The American sitcom market is a minefield. If, by some miraculous chance, your pilot show can pass muster and get a season commissioned you’ve then got to attract millions of viewers in your first couple of episodes. Failure to do that sees you axed without pity or compassion and left on the sitcom scrap heap, wondering where it all went wrong. One show which has made it past all the seemingly insurmountable network obstacles is Raising Hope. With a second season starting in America this week the show also recently secured Emmy nominations for two actresses in its first season.
Raising Hope centres around the Chance family and sees Jimmy (Lucas Neff) become a dad at the age of 23. Single handedly raising a baby, whilst still living at home with his bizarre family may seem complicated enough. Throw in the fact that the baby’s mother was a serial killer and you know this kid’s going to have problems. Here’s ten reasons why you need to track down season one and get to know the Chance family.
One thing any sitcom must do in America’s pilot season is stand out. A single dad raising the baby of a serial killer, who in the pilot episode is sent to the electric chair, was always going to attract attention. Initially the plot synopsis was off putting. How can that be funny? Turns out, it’s not just a funny show, it’s a laugh out loud, ‘I can’t believe they just said that’ show.
The show was created by Greg Garcia the creator of My Name Is Earl. The show borrows aspects from the Earl concept such as the protagonist Jimmy narrating the story and below par intelligence Americans trying to do the right thing, despite not always being sure why. Raising Hope benefits from everything Garcia brought to My Name Is Earl and builds on it, leaving the show with the feel of an established sitcom that’s been on the air for years, yet still retaining the freshness of a new idea.
The Death Penalty, Alzheimer’s and living on America’s breadline are not high on most peoples belly laugh list, but the writers of Raising Hope find humour in these and other borderline distasteful subjects. Their deft handling of the story lines mean you walk away laughing rather than penning an angry email to the Fox network. Rather than this being a weak link in the show, the ability to push the boundaries of taste without offending means the show can stay on air without deterring those all important advertisers.
The ensemble cast has an impressive background of work and awards. Right from the pilot show you feel a familiarity with the family. It’s equal parts ‘what has she been in before?’ and ‘I’m sure I know him’. This combined with the quality acting and comedic timing ensures you feel in safe hands. While there’s room for challenging television, sometimes you just want a sitcom that can deliver time and time again. This is where the cast excels and their quality performances keep you tuning in week after week.
Turns out, it’s not just a funny show, it’s a laugh out loud, ‘I can’t believe they just said that’ show.
Cloris Leachman plays Maw Maw, Jimmy’s great grandmother who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. Nominated in this year’s Emmy awards for the role, Leachman was robbed not to win. Any actress who’s game enough to be regularly filmed wearing a bra and little else at the age of 85 surely deserves recognition. In Maw Maw’s more lucid moments she realises although she kicked her family out of the house years ago they are all still living at home. Thankfully for the Chance’s these moments are few and far between.
Heart Warming Moral Lessons
Just as each Scrubs episode included moral tales in their weekly hit of sitcom lolz, Raising Hope delivers top-notch comedy along with an important life lesson. The combination of mixing dark humour with everyday examples of love and generosity of spirit ensures the sit-com avoids being just a sickly dose of American schmaltz. Comedies which can move you to shed a tear as well as have you laughing out loud in the same episode are a rare commodity. Treasure Raising Hope for this as you never know when the next one will come along.
Don’t worry, if the thought of a sitcom revolving around a baby has you rushing for the sick bag, the infant is thankfully only a small part of the show. The main focus of the story is Jimmy’s struggle to overcome the bad parenting he received as a child and learn to cope with being a single dad. As babies go though, Hope (originally christened Princess Beyonce) is kind of cute and thankfully it’ll be at least a couple of seasons before they replace her with a precocious acting prodigy.
Will They, Won’t They?
The staple of any good film or sit-com is the classic ‘will they, won’t they’ storyline. Raising Hope is no exception and right from the early episodes you find yourself willing Jimmy to bag supermarket checkout girl Sabrina (Shannon Woodward). The on screen chemistry works and providing the writers don’t subject the characters to a Ross and Rachel style on again, off again, relationship this is just one of the many hooks that will keep you watching.
The Del Boy and Rodney Effect
Behind the Chance’s trailer park trash style lifestyle and sometimes questionable morals beats the loving heart of a family. Much like Del Boy and Rodney you feel the family are always one step away from success, if only they could escape their endless run of bad luck. If this time next year the Chance family became millionaires you’d be cheering them on from your sofa, even if they had done it by copying Del’s Peckham Spring hair brained scheme.
Virginia (Martha Plimpton) and Burt (Garrett Dillahunt) Chance managed to raise Jimmy despite being parents at an early age. Telling their son he was allergic to fruit to avoid buying expensive groceries and scarring him for life with their yearly family photo sessions are just a couple of the mistakes they made along the way. Anyone who has ever raised a child will have worried about being a bad parent at some point. Watching Raising Hope will at the very least make you realise that your parenting skills can never be as bad as the Chances.
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