comedy coolness

Why Raising Hope Is Fox’s Parks and Rec

Raising Hope Cast - Season 2 Photo: FOX

A charismatic petite blonde woman, a gruff gentleman prone to dispensing hardscrabble wisdom, a sarcastic brunette who falls for a doofy guy, a steady influx of weirdo lovable townies — they all make for an ensemble of earnest oddballs trying to do the right thing on their low-rated single-camera comedy. But it’s not Parks and Rec. It’s Raising Hope. And it’s just as good.

A summary for the uninitiated or wrongfully resistant: Lucas Neff stars as Jimmy, a high-school dropout single dad who lives with his parents (Martha Plimpton and Garrett Dillahunt) and grandmother (Cloris Leachman) and recently, after two seasons of pining, got together with his dream girl Sabrina (Shannon Woodward), whom he works with at the grocery store. The show’s cartoonishness balances out its abiding sincerity: Yes, everyone is sleeping with pantyhose on their heads to prevent spiders from crawling into their ears, but that’s only as a demonstration of their love and devotion to one another, and Jimmy’s attempt to make Sabrina feel understood. The show is a lot like creator Greg Garcia’s previous series, the massively underrated My Name Is Earl, but Hope is more family-centric and ensemble-driven.

Much like Parks or Happy Endings, but also in the tradition of, say, Roseanne or Malcolm in the Middle, Hope finds its humor in goofy spins on relative mundanity. Taking a GED course is not particularly hilarious, but what if the course is taught by a vindictive former teacher who rephrases every word problem to be about your poor life choices, and the only reason you’re taking the class is because your family is enmeshed in a contest to prove who’s the smartest? Well, maybe then.

So why doesn’t the show enjoy the same buzz or fandom? Where are the Raising Hope fan art Tumblrs, the dozens of .gifs recounting the show’s best moments, the Trader Joe’s employees using Hope jokes in their store placards? Why isn’t Raising Hope cool?

A couple of factors probably contribute: It’s a family-set show, it’s on Fox, and it’s about poor people, so it doesn’t seem trendy. And yet, Hope has all the markers of comedy hipness: irreverence, a fascination with quirkiness, running in-jokes that reward eagle-eyed fans, good guest stars, a darling romance, and quotable bon mots. It’s not cynical, and the characters seem to care for each other. There’s even a cute baby. Like the buzzier Parks, Hope had a good first season but is really finding its footing in its second, backing off on some of its overdone bits (like Maw Maw being salty) and finding a more comfortable rhythm.

And in the trendiest move of all, Hope is a bubble show that’s been bounced around the schedule and is nearing the end of its season without a renewal. Which makes now the perfect time to get onboard, because as Party Down fans can tell you, there’s nothing cooler than a canceled show.

Why Raising Hope Is Fox’s Parks and Rec