Raising Hope, “Happy Halloween” and “Family Secrets”

One-hour blocks of a specific comedy series always annoy me. Either the block is filled with one full episode that stretches the material way too thin and ultimately makes you wish it was just 30 minutes — like countless episodes of The office — or the network has randomly selected to air two non-connecting episodes back-to-back. This week’s block of Raising Hope is the latter. And by putting the two very different episodes together, I think the ultimate effect of both is muted in a way that wouldn’t have occurred had the episodes aired on consecutive weeks.

In the end, that doesn’t actually matter. When someone watches the first season on DVD, they aren’t going to care, and I’m guessing most people watching at home on Tuesday night didn’t care either. It’s my personal hang-up. However, I do think that airing these two episodes together presented an audience with the very good parts of Raising Hope and the parts that the writers are still trying to work out properly. “Happy Halloween” feels like a natural extension of the four previous episodes, whereas “Family Secrets” feels like a meaner follow-up to the pilot that doesn’t quite fit tonally with the other episodes we’ve seen.

“Halloween” continues to further the formula the series has now smartly created where somebody does something really, really stupid, but it’s because they’re trying to bring the family together. And whereas in some comedies the people who do stupid things always do really stupid things, here, it always feels like an intentionally personal goof or gag that works completely in the scope of the series. Moreover, the motivations of the characters are typically consistent and each episode is bringing us something new about these people who continues to make them charming as hell (Well, except Maw Maw).

In “Halloween,” it’s revealed that Burt has been scaring Jimmy for years and years while he trick-r-treated Halloween because he liked to then run back into the house and get the “I’m scared, daddy!” hugs. The first part of the episode sets this up as something of a goofy beat — which of course, it is — but then gets away from it while Jimmy and Sabrina have their drunken sorta-tryst as Batman and Robin. However, then the last act of the episode swings back around to the idea when Jimmy finds out that Hope is missing and realizes he only has a few moments to get to the fire station before they send her off to a foster home or something. It’s an oddly heavy moment that at first drags down the episode, but then it’s revealed that Burt planned the whole ordeal…just so he could get another hug.

Watching it all unfold, it’s completely ridiculous, even stupid. But when Burt admits his wrongdoing and again reiterates it’s just to get close to his son, you can help but smile, even a little bit. Somehow, Raising Hope keeps pulling off moments like this and they’re both wholly predictable and out-of-the-blue. The beats getting played here aren’t new, but the shades are just slightly different enough to make it compelling to watch play out. And when these kind of moments are interspersed with great moments like the utter joy Garret Dillahunt played Burt in his egging festivities or Virgina helping Maw Maw TP a house while yelling, “Come on Maw Maw, throw it high, like you’re welcoming the Lindebergh baby home!” it’s hard not to be charmed by this goofy little series.

Unfortunately, “Family Secrets” doesn’t include any real emotional pay-off and instead goes back to the dirtier, trashier version of the series I feared would come from the pilot (and was really there for the first 16 minutes or so). The Chances receive a box of Hope’s mom’s stuff from the joint, including a number of VHS tapes that are supposed to teach her life lessons. Maybe it’s just because I’ve seen too many comedies go this route, but I found the thread mostly tepid, particularly the countless prison-related gags that aren’t funny the 3,543 time around.

That story leads Jimmy to look into his grandmother, who is never spoken about or mentioned by anyone and sets up this running gag that he’s been lied to about various stuff — fruit allergies, lack of internet tubes coming to their house, etc. — which is kind of funny, but derailed by the boring grandma hunt. I respect the series for trying to expand its universe in a steady way, but I’m not sure anyone really cared where Virgina’s mother was. I also see that the episode is trying to make us feel sorry for Virgina because he mother eventually just ditched her so she could become a swinger, but because Virgina doesn’t actually get much to do within the context of that story, the final impact is devoid of any emotion. Jimmy’s keeping the secret, great.

“Secrets” is saved by Dillahunt (shocker), who plays off baby Hope so well that I would watch a string of episodes with just Burt at home babysitting. He goes through all the mother’s stuff because he feels like Hope deserves to see it (and because he’s bored/nosy) and it leads to a number of great gags, including him putting make up on her, talking to her about the little doll of Al Roker and getting turned on by the jailed mother’s sexual dancing. They’re little moments, but in a weak episode, they stand out.

Raising Hope is the only new comedy worth watching in my opinion, but hopefully it continues to be like the series seen in “Halloween” than the one seen in “Family Secrets.”

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