rhyming voiceover narration delivered by someone doing a bad Boris Karloff impression. I love both Dr. Seuss and Boris Karloff, and I worry that they were so great at what they did that they might have left people with the impression that what they did was easy. So, in the spirit of the holidays, I will just thank Raising Hope for having demonstrated that it was not.
In an episode that, taken in tandem with the previous one, can make it seem that Burt and Virginia are really dedicated to the hands-on pursuit of meaningful social change, Burt is traumatized by the discovery of a pile of dead bees and deduces that this tragedy has been caused by pollution from the local kazoo factory. Near-inexplicably, he’s right on the money about this, and Sabrina and Jimmy lead a protest against corporate ecological malfeasance in the kazoo factory parking lot. Meanwhile, Burt and Virginia get jobs at the kazoo factory, so they can foment dissent from within. Damned if they don’t manage to smuggle out boxes of sensitive documents that nail the kazoo factory’s management, and they also manage to break the news in such a way as to protect their innocent co-workers, of whom they have become very fond while engaging in after-hours “drunk person office gossip.”
I got a real kick out of seeing Sabrina waving a protest sign while wearing bee antennae, and I laughed out loud at the sight of Burt and Virginia sneaking out of the factory with documents stuffed in their clothes, looking like they’ve been going to town at the all-you-can-eat buffet. Furthermore, anyone who breaks up at the word “kazoo” will find this episode hilarious. (This is not a small point, since people who break up at the word “kazoo” appear to be its target demographic.) But seriously, would it have killed Fox to run this episode before the Christmas episode? Some of us look to a Christmas episode to set a certain midseason, “So long, see you again in three or four weeks!” tone.
- Frank does especially stellar backup work in the Christmas episode, as is so often the case when he’s smitten. Watching the Mayor in the parade just before she topples to the ground, he mutters. “Why are the drunk ones always married?” Lest anyone think that the attraction is based solely on her blood-alcohol content, he heralds her arrival at the climax: “Hey, the real mayor’s here, and she’s 12 steps hotter!”