Review: Raising Hope’s secret weapon: Maw Maw Leachman

In “Raising Hope,” which will make its debut September 21, Tuesday right after the season premiere of “Glee,” newcomer Lucas Neff stars as Jimmy Chance, a slightly slacker type who tends yards with his dad and cousin. <P></P> <P>Jimmy lives with his housekeeper mother (Martha Plimpton), his practical jokester pool-cleaning father (Garret Dillahunt) and cousin (Skyler Stone), and a grandmother who flickers in and out of lucidity (Cloris Leachman).</P> <P>***image3:center***</P> <P>This absurdist low-rent comedy sees our Jimmy have a fateful one-night stand with a comely crack-pot we find out is wanted for murder.</P> <P>Crazy girl is bonked on the head by Jimmy’s news’ addicted mom, and the lass is death-row bound.  She of course is pregnant, and after the baby is born, crazy gets the antiquated electric chair.</P> <P>Jimmy’s door prize is the baby, Hope.</P> <P>***image4:center***</P> <P>Bonus for us viewers is seeing Martha Plimpton, a Broadway veteran who is now a TV sitcom mom who scrubs toilets by day, and is suddenly thrust into grandmother-dom. She’s unexpectedly hilarious.</P> <P>Bigger bonus is Cloris Leachman, who at the recent summer television press tour junket (TCA’s) amused a room full of freezing critics with a back-and-forth that went down like this:</P> <P>Critic:  Are you competing with Betty White to be the new "It" girl for AARP?</P> <P>CLORIS LEACHMAN:  I’m so sick of Betty White.</P> <P>(Laughter.)</P> <P>Never liked her.  We have a movie coming out that we made together.  It’s called "You Again."</P> <P>GARRET DILLAHUNT:  We gotta get Betty White on a future episode.</P> <P>GREG GARCIA:  Yeah.</P> <P>CLORIS LEACHMAN:  Wouldn’t that be funny?</P> <P>GREG GARCIA:  Yeah.  We’re working on a lesbian episode.</P> <P>CLORIS LEACHMAN:  She could make a soufflé and I could open the oven.  That would be funny, and slam it and make the soufflé go down.</P> <P>GREG GARCIA:  Look for that one, the soufflé episode.</P> <P>Raising Hope has its series premiere on Tuesday, September 21st at 9 p.m., right after Glee, of course, on FOX.</P> <P>Monsters and Critics was part of a conference call speaking with Greg and Lucas about this off-kilter fun comedy on FOX:  </P> <P><STRONG>Monsters and Critics:</STRONG>  Lucas, how much of Cloris Leachman’s work were you aware of or that you knew?  I mean, had you seen her films?  Were you aware of her history?  She’s got such an amazing amount of work under belt.  I just wanted to know if you could talk about that.</P> <P><STRONG>L. Neff:</STRONG> I’m fairly familiar with a fair amount of her work, one, because my dad is a huge Mel Brooks fan.  So, I watched pretty much every Mel Brooks movie there was as a kid.  Young Frankenstein is amazing.  It’s one of those movies you can almost quote lines from every scene.  </P> <P>Then, two, I also think The Last Picture Show is one of the best American movies ever made.  Then, I actually really like Malcolm in the Middle, so I saw a fair amount of her on there as well.  I mean, yes, I guess I only missed out on Dancing with the Stars.</P> <P><STRONG>G. Garcia:</STRONG> I had actually never heard of Cloris before this started, but I figured we’ll give her a shot.  Maybe this could be the start of a wonderful career for her.  I know it’s later in life, but you never know.</P> <P><STRONG>M&C: </STRONG> That’s funny.   How did you get Cloris to run out of the house without any top on, by the way?</P> <P><STRONG>G. Garcia: </STRONG> How do you get Cloris to put her top on, would be a better question, around the set.</P> <P><STRONG>L. Neff:</STRONG> I mean, you do realize that none of that was scripted.  Right?  That’s all Cloris.  </P> <P><STRONG>G. Garcia:</STRONG> Yes.  Cloris is up for anything that is going to get a laugh.  I mean, she’s a pro.  She’s not going to back off; she’s not going to balk at doing anything.  So, that’s not a problem.</P> <P><STRONG>L. Neff:</STRONG> She’s fearless.  She’s utterly fearless.</P> <P><STRONG>M&C:</STRONG> I love her in this show.  What’s the ratio of her being lucid to her Alzheimer fog that we’re going to get in this series?  </P> <P><STRONG>G. Garcia:</STRONG> Yes, we go in and out of it.  The family knows.  We actually just shot some stuff on Friday where the family knows when to get her.  If you really want her lucid, you wake her out of deep sleep.  