Raising Hope, “Burt Rocks”

I haven’t checked in with Raising Hope since the “Happy Halloween”/”Family Secrets” double feature almost a month ago, but that’s not because I haven’t been watching. Well, that’s not true, as I missed last week’s episode due to Thanksgiving travel. In any event, Raising Hope is still damn good fun and much, much better than that car wreck that is Running Wilde. If you haven’t seen “Blue Dots” from a few weeks ago, you’re severely missing out on one of the funnier half hours of 2010.

So I figured with Jason Lee’s weird guest spot on last night’s “Burt Rocks,” it might be smart to take a quick look at the series 10 episodes in. And despite Lee’s distracting appearance — and it’s really even him, just the character’s look — “Burt Rocks” is another rock-solid effort for television’s best new comedy.

What I really enjoy about the series is that it quickly got away from the “Hey, they’re poor!” and the “Hey, look at the baby in terrible situations, stupid white trash!” stories and hasn’t looked back. For the most part, that’s why I wasn’t really looking forward to Hope in the first place. I wasn’t a fan of My Name Is Earl and even though the pilot was surprisingly solid, I didn’t expect the baby danger humor to go away. But aside from a few gags here and there, which are welcome and generally acceptable, the series doesn’t rely too much on Hope unless it needs a cute smile from a ridiculously great baby.

Instead, Hope is really, really good at exploring how these obviously uneducated, but loving people have been beaten down by live in fairly realistic, albeit humorous ways and also how they’re trying to hit life back in a way. All the lead characters on the series are big dreamers and most episodes do a nice job of showing how that dream isn’t so ridiculous or unattainable, resulting in a quality combination of laughs and heart that really isn’t seen anywhere else on television.

This week’s episode follows that exact same template and thankfully focuses on Garret Dillahunt’s Burt and his lifelong dream of being in Smokey Floyd’s (Lee) band — a dream that was derailed by Burt having a baby Jimmy at the audition way back when. So when the grocery store needs a performer for their epic and annual Grocery-Palooza, Jimmy tries to do the right thing and give his dad the chance to be famous. And amid Lee’s super-weird makeup and costume design — seriously, look at this — and the goofy reactions Burt and Virgina have to Smokey, “Burt Rocks” tells a nice little story about how Burt doesn’t want Jimmy to end up like him, but also struggles with some feelings of resentment because he doesn’t have much to hang his hat on.

Dillahunt and Martha Plimpton are both good at delivering lines that are meant to be goofy, but also backed with a lot of earnestness. So here, when Burt admits to Jimmy that when he was a baby, he hated him, but also hated himself for even thinking negative thoughts about a baby, it’s initially funny, but actually completely honest as well. Burt isn’t stupid for having dreams and he isn’t stupid for admitting that he kind of hated his baby son at certain points, that’s just how people react when they’re upset and see their life’s ambition sinking away. Moreover, the fact the series is letting Hope serve as something of a real obstacle for Jimmy, but also a source of inspiration is really smart and most times, sweet.

But of course, Raising Hope can be goofy fun when it wants to, so the manager’s constant insistence that Grocery-Palooza came before Lolapalooza and Smokey Floyd’s germ phobia get mixed in with the heartfelt moments and don’t distract too much from the plot. And anytime Garret Dillahunt gets to hit someone with a guitar in the middle of a grocery store, it’s good times.

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