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Last Chance: 'Raising Hope' Ends Its Run At The Right Time

Martha Plimpton and Garret Dillahunt end their run in <em>Raising Hope</em> on Friday night.
Greg Gayne
Martha Plimpton and Garret Dillahunt end their run in Raising Hope on Friday night.

Fox said goodbye to Raising Hope in March when it announced that the series wouldn't be renewed for a fifth season, and the rest of us get to say goodbye Friday night, when the final episode airs. But even though the gleefully goofy spiritual successor of My Name Is Earl (both were created by Greg Garcia) was technically canceled against its will, its end doesn't feel premature. Nor is it way overdue. Instead, this feels like exactly the right time for the Chance family to call it a day.

Raising Hope isn't in the same position as How I Met Your Mother or 30 Rock or Breaking Bad or Lost, shows that chose their own end points and could end on their own terms (to whatever degree of success). Whatever happens in tonight's finale won't have been explicitly designed to be the show's parting shot, though Raising Hope's perpetual bubble status likely means that the writers and actors kept it in mind while in production.

Nor is it in the same situation as Sports Night or My So-Called Life or (in its first incarnation) Arrested Development, shows whose cancellations, while leaving them as nearly perfect runs of television, were premature. As neatly as their unintended finales wrapped up their storylines, they were series that seemed to have plenty more life in both the storylines and the characters left in them, if only they'd been given the opportunity to continue.

Even so, Raising Hope nonetheless feels like it's been given a nearly ideal ending point. It rarely aimed at being much more than a goof machine, and despite the occasional bumpy patch in its four-season run, it was a fairly well-oiled one.

There's only ever been one substantial plotline that's driven it – the clumsy but ultimately successful wooing of downwardly mobile grocery clerk Sabrina by sweetly-dim-single-father-by-way-of-a-serial-killer Jimmy – and it wrapped up midway through the third season when the two got married, Jimmy finally moved out of his parents' house and baby Hope had a stable, loving home in which to grow up. So there's no particular story to be left dangling by cancellation.

But that points to why Raising Hope is ready to be put to bed. The show could have drawn out Jimmy/Sabrina longer, all the better to squeeze out a few more seasons. Instead, with Garcia having handed over the reins to new showrunner Mike Mariano, this last season has been a slightly different show, shifting the emphasis decidedly onto Jimmy's parents, to the point where it almost might as well be called The Wacky Adventures Of Burt And Virginia Chance. Jimmy and Sabrina (and Hope! the title character!) have been relegated to supporting status, a tacit acknowledgement that Raising Hope realizes that it may have run out of show by now.

(As a side note, can we talk about how it has utterly ruined Garret Dillahunt as a dramatic actor for me? His rangily enthusiastic portrayal of Burt is so deadpan and relaxed that it shades directly into his concerned deputy in Winter's Bone, time-traveling hitman in Looper and conscripted field hand in 12 Years A Slave. He's such a natural comedian that I have a hard time seeing him as anything else. Such is his gift and his curse.)

Raising Hope certainly doesn't have to end here. If it had been granted a fifth season, I would have happily kept watching. But it peaked and has been on a slight downward trajectory all season. Not enough to tarnish what's come before or even test the patience of the folks who have been enjoying the antics of this scrappy working-class family and their friends (and frenemies), but noticeable and without any clear path to reversing it.

So canceling Raising Hope right now gives it the opportunity, and maybe its last available one, to bow out gracefully. It can hold its figurative head high. It was a weird, funny, sometimes shaggy, sometimes sneakily moving show. I'll miss it. And saying goodbye tonight feels right.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Marc Hirsh lives in the Boston area, where he indulges in the magic trinity of improv comedy, competitive adult four square and music journalism. He has won trophies for one of these, but refuses to say which.

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