Then, you got her for a good couple minutes before she drifts off again, but it’s just dictated by the story, but I’d say, so far, it’s about 90% kooky and 10% lucid.</P> <P><STRONG>L. Neff:</STRONG> It’s about as true-to-life as you can get.  </P> <P>Other questions included:</P> <P><STRONG>On what made Greg select Lucas for the role of Jimmy:</STRONG></P> <P><STRONG>G. Garcia</STRONG>: The funny thing is it didn’t take me long.  I watched about half of the first scene that he did on tape.  I knew that this was the guy.  He was very funny, but in a relaxed kind of way where he wasn’t having to push anything.  You see a lot of auditions with people coming in and sometimes just trying too hard.  </P> <P>So, that was a big factor me for me.  Also, he just felt very real to me; he felt very honest.  I found myself rooting for him as a character.  Then, when I met him as a person, I find myself rooting for him as a person.  He has qualities as a person that bleed through into the role.  He was perfect for it.</P> <P><STRONG>On what Lucas has learned from Greg:</STRONG></P> <P><STRONG>L. Neff:</STRONG> To listen to what he says. I’m finally attuned that he knows what he’s talking about.  What I’ve learned from him is that, above all, people out in Hollywood can actually be real human beings and not just sharks because he’s just a really nice guy.  He just makes work a lot of fun.  It seems that he’s written a show that he enjoys and he laughs at.  Because of how much he likes and enjoys the characters and the world he’s created, it’s becomes a lot more fun for everybody else to participate in it.</P> <P><STRONG>On what makes these characters come to life for Greg:</STRONG></P> <P><STRONG>G. Garcia:</STRONG> They just feel real to me.  I mean, these characters just feel real to me.  I mean, it’s not like I grew up with these exact, same people that were in both of these shows, but I grew up around a bunch of characters.  It feels like home to me.  I find them relatable and funny.  Obviously, you exaggerate things for TV and comedy, but I’ve always connected with these folks more than the Frasiers and the Friends of the world.</P> <P><STRONG>On Lucas’ experience in handling a baby?</STRONG></P> <P><STRONG>L. Neff:</STRONG> I would say I have, before this show, pretty much zero experience.  I’m a lot like Jimmy.  I’m learning everything on the fly.  <BR>Unlike Jimmy, I’ve got the parents of the babies are there, on set, the whole time.  There’s a crew of people also there to ensure the safety of the babies.  There’s actually a surprising amount of people on set who are either recent parents or about to become parents.  So, there’s a real familial vibe to set.  Everybody has advice and has a real – there’s a real affection and concern for the babies, 24/7.  So, it’s easy to tap into that and have fun.</P> <P><STRONG>On Greg’s real-life parent experiences:</STRONG></P> <P><STRONG>G. Garcia</STRONG> I draw from it a lot.  I mean, I’ve got three kids.  They’re 12, 10, and 3.  So, it hasn’t been that long with the newest one that I’ve been going through some of the stuff that Lucas goes through.  You draw from real life.  Then, you amp it up.  I mean, in the pilot, they change a diaper and throw up on the baby.  I’ve never thrown up on one of my children, but I’ve certainly gagged a number of times.  </P> <P>Also, there’s another thing.  People are like, “Oh, you’re endangering the child with that joke where the carseat flips over.”  I’ve forgotten to strap my kid in the carseat in before.  You move it from one car to the other.  Then, you go grab something.  Then, you take a short trip.  Then, you look.  You go, “Oh, my gosh.  We could have taken a left turn.  It could have flipped over.”  Then, you think, “Well, that would be funny in a show.”  So, I use a lot of it, definitely.  As the kid gets older in the show, I’ll use more of it.</P> <P><STRONG>On depicting a lower middle-class family like "My Name is Earl":</STRONG></P> <P><STRONG>G. Garcia:</STRONG>  I’m just drawn to them.  I’d much rather write real people with real problems than the opposite.  I mean, I understand there’s a certain amount of the audience that wants to watch shows.  It’s more lifestyle porn where they can imagine themselves living in that nice apartment or hanging out with the guys on Entourage.  There’s certainly a place for all those shows; they’re good shows, but I’d much rather watch some people that I can root for and feel that they have some real problems.  