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Advent Calendar 2016 Box 6

Raising Hope Season 1 Episode 11 "Toy Story"

Originally broadcast December 7, 2010

Here we have another highlight of modern sitcom, and it might be the most endearing example of family on the list (Little House on the Prairie included). Since this show aired after 2008 or so, I never had a chance (no pun intended) to actually catch it on TV, but thanks to Netflix we can all enjoy this gem.

What is the show?

Jimmy Chance is a young man with few resources and even fewer chances - er, prospects. When he becomes a father after a one-night stand with a strange woman (who ends up being a murderer), he decides to turn his life around and learn some responsibility. He and his new daughter live with his young parents Burt - who runs a middling landscaping company - and Virginia - who works for an in-home maid service. Also in the house is Virginia's completely senile grandmother (played by the still genius Cloris Leachman). Jimmy finds a job at the local grocery store, where he predictably finds his love interest Sabrina, who just as predictably has an out-of-town boyfriend. They all do their best to make ends meet and give baby Hope (yes, they call her Hope Chance) the best life they can.

Where this show leaves other "Quirky Family" sitcoms behind is how irresistibly endearing all of the characters are. Burt is a screw-up and a failure, Virginia is an opinionated blow-hard (and hoarder) who cleans toilets for a living, Jimmy is a complete doofus and regularly deemed an accident, and the rarely lucid Maw-Maw clearly needs professional care. By all rights, they should be miserable (and us, the audience, with them), and yet the show is delightful to watch. Burt and Virginia adore each other, Jimmy is full of childlike innocence, and Maw-maw is hilarious (even though sometimes her character goes a little overboard). This show isn't just an example of skirting that line between making characters endearing and making them pitiable - it's a master class.

Come for watching Cloris Leachman off her rocker, stay for Martha Plimpton's ability to hilariously mispronounce words. Actually, I could have written this entire thing about how great Martha Plimpton is.

What is the Episode?

"Toy Story" is an example of the show at its best. We see Virginia on a crusade to leverage her new granddaughter for social glory (but with the best of intentions), and her almost Machiavellian attempts to manipulate everyone to get her way (she really does mean well, though). We see Burt perpetrating a scheme to make some extra money over the holiday season, and we see Jimmy doing his best to give Hope everything he missed out on as a child. We also see Cloris Leachman in a Joseph costume, which is a highlight of this list for sure. It all culminates in a grand climax (and a pretty great joke that always gets me).

It's a low-stakes romp, and a light-hearted 22 minutes. Other shows might promise a deeper emotional core, more peril, or grander caliber of humor, but few shows can match this one's level of innocent delight. Raising Hope goes down smooth and gently, like a glass of mulled wine.

Where can you watch it?

You can watch the whole show on Netflix, or buy the first season on DVD or streaming from Amazon.

In the world of Sitcom, with the soft, bright lighting and straightforward musical cues, everything always goes well in the end. Most sitcoms have a grasp of that concept. In 22 minutes, everything should be tied up in a nice, happy little bow, and the good guys always win. What Raising Hope remembers that other sitcoms seem to forget is making sure to create a family of good guys who you genuinely want to see win. It's not enough to have hope, you have to have charm, too - and Raising Hope has more than enough of both.

Of course, the creators of Raising Hope had been around the block before . . .

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