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When my now-wife introduced me to Greg Garcia’s family sitcom Raising Hope, which aired on FOX from 2010 to 2014, I was instantly charmed by this sweet, touching, and—above all—hilarious sitcom. My attention was immediately captured by quirky Sabrina (Shannon Woodward), adorable Hope (Baylie and Rylie Cregut), and kind Jimmy (Lucas Neff). I laughed plenty, whether it was when Burt (Garret Dillahunt) had another silly idea or when Virginia (Martha Plimpton) mistakenly said the word wrong. The show’s script and comedic tone provide much-needed fun, but what else makes Raising Hope such a timely show worth revisiting?
In Raising Hope, Garcia invites us right into the Chance family, starting with Barbara June aka Maw Maw (Cloris Leachman), as well as the aforementioned Virginia, her husband Burt, and their son Jimmy. The premise is chaotic, where—in a series of very unfortunate events—the 20-something Jimmy rescues a runaway serial killer, Lucy (Bijou Phillips). After a one-night stand that’s quickly forgotten, he suddenly discovers that he’s a father of a newborn daughter, the titular Hope Chance. The show illustrates the family’s attempts to raise a toddler after her biological mother goes on the electric “bye-bye” chair.
Although the show’s description already sounds like it’s off the rails, that pales in comparison to its lovably strange characters. The entire cadre of talented actors at the show’s core give hilarious and brilliant performances. As Virginia explains in one of the episodes, the family represents “the lower, lower, middle class.” Virginia works as a maid at the cleaning company, Burt is a landscaper, and Jimmy assists him while working part-time at a convenience store, Howdy’s, where he meets and ends up falling for his co-worker Sabrina. Raising Hope depicts their struggles, most notably financial ones, as they strive to provide everything Hope requires and may need in the future. Each character is carefully crafted and brings something unique to the table, both literally and figuratively speaking. For example, Virginia tries her hardest to quit smoking, giving her cigarette money to Jimmy for her granddaughter instead.
Premise aside, Raising Hope may appear like a simple show, even silly or unambitious, yet it’s anything but. After diving in, it’s clear that it was ahead of its time in the way it eschewed conventional gender roles (especially for a network sitcom). Virginia, who keeps her feet (mostly) planted on the ground, frequently takes the lead without the assistance of her husband. Burt, on the other hand, is a very sensitive person who is in tune with nature (Dillahunt’s endearing character is especially gentle with the animals and plants he adores). Their roles and struggles often interlace, which refreshingly puts them on an equal level.
Raising Hope also perfected its character development, like with Jimmy’s arc. Here, the poorer, less educated, but genuinely kind guy pursues an upper-class girl, Sabrina, with success. They fall in love with one another, are present in Hope’s life, and again stand equally in the relationship. You can’t help but cheer Jimmy on in his pursuit, the culmination of which happens not at the end of the series (as is often the case in movies and TV series), but fairly early on in the show. Through that, viewers have a chance to experience Sabrina bonding with Hope, and see her budding relationship with not only Jimmy but his parents. It may not be groundbreaking, but it is refreshing.
The matter of social class and the differences between them is another interesting aspect that’s heavily discussed in the series. Even though the Chances didn’t go to college and didn’t get GEDs (expect Jimmy, but you’ll have to watch to find out why), they demonstrate a way of life in which it’s not the level of education or the prestige of the university one attends that matters, but the kindness and work put in every day to survive in this capitalistic world.
Even though the show ended its course in 2014, it still feels fresh and relevant because of its timeless themes. The characters highlight the beauty of and significance of respecting one another, coupled with an eagerness to learn. The Chances certainly don’t know everything, but they are happy to converse with people from various backgrounds and learn from them. In doing so, they create an intriguing paradox: the Chances may have limited, small-town knowledge of the world, but they are extraordinarily open-minded towards all people.
Raising Hope also provides plenty of guaranteed comedy in every episode. The most hilarious moments are those when the Chances use the wrong words to try and sound very professional, like “procasturbating” instead of “procrastinating.” Virginia is a master of this; in one scene, Jimmy learns that his parents, who had him while still at school, were forced to put him up for adoption for a while. Seeing Jimmy visibly upset, Virginia tries to calm him down, saying, “Jimmy, we actually are your biodegradable parents.” There are lots more of these gems, whether it’s “self-refilling prophecy,” or the baby “dramastically” changing their lives. Again, it may sound simple, but the jokes are ultimately challenging, smart, and get better with each new episode.
For those looking for a worthy binge, Raising Hope not only provides much-needed entertainment and comedy, but it also leaves us with memorable characters. If you are looking to dive into a funny sitcom that works on multiple levels, this is all you could hope for.
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Zofia Wijaszka is a Los Angeles-based film and television critic. She writes for Awards Watch, Nerdist, and First Showing. You can connect with her on Twitter – @thefilmnerdette.
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