I’d rather go to the zoo and watch some lunatics behind bars and not necessarily want to get in there with them, but certainly watch and experience what they’re going through.  </P> <P><STRONG>On keeping the funny with a baby as the central character:</STRONG></P> <P><STRONG>G. Garcia:</STRONG>  Yes.  In the pilot, we certainly have a few, more shocking moments with the baby, I guess.  It’s not like, then we set off, and we thought, “How can we put this baby in peril every week?”  Actually, just the opposite.  We have this amazing ensemble of adults.  We want to see a lot of them.  So, we’ve been finding stories where the baby can be more of a catalyst into a story that stirs up conflict between our family.  We’ll occasionally do stories that are more baby-centric, but for the most part, we’re trying to use the baby to get into more adult stories.</P> <P><STRONG>On what drew Lucas to the role initially?</STRONG></P> <P><STRONG>L. Neff:</STRONG> Well, just to be perfectly honest, just to be allowed to audition for it.  I mean, I was not at a point in my career where I could really say, “Yes,” or “No” to projects.  Certainly, people weren’t calling me on the phone while I was in Chicago saying, “Hey, we’ve got this script.  We think you’d be perfect.”  I went out, just like any other actor on any stage, I just went out and I auditioned for the part.  Luckily, the part came through, and it turned out to be a project that I’m proud to be a part of.  </P> <P>Well, this time, a year ago, I was in rehearsals for a play of which I was being paid $500 total for three months work.  I had just quit my job canvassing for an environmentalist lobby group where I was being paid per person I could get to sign up on an environmental list.  I was just standing on the streets, getting abuse heaped on me by ungrateful strangers.  </P> <P>Then, I had just cleaned my first house.  I was taking up cleaning houses as a side gig.  So, I had just scrubbed my first two toilets…When you’re elbow-deep in someone else’s toilet, it’s hard not for life to go upwards from there.  I’m in a new city, learning about life out in L.A., learning about how TV and film work as opposed to theatre and just working with some of the best actors I’ve ever worked with in my entire life.  So, it’s an incredible, magic, carpet ride.</P> <P><STRONG>On the challenges of working with babies:</STRONG></P> <P><STRONG>L. Neff:</STRONG> There’s been a fair amount of vomit on me.  One of them, in particular, really likes to fart, mid-scene.  It’s just unbelievable how loud they are.  I mean, unbelievable.  This tiny little thing.  I guess, the main thing is just learning to be patient with them as possible.  We have to move at their pace because the babies are just babies.  </P> <P>They’re doing what babies do.  When they cry, it’s just because they’re going to cry for a while.  They’re sleepy, or they’re hungry.  So, you just try to do the things that will keep them happy and be patient with them when they’re not in the mood to sit around and be surrounded by strangers and giant, alien equipment.</P> <P><STRONG>On Lucas’ most memorable moment filming the show:</STRONG></P> <P><STRONG>L. Neff</STRONG>: Well, there’s a lot of memorable moments, but of recent memory, last Friday, right before we went into hiatus, I had a day of only working with Cloris.  It was the point where she was laying sprawled, dressed only in a nightgown, and I was rubbing moisturizer into her feet while Greg and the rest of the crew howled with laughter from another room.  That was seared into my memory.  </P> <P><STRONG>On why want to take their time to tune in and watch Raising Hope.</STRONG></P> <P><STRONG>G. Garcia: </STRONG> Obviously, our first goal is make them laugh.  So hopefully, they find our show funny.  Then, second to that, I’m hoping that they connect with these characters and can relate to them and that, hopefully, at the end of every episode, when we earn it with the right story, that we can actually make them feel something for these people as well.  So hopefully, they’re going to laugh, and they’re also going to feel good after watching it.</P> <P><STRONG>On any particular scene that came off differently than what you had expected it would be:</STRONG></P> <P><STRONG>G. Garcia:</STRONG>  I guess the biggest change for the pilot is actually a change that was made in the editing process because we have a dark premise where the mother of the baby gets electrocuted.  