Where there's hope, there's laughter. And where there's Raising Hope, which returns for a third season tonight on Fox (8/7c), the laughter is of a particularly shameless quality. Take Sabrina's grandmother Nana — please! Actually, as the episode begins, this glam granny has already been taken to the great beyond, her body laid out for the wake in a scenario that almost sounds like a Bones episode: "The Body in the Buffet." (The vain Nana having requested her body be put in the kitchen so people would notice — which Cloris Leachman's unhinged Maw Maw certainly does.)
Said body is provided by Hitchcock legend Tippi Hedren, who's also seen in a waspish beyond-the-grave video. It's a wonderful piece of stunt casting, enhanced by her own daughter Melanie Griffith guest-starring as Sabrina's self-involved mom Tamara. (Some points of interest: Griffith's real-life daughter, Dakota Johnson, stars a half-hour later as the sister half of Ben and Kate. Hedren is the focus of a fascinatingly creepy HBO movie, The Girl, airing Oct. 20, about Hitchcock's obsession with the actress, played by Sienna Miller, during the filming of The Birds.)
Back to Hope, where the terms of Nana's will could be a game changer for Sabrina (Shannon Woodward), her long-smitten beau Jimmy (Lucas Neff) and the rest of the Chance family. But not until we get a lesson in how to fake it for the one you love, invoking everything from When Harry Met Sally to Mike & Molly. Nothing fake about Raising Hope. It's the real, wacky deal.
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Hope kicks off a full two hours of Fox comedy, including the second episodes of Ben and Kate (8:30/7:30c) and The Mindy Project (9:30/8:30c). The network made both available for last-minute preview, and neither disappoint — if your threshold for demented silliness is fairly high. What, you were expecting drama?
Ben and Kate finds the co-parenting siblings dealing with "back-to-school night," which becomes something of a dilemma because nervous-nelly Kate has lied about their address to get adorable little Maddie into the school she and Ben went to as kids. Called in front of the principal (Alan Ruck), or facing school board members, Kate is a tongue-tied idiot. Good thing her idiot brother Ben (Nat Faxon) is such a charmer, even if as usual he takes things at least one step too far. The funniest bits: madcap BJ (Lucy Punch) demonstrating how to stop nosy people in their tracks with the most outrageous of lies. ... On Mindy, the clash between Mindy (Mindy Kaling) and antagonist co-worker Danny (Chris Messina) reaches a tipping point when they're forced to work together to hire a replacement for an off-her-rocker nurse. The episode, like the pilot, goes all over the place — including a meet-cute with another unexpected and very familiar guest star — but how can you resist someone who, in the middle of an office fight, blurts out: "Tattling is when a little girl does it. When a hot woman does it, it's called whistle-blowing."
(Not available for preview: Fox's New Girl at 9/8c, which promises the spectacle of Schmidt pretending to be one of Mitt Romney's sons. I'm there.)
RAISING WITH HOPE: When I heard this week's episode of NBC's Parenthood (10/9c) was titled "The