by Meredith O’Brien
I’m really taking a liking to a new, coarse Fox comedy, Raising Hope . It’s crude and distinctly politically incorrect which, frankly, appeals to my anti-perfectionist parenting sensibilities. I’m sick of hearing and reading how I’m going to cripple my children’s well being, emotionally and physically, and hobble their futures if I don’t do X, Y and Z, and if I do A, B and C. It gets really old to feel like you’re being lectured all the time or that parenthood is somehow a competition with winners and losers. So watching this unorthodox comedy with its odd premise is a refreshing humorous respite from parenting expert finger-wagging and the fierce competition among parents.
Here’s what you need to know about the show: It began when a twentysomething guy had a one nighter with a woman, who turned out to be a serial killer. The interlude left her pregnant and on the day of her execution for the murders, the baby’s father, man-child Jimmy Chance -- a landscaper and pool cleaner -- took custody of the baby who he renamed Hope. (Her killer mother originally named her Princess Beyonce.) The shaggy-haired Jimmy lives with his parents Burt, alongside whom Jimmy works, and Virginia, a housecleaner who gave birth to him when she was 15. Also living in their small house is the chain-smoking, dementia-addled, chain-smoking grandmother Maw-Maw who frequently parades around topless.
From the pilot on, it’s been like a parade of child-rearing “don’t’s” lampooning the current over-protective, safety obsessed, parenting climate:
Child-proofing: The Chance family didn’t really give much thought about child-proofing the house once Baby Hope arrived. Why not? They never baby-proofed 20+ years ago, as we saw via flashbacks of a baby Jimmy playing in paint, getting mild shocks when he dumped water onto an overloaded clump of electrical cords and literally playing with a box of matches. (It reminded me of my childhood when my brother ate an array of poisonous substances, and survived, because parents weren’t expected to lock down everything in the house including the toilet.) However when Hope started crawling – and then crawled into Virginia’s overloaded shed towering with precariously placed heavy objects – it dawned on them that perhaps they should at least make a token effort to make the house a tad safer.
Car seat: Going hand in hand with the fact that they didn’t know about child-proofing was Jimmy’s ignorance that laws require that infants and young children be strapped into a car seat which is strapped down in the car itself. When Jimmy was younger, he was allowed to stick his head through the hole in the floor of their car (the car the family still drives), therefore it made sense that once Jimmy scrounged up a very old, used car seat, he didn’t realize he had to tether it to the backseat, as Virginia demonstrated by sharply turning the wheel sending her granddaughter’s seat tumbling around with the baby inside. “We didn’t have those kinds of safety things when you were a baby,” Virginia said.
No smoking: Decades ago, plenty of people smoked cigarettes in houses with babies in them. I was raised in one, as was my husband. But it’s 2010 and smoking around a kid, particularly a baby, is considered akin to injecting heroin into a child via a contaminated hypodermic needle . . . which makes the fact that Virginia and Maw-Maw chain-smoke like Don Draper in Hope’s presence practically a crime. Even dim-witted Jimmy knew that you’re not supposed to smoke around a baby.
Healthy snacking: My eldest kids are 12 and when they were babies, organic and/or homemade baby foods were becoming popular. I took a stab at trying to make baby food that my twins would eat and failed miserably. Instead, I preferred to worry about whether they’d choke on their food or finger snacks. So seeing Jimmy hand Baby Hope sugar cubes – yes, straight sugar, which is now treated like a controlled substance – is considered not only unhealthy by today’s standards, but is a choking hazard.
Child care: All of the members of the Chance family work, with the exception of Maw-Maw. Jimmy saw nothing wrong with taking Hope to work with him, placing her in a baby carrier on the front of his body while he mowed the lawn and used a weed whacker . . . until a customer called the police who told Jimmy it was too dangerous for him to take Hope to work. This sent the low-on-cash Jimmy seeking the cheapest daycare he could find. The place he chose was a home-based one run by a woman with whom he’d hooked up once, who chose not to have her dead, gray tooth taken care of because she thinks it’s a conversation starter. The wacky daycare lady has pets and seniors in her backyard daycare “center,” alongside the babies.
Family photo anxiety: Raising Hope did a fabulous send-up of the great lengths families – usually moms – go to in order to get a good family photo at a photography studio. I spent hours over the course of my children’s young lives sweating inside studios plastering a strained smile on my face while some underpaid department store photographer shook sad-looking tattered stuffed animals in my frowning, sometimes wailing, children’s direction. On this Fox comedy, the normally down-to-earth Virginia was obsessed with getting yearly themed family portraits, the likes of which you would see featured on the Awkward Family Photos blog . The sweet part was that Virginia said that she wanted her family to have one of those “perfect” photos like she saw in the fancy houses she cleaned all day.
Bottom line: Not many of us were raised with the level of parental safety angst in which our children are currently being reared. Yet we’re all still here, albeit with a few scars (physical and emotional). And that’s what makes Raising Hope so entertaining in a lovable, off-kilter kinda way.