Season Finale — Raising Hope, “Don’t Vote For This Episode”
I haven’t written about Raising Hope in a very long time, but that’s mostly been a byproduct of my Tuesday schedule and other persona matters. In any event, I wanted to get down a few thoughts about the finale. For the most part, the first season of Hope has been pretty damn great. First seasons of sitcoms are always difficult to gage and evaluate because the production team is often still throwing things against a wall and hoping something sticks. But outside of those clumsy first few episodes, Raising Hope came into this world fully-formed and solid and has only slightly tinkered with and improved that initial formula from the fall episodes.
This finale isn’t completely indicative of the Raising Hope I personally love, it’s still a totally enjoyable half-hour. This is primarily true because “Don’t Vote For This Episode” employs one of my favorite television storytelling gimmicks: the flashback origin story! These sorts of stories work really well for procedurals with teams that were already together when the pilot starts, but “Don’t Vote” mines some really tremendous material by going back five years and showing us how this version of the family came together. It also allows the series to put characters in ridiculous and different positions than they are currently (most notably Jimmy and his goth persona), which is always very fun. There are really no major ongoing stories in Hope outside of Jimmy and Sabrina’s possible romance, so flashing back to the past didn’t hold off any season-long reveals or anything. In general, like most Raising Hope episodes, “Don’t Vote For This Episode” is a fun, simple excursion into this world.
I imagine that this finale wouldn’t work if the series hadn’t done such a nice job of expanding the world over the season. Clearly the series is powered by Jimmy, Virgina and Burt, but at this point, there are a lot of fun supporting characters that make up the Hope universe that help make each episode enjoyable. Barney and Frank pad out the grocery store universe so Jimmy and Sabrina have more people to bounce off of and the series can avoid always hitting us with the romantic tension and Shelley’s goofy charm can be thrown into about any episode premise. Those three additional characters are certainly odd and eccentric, but they help show the tone of the universe. The Chances were sort of overly stupid and weird at the beginning, but the season has done a great job of ironing out those kinks in their personas and mixing up some even weirder people is obviously an easy way to do that.
The flashbacks also emphasize my favorite part of Raising Hope: its heart. There’s always a lot of discussion about how much heart and emotion today’s sitcoms should integrate into their formula, but I’m not one of those people who needs my comedy to be served up with a big dish of cynicism. Heartfelt speeches, hugs, all that crap, I like it. And unlike some series that strain just a bit to pull those kinds of things in at the end of every episode (Community being the most obvious example), Raising Hope has worn its heartfelt earnestness on its sleeve from the very beginning of the series. Although the Chances make fun of and poke at one another each week, it’s never, ever malicious. It’s very clear that these people love one another and even though they are stuck in these terrible circumstances (which they recognize, another nice early-season adjustment), they let their affection for one another bring them through it.
“Don’t Vote For This Episode” explores those familial bonds by showing us a time before Maw Maw started to lose her memory. Not only was it nice to have a full capacity Maw Maw (which is always better, in my opinion) for most of the episode, but the storyline emphasized how much Virgina and Burt really do care about the people in their family. Five years ago, they were much lazier and less productive, basically still acting like the teenage versions of themselves that we have seen all season. Maw Maw kicks them out of her house and they finally have to figure out how to be self-sustaining, mature and responsible (in a way). Once they finally get on track, they realize that Maw Maw cannot live alone anymore. Obviously, moving back into her house allows them to save money, have a roof over their head, etc., but it also forces them to be even more responsible. And as the season has shown us, that’s exactly what Burt and Virgina are. For all their faults and issues, they take care of Maw Maw, Jimmy and now Hope. The whole story is simple, but completely effective and heartfelt.
I’ll probably write up the whole season in the coming weeks, but I’ll say now that I’m really glad that I stuck with Raising Hope. I think I liked the pilot more than most, but it certainly had its issues early on. Thankfully, it quickly figured them out and although I wouldn’t put it up there with the “big” comedies of today (Community, Parks, 30 Rock, Cougar Town), it’s closer than I would have ever expected. It doesn’t take as many risks or step outside of its comfort zone much, but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Being a solid B/A- each week is a good place to be.