For the season finale of FOX’s Raising Hope, the series goes back in time five years. Jimmy (Lucas Neff) is a goth, attracting the attention of a the new awkward, braces-wearing cashier at the grocery store, Sabrina (Shannon Woodward). Maw Maw (Cloris Leachman) still seems fully lucid, and is tired of supporting her immature granddaughter, Virginia (Martha Plimpton), and Virginia’s equally clueless husband, Burt (Garret Dillahunt). So on Jimmy’s 18th birthday, which is also Maw Maw’s 80th, she kicks the trio out on the street. At the grocery store, a morbidly obese Barney (Gregg Binkley) hunts for the “gypsy” squatting in the shop at night (it’s Jimmy), while Shelley (Kate Micucci) and Frank (Todd Giebenhain) are expert shelf stockers until an accident leaves the former with a dead tooth. And Lucy (Bijou Phillips) begins to get awfully tired of her boyfriend.
An episode like this is purely gratuitous, but it’s such fun, so that can be easily forgiven. No plots arcs or ongoing stories are furthered, but the origin of many relationships and familiar characteristics are explored. This episode also bridges the gap between other past exploits that have been briefly shown and the modern incarnations of the characters, helping explain away some major life changes.
The title is “Don’t Vote for This Episode,” which can only be a message for Emmy voters. Why the minds behind the series do not want this very special entry to be considered for awards is anyone’s guess, but perhaps they want to be judged on their general merits, rather than one, far from representative, effort. It’s too bad, because despite all of the perfectly logical arguments against doing an episode such as this, it is wonderfully executed and very entertaining, much as Raising Hope is almost every week.
Perhaps the neatest thing about “Don’t Vote for This Episode” is Sabrina’s infatuation with Jimmy. Throughout season one, Jimmy has exhibited feelings for Sabrina that she doesn’t return. While some may wonder if she just isn’t interested in him, others may point out that her boyfriend could be a deterant, and were he not in the equation, the pair may have a chance. This episode supports the latter reasoning, as under different circumstances, Sabrina is very much attracted to Jimmy. Also, the elaborate goth makeup is a neat device so that Sabrina will not recognize her former crush years later when they meet under more ordinary circumstances.
It is also nice to see Maw Maw in a transitional state. She appears more vulnerable and layered than the usual one-note jokes the character is often subjected to. Maw Maw used to be a complete individual, and it’s illuminating to see some of that spirit before it is tempered by age and disease.
Finally, “Don’t Vote for This Episode” provides very good development for Burt and Virginia. Jimmy always complains about the mistakes they made with him, and they are often shown as irresponsible parents in flashback. Being put in a situation where they have to care for a sick relative, and have thier own safety net removed, is a reasonable explanation for their current (relative) maturity. Their story is actually one with an emotional impact, melding seamlessly with this mostly-for-laughs episode.
Raising Hope has already been given a second season, and will return to FOX next fall.