While “Glee” takes its annual spring break until April 10, FOX is trying something a little different on Tuesdays, with a four comedy line-up featuring “Raising Hope” moving to 8, “I Hate My Teenage Daughter” at 8:30, “New Girl” remaining at 9 and “Breaking In” returning from the dead at 9:30.
Dan and I discussed “Breaking In” on yesterday’s podcast (short version: I still appreciate its references to things like “They Live” and “The Breakfast Club” but wish they would be turned into actual jokes), and I’ll have a review of a sweet, change-of-pace “New Girl” up at 9:30. At the moment, though, I want to say a few words – and ask a question – about “Raising Hope.”
“Raising Hope” is a show that snuck up on me. I laughed at a few of the baby-endangerment gags in the pilot, and was happy for Garret Dillahunt’s continued employment, but otherwise thought very little of the show when it debuted. Like the rest of the TV press, I was fixated on its lead-in, “Running Wilde,” and why the “Arrested Development” guys couldn’t be funny together in other projects. And it was the failure, commercially and artistically, of “Running Wilde” that was the best thing to happen to “Raising Hope” in its early days. While everyone was scrutinizing “Wilde,” Greg Garcia and company got to make a few smart tweaks to their show in relative anonymity, specifically in the way that Dillahunt and Plimpton quickly moved to equal status with Lucas Neff, as the show became as much a story of Burt and Virginia getting a second chance at parenting as it was about the son they screwed up getting his first shot. That was a sturdy structure for a comedy, and one that allowed the show to be insane or sweet at any moment, with the three leads carrying the show between its different tones. (Though the adults in the Chance family aren’t what anyone would call smart, the show loves them far, far more than it mocks them, and that enables so much of the humor and emotion to work.) And when they were given the chance to air after “Glee,” they wound up doing much better than “Running Wilde” had. A season-plus later, Will Arnett’s on a new show and “Raising Hope” is still going on FOX.
That said, the ratings haven’t been good for quite a while now, and moving to 8 p.m. – even on a night when “NCIS” is airing a repeat – without a successful lead-in like “Glee” or “New Girl” probably isn’t a good sign for the show’s future. Tonight’s episode is a good one, in which the Occupy movement comes to Natesville, Virginia and Burt make friends with the town’s mayor (played by Mary Birdsong from “Reno 911”) and Sabrina winds up in jail as a result of her protest. That last story features an opportunity for Shannon Woodward’s good friend Katy Perry to make a guest appearance, all but unrecognizable – but quite funny (as she’s demonstrated on “SNL” and “HIMYM,” she’s game for anything) – as a red-headed, prison guard with a facial hair problem. Stunt-casting rarely moves the ratings needle in this day and age, and I don’t know that Perry fans are going to want to tune in to see her so de-glammed, but at least it gives FOX something to promote.
But let me repeat a question I asked Dan on the podcast: why hasn’t this show done better? Even in the early days, it wasn’t so much that the numbers were great, just that they were better than what “Running Wilde” was doing, and they’ve been poor overall for a long time. The show feels very much like a continuation of “My Name Is Earl,” and not just because Garcia keeps bringing in different actors from that show (Eddie Steeples is back tonight), and that was a show that was a genuine hit once upon a time (though even then for only a year or two). Was Jason Lee’s star power really that bright? Was the “Earl” premise an easier hook than “simpleton has to raise a baby he fathered with an executed serial killer”? “New Girl,” though it’s dipped since its debut, shows that FOX isn’t incapable of launching a successful live-action comedy, so I don’t think we can blame the network.
I’m stumped. Mainly, though, I just wish more people would watch “Raising Hope.” It’s clever, it’s sweet, it makes me laugh quite often, and in the new timeslot it makes a fine cross-network lead-in for “Cougar Town” (which itself could use some more viewers).
What does everybody else think?