The bastard child of “Raising Arizona” and producer Greg Garcia’s prior foray into the struggling underclass, “My Name Is Earl,” “Raising Hope” employs an outlandish setup to get to a very basic series — namely, sudden parenthood’s effect on the lives of a directionless, youthful slacker and his just-scraping-by parents. Still, there’s a charm and irreverence to the show, to go with a few big-time laughs (you can never go wrong with mass vomiting). While the pilot’s not as good, in fact, this Fox series almost feels like a logical companion to ABC’s single-camera standout “Modern Family.”
Poor Jimmy (Lucas Neff) is earning some cash by cleaning pools with his immature dad (“Deadwood’s” Garret Dillahunt, showing a nifty flair for comedy), but that doesn’t stop him from retiring to his room to sketch out a “life plan” — a process that evaporates into adolescent fantasies.
A chance encounter with an alluring girl, however — and it’s almost too convoluted to adequately explain — leaves him a single father, much to the chagrin, especially, of his mother, Virginia (a terrific Martha Plimpton).
This Virginia has long since determined there is no Santa Claus, grousing to a fellow maid who complains that they’re running late, “You know we’re going to scrub toilets, right?” When told she could pass for her son’s older sister, her husband says cheerfully, “I told you getting pregnant at 15 would pay off eventually.”
Garcia’s script oscillates between those kind of wry lines and big visual gags, such as Jimmy’s poor grasp of car-seat safety (no actual babies were harmed in the making of this show), a dotty old grandma (the always-game Cloris Leachman) and the aforementioned collective bout of nausea. It’s a bit of a kitchen-sink approach, frankly, but there are laughs to be found here, along with genuine familial affection — even if the family members don’t always have the words to express it.
Tonally, “Hope” proves very similar to “Earl,” which also broke with TV’s homogenized sitcom vision of middle-class bliss. As with that show, though, you wonder whether there’s enough here to sustain the series as baby Hope (hence the title) celebrates her first birthday, much less until she reaches the terrible twos.
That said, the pilot is a laudable effort, and shines even more brightly when held up against its new companion, “Running Wilde.”
Fox’s last success with a live-action comedy, “Malcolm in the Middle,” had a similar flavor, but there’s been a long drought in between. Granted, there’s a certain amount of audacity in scheduling “Hope” coming out of “Glee,” but you have to start somewhere, and for programmers, you-know-what springs eternal.