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 V.19 No.42 | October 21 - 27, 2010 
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Baby Steps

“Raising Hope” on FOX

With sitcoms such as the unsung “My Name Is Earl” and the recently added “Raising Hope” under his belt, it’s time to name writer/producer/creator Greg Garcia the Patron Saint of White Trash. That’s not an insult, mind you. Nobody’s done as much to champion America’s questionably tasteful lower middle class since Roseanne Barr.

With “Raising Hope,” Garcia strikes a fine balance between lampooning his subjects and finding value in their humble lives. Mostly, though, he crafts a lot of very funny, genuinely heartfelt jokes—which is more than can be said of most new sitcoms this season.

Garcia’s new show centers around Jimmy Chance (heretofore unknown Lucas Neff), a soft-spoken twentysomething who finds himself in the custody of a baby daughter after a one-night-stand gone horribly wrong. (Turns out Jimmy’s babymama was wanted on multiple counts of murder and gave birth to his child just prior to her trip to death row.) Directionless, living at home, working as a pool cleaner and not exactly a role model to anyone, Jimmy’s got to figure out how to protect and raise this lovechild, the titular Hope.

Debatably helpful are Jimmy’s parents, Virginia and Burt (onetime indie film darling Martha Plimpton and frequently freaky actor Garret Dillahunt from “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” and “Deadwood”). They had Jimmy when they were still in high school and weren’t exactly model parents themselves. Even worse is Jimmy’s grandmother (a fearless Cloris Leachman) who only occasionally pops out of her dementia to berate the family members who have taken over her home.

Though the situation would seem to scream for a call to Child Services, there’s a real sweetness amid the shenanigans. Jimmy is a genuinely nice guy who seizes on this sudden opportunity to become an upstanding father—if only he knew what that entailed. And, though Jimmy’s parents missed a chance to bring him up in the safest and sanest of households, they seem genuinely committed to doing right by Hope.

It’s a fine cast, to be sure, and they have a field day with Garcia’s madcap yet down-to-earth scripts. The tone isn’t far off that of “My Name Is Earl,” and fans of that series will feel right at home with the politically incorrect humor. (“Smoke rises. It’ll be years before she’s tall enough to breathe it,” explains Jimmy’s mother when he complains about her smoking around the baby.)

Inept parents forced to raise cute babies isn’t anything new. (Witness—actually, avoid at all costs—Katherine Heigl’s new film Life as We Know It.) Yet “Raising Hope” somehow manages to sidestep the easy sentiment of its premise. Rather than give us the old cliché that having kids makes us better people, “Raising Hope” shows us that human beings grow up more or less fine under just about any circumstances. The Cleavers, the Huxtables and pretty much every other sitcom family aside, everybody’s parents were weird/crazy/inept/embarrassing in some way. “Raising Hope” doesn’t just acknowledge that. It wallows in it. Gleefully and amusingly.

“Raising Hope” airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on KASA-2.
 
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