If they’d kept the original title of the show – Keep Hope Alive – I would have known immediately that Raising Hope is my kind of show. As it was, it took me a little while to get around to watching this sitcom from Greg Garcia (My Name is Earl) about a clueless young man battling the odds to raise his little baby girl.
The Chances, Burt (Garret Dillahunt) and Virginia (Martha Plimpton) have big dreams: lots of money, yachts, fancy fixtures, rich people’s toys. Someday they’re going to live in an enormous mansion with a pool. In the meantime, however, while waiting for that lottery to chime in the happy times, they clean enormous mansions and pools for a living wage. And they live with Virginia’s grandmother, known as Maw Maw (Cloris Leachman), whose dementia prevents her from kicking them all out of her home, which they’ve sort of unofficially occupied for years now.
Burt and Virginia have a son Jimmy (Lucas Neff), born when they were both in their teens, and one day in the middle of cleaning a pool, he has an epiphany. Which leads, in turn, to a fateful rescue mission where he saves a pretty young girl from an older man. Her name is Lucy (Bijou Phillips) and they promptly have mad, unprotected sex in the backseat of his gross van. Things are great! For a moment it looks like Jimmy was right – his life is meant for better things than cleaning a pool. Too bad Lucy’s a mad serial killer.
However, her execution next year leaves a surprise for him: Princess Beyonce, his daughter. Everyone advises him to give the baby up for adoption but Jimmy is adamant. He’s going to raise
Princess Beyonce Hope himself. Well, himself with the help of his parents, his friends and whoever else he can rope into it.
Like that really cute, quirky girl Sabrina (Shannon Woodward) who works at the local supermarket while writing stories full of words he hasn’t ever heard before. She might have a boyfriend, a college boy whose father’s pool the Chances clean, and Jimmy did once date her cousin, the girl with one dead tooth, but hey! Things can happen, right?
In the wrong hands, Raising Hope could have dwindled into one long “Ha Ha, Look at These Fucking Ignorant Poor People” joke. Thankfully, it’s a long way from that. It is, however, a show that isn’t afraid to tackle uncomfortable subjects with the lightest of touches.
For instance, serial killer Lucy chooses to have Princess Beyonce because she’s pro-life – not the baby’s but her own. Since she’s pregnant, her execution is delayed till Hope is 6 months old. “Don’t worry, they’ll never execute the mother of a 6 month old baby,” she assures Jimmy. Oh, but they will. Sanctity of life only extends thus far and no further, you see.
Similarly, you see the family making choices – daycare for Hope or smokes for Grandma Virginia? – that seem tiny and ridiculous unless you’ve actually lived the experience of existing paycheck to paycheck. And that still doesn’t stop it from being hilarious. It’s also proved capable of handling the tricky subject of teen parenting, specifically its aftermath, as Virginia and Burt explain their horrifyingly bad decisions to their grown up son who is now a father himself.
The real heart of the show, as far as I’m concerned, are the moments in which Jimmy learns compassion and forgives his parents one bizarre action at a time as he slowly becomes more and more of a real father rather than a kid who decided fatherhood was his new mission in life. Martha Plimpton, in particular, just kills those scenes as she takes Jimmy’s childhood memories and reintroduces them to him in a newly adult context.
Baby Hope is cute but really just incidental to the whole process of what goes into raising a family.