In the script, she actually survives the electrocution.  There was some stuff that we played.  We added a couple scenes afterwards.  </P> <P>She was a little crazy, more crazy after the botched electrocution and all this stuff.  Ultimately, I decided that it was best for the show to put a period on that and end it.  I’d say that was the biggest change from script to what people are going to see.</P> <P><STRONG>On what’s it like, working behind the scenes with the other cast members:</STRONG> </P> <P><STRONG>L. Neff:</STRONG> There’s a fair amount of that.  They’re all focused professionals.  We’re still at the point where we’re still finding our groove.  We want to make sure the show gets up on its feet and hits the ground running, but Garret likes to give me charley horses and punch me right before we start scenes.  </P> <P>The other day, Greg laid in front of a door that I was supposed to try and run through.  So, I slammed into it.  It didn’t budge at all.  I’m the little brother to the entire set.  There’s just a lot of ripping on me, pretty much by everyone, all the time.</P> <P><STRONG>On any flashbacks to Jimmy’s childhood as we learn more about Lucas’ relationship with his parents:</STRONG></P> <P><STRONG>G. Garcia: </STRONG> Yes, almost every episode that I can think of has one moment or another where we’re seeing Jimmy at various ages.  We see him at about three years old.  Then, we see him also at eight years old.  So, we’re using that device from time to time.  We don’t go into flashbacks for too long of a period, but we definitely see what his life was like, growing up with Martha and Garret.  It also helps us that they’re still living in the same house.  We can transition nicely from present day to the flashback, to see what they’ve done.</P> <P><STRONG>On who each of these main characters are.</STRONG></P> <P><STRONG>G. Garcia:</STRONG>  Okay.  I’ll do my best to do that.  Jimmy Chance is a 23-year-old guy who’s a little aimless in life and is wondering what his purpose on this earth is.  He goes out and has a one-night-stand with a woman who turns out to be a serial killer and also becomes pregnant.  Then, when she’s executed, he gets stuck with the baby.  </P> <P>He lives with his mother and father who had him when they were 15.  His mother, played by Martha Plimpton, Virginia, cleans houses for a living.  Her and her husband are living week to week on their paychecks.  Her husband, played by Garret Dillahunt, owns his own landscaping company and does a few lawns and pools around the neighborhood.  </P> <P>I don’t think they were looking to be grandparents.  They weren’t looking to be parents a long time ago, but they stuck with it and did the best they can.  Now, they find themselves being grandparents and having the opportunity to try to do a better job this time of raising a baby, or at least, helping raise a baby.  They all live with Maw Maw, played by Cloris Leachman, who goes in and out of being lucid.  When she’s lucid, she’s not a big fan of the fact that all these people are living in her house.  When she’s not lucid, she’s just running around like a kook and having a lot of fun.</P> <P>And Sabrina.  Sabrina, played by Shannon Woodward.  She works at the grocery store.  Jimmy’s character has taken a liking to her.  She’s somebody that’s stuck at a job and has a lot bigger plans for herself.  She’s going to college at night while she works there.  She doesn’t take her job very seriously.  </P> <P>She’s interested in Jimmy in the sense that he’s from a different world she’s from.  She’s a little worried about this baby and has a watchful eye on it.  As she meets our family and learns more about them, she’s going to be increasingly curious and interested to hang out with them.  She’s a fan of David Sedaris as an author.  So, because of that, when she sees a dysfunctional family, she’s drawn to it like a moth to a light.<BR> </P><EMBED name=flashObj pluginspage= src= width=326 height=292 type=application/x-shockwave-flash swLiveConnect="true" seamlesstabbing="false" base="" flashVars="videoId=85972447001&playerId=1545148137&viewerSecureGatewayURL=" bgcolor="#FFFFFF"></EMBED>Note the date on this article may be incorrect due to importing it from our old system.

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