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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2010-2011 season. Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere next season (or one that didn't make the cut) and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. Keep in mind that a lot can change from what's being screened right now - recasting, reshooting, etc. - but we still want to give you a heads up on what you should (and shouldn't) keep on your radar in the coming months. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
[IMPORTANT NOTE: The following is based on the original sales presentation which was screened to us privately or supplied by a third party NOT an informational, not-for-review screener provided by the network in question.]
RAISING HOPE (FOX)
(written by Greg Garcia; directed by Michael Fresco; TRT: 23:45)
The network's description: "RAISING HOPE is a new single-camera family comedy from Emmy Award winner Greg Garcia ("My Name Is Earl") that follows the Chance family as they find themselves adding an unexpected new member into their already terribly flawed household. At 23 years old, JIMMY CHANCE (Lucas Neff, "The Beast") 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 (guest star Academy Award and Emmy Award winner Cloris Leachman); his mother, VIRGINIA (Martha Plimpton, "How to Make It in America"); his father, BURT (Garret Dillahunt, "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles," "Damages"); and his cousin, MIKE (Skyler Stone, "The Mentalist," "Dollhouse"). Jimmy's life takes a drastic turn when a chance romantic encounter with LUCY (guest star Bijou Phillips, "Choke," "Almost Famous") goes awry once he discovers she is a wanted felon.
Months later, when Jimmy pays a visit to the local prison, he discovers Lucy gave birth to their baby, who he is now charged with raising. At home with his new daughter, 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. If Jimmy can work up the nerve to ask her out on a date, he might get some help from SABRINA (Shannon Woodward, "The Riches," "ER"), a sardonic checkout clerk he met at the supermarket. Cousin Mike is only concerned about how the baby is going to affect their social life, and out-of-touch Maw Maw is no help either. But 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?"
What did they leave out? Kate Micucci and Olesya Rulin played Mike and Sabrina, respectively, in the original pilot which was reshot with Skyler Stone and Shannon Marie Woodward in the aforementioned roles. And yes, Mike was conceived as male, cast as female then recast as male.
The plot in a nutshell: Unlike his father Burt (Garret Dillahunt) and his cousin/best friend Mike (Skyler Stone), 23-year-old Jimmy (Lucas Neff) isn't content with his life as a pool cleaner and living with his parents. Unfortunately, he doesn't know what that something more is. Fate thankfully arrives in the form of Lucy Carlyle (Bijou Phillips), a manic woman with whom he shares a one-night stand - only to learn she's a wanted murderer. Eight months later, it turns out she's pregnant - and with her going to the chair and all - Jimmy gets custody of their baby. Not sure what to do with six-month-old Princess Beyonce, Burt and his wife Virgina (Martha Plimpton) - who had Jimmy when they were 15 - suggest the safe drop at the local fire station. Jimmy however can't shake the feeling this might be the bigger purpose he's been looking for.
And so Jimmy begins his descent into the world of safety seats, makeshift bottles and sleepless nights. Along the way he befriends Sabrina (Shannon Marie Woodward), a bored grocery store cashier who passes the time by pulling pranks on her boss ("Earl" alum Gregg Binkley). Ultimately, Burt and Virgina warm up to the prospect of helping Jimmy raise their granddaughter - granted it's the same hapless method they raised Jimmy (Virginia: "I smoked with you and you're fine." Jimmy: "Fine? I had asthma the first 17 years of my life. I've got seven permanent teeth that still haven't come in. And I'm allergic to fruit... fruit!"). Now they just need an actual name for Princess Beyonce.
What works: "Hope" is just an all-around entertaining half-hour of television. Like in "Earl," Garcia stresses the simple pleasures in life - the McRib, the Shamrock Shake, playing Crazy Eights with oversized cards, using abandoned shopping carts as barbeque grills and, of course, getting tattoos on your fingers that look like cheesy moustaches - all while sending his characters on quests to better their lives. There's just a wonderful undercurrent of sweetness and mischievousness to the show that's a lot of fun.
Whether it be Burt pulling pranks on Mike and Jimmy at work, even if it's at everyone's expense; the fact that their house actually belongs to their senile Maw Maw (Cloris Leachman), who's frequently shirtless and mistaking Jimmy for her late husband; how Burt is impressed that Lucy can pronounce Mahmoud Ahmadinejad; or Mike's insistence that his pants stay crisply ironed before heading off to a rave, it's a solid collection of colorful characters and general silliness. All of the above then is wrapped in the general eye-soreness that is the greater Van Nuys area that gives it a grounded sense of time and place.
Also helping things along is the all-around awesomeness that is Garret Dillahunt and Martha Plimpton. They're only slightly more mature than their son ("I told you getting pregnant at 15 would pay off eventually," Burt notes and their new status as young grandparents) and equally ill-equipped to raise another child. Newcomer Lucas Neff is also a hoot as his Jimmy is equal parts idealist, slacker, panicked and clueless. Throw in a welcome shoutout to "Earl" itself and you have the best half-hour of the new season.
What doesn't: As I said, it's just an all-around entertaining half-hour of television and...
The bottom line: ...the best of its kind this season.