Review: Raising Hope 1×1

Sweet but not especially funny - typical Greg Garcia

In the US: Tuesdays, 9/8c,Fox
In the UK: Sky1 this autumn

Greg Garcia has made something of a career for himself with a very peculiar writing specialty: he writes sweet, not especially funny sitcoms, filled with stupid but well meaning members of America’s underclass. As much laughing with the underclass as at them, his shows are a useful antidote to the middle class and upper class shows that dominate the airwaves, but you’re always left feeling after a given episode that it should have been a whole lot more – and that you have a slightly nasty taste in your mouth, as though you’ve somehow ended up bullying one of the stupid kids in the class, despite your best intentions.

After the demise of My Name is Earl on NBC, Garcia has made the trek over to a network whose comedies (‘Til Death, Brothers, Happy Hour) are more commonly associated with feelings of violation and misery: Fox. His new topic of amusement? A young underachiever, who just as he’s decided to make something of his otherwise dead-end existence, finds out he’s a father and has to bring up the baby with his gormless family. The baby’s name? Princess Beyonce.

No. Hang on. That’s not right. It’s Hope. So here’s a trailer for Raising Hope.

is a new single-camera family comedy from Emmy Award winner Greg Garcia that follows the Chance family as they find themselves adding an unexpected new member into their household.

At 23 years old, JIMMY CHANCE (Lucas Neff) is going nowhere in life. He skims pools for a living, parties every night and still lives at home with his family, including his MAW MAW (Cloris Leachman); his mother, VIRGINIA (Martha Plimpton) and his father, BURT (Garret Dillahunt).

Jimmy’s life takes a drastic turn when a chance romantic encounter with LUCY (guest star Bijou Phillips) goes awry once he discovers she is a wanted felon. Months later, when Jimmy pays a visit to the local prison, he learns Lucy is pregnant with their baby, and after she gives birth, he is charged with raising their daughter.

Back at home, Jimmy’s family is less than enthusiastic about a new addition to the household. His parents, who had him when they were 15, never knew anything about raising a child and have no interest in trying again. Jimmy may be able to get some help from SABRINA (Shannon Woodward), a sardonic checkout clerk he met at the supermarket if only he can work up the nerve to ask her out. Despite it all, Jimmy is determined to take care of his baby – whom Virginia thinks they should name HOPE.

With very few useful skills but their hearts in the right place, will the Chance family be successful when they step into the unpredictable and immensely challenging world of parenting?

RAISING HOPE is produced by Amigos de Garcia Productions in association with 20th Century Fox Television. The pilot was written by Greg Garcia and directed by Michael Fresco. Garcia serves as executive producer on the series.

Lucas Neff (Jimmy)
Garret Dillahunt (Burt)
Martha Plimpton (Virginia)
Shannon Woodward (Sabrina)

Is it any good?
Tricky. It’s clearly something that looks good on the page. There are some great jokes. The actors are all excellent. There’s some great chemistry between the leads. It’s a good story. It’s clever. It’s touching. There’s pathos.

Yet, somehow on screen it just doesn’t quite take off. As with My Name is Earl, you get the over-riding feeling that some smart writers and smart actors are having a laugh at how silly hicks are – and at how really, really funny dementia in an old relative is.

Individual elements of it are still good. The potential romance between Jimmy and Shannon Woodward is lovely. The whole story of how Jimmy ends up a father is well played. The gradual realisation by Jimmy that his mum and dad, despite all their failings, did their best for him is beautiful. And there’s a cracking background joke to explain how My Name is Earl ended (almost).

But despite all those good qualities, it never quite soars. With some quality writing going into the script, it’ll be worth sticking with for a time, just to see if it finds a less sneering tone. But if you’re expecting laughs every minute, this isn’t the show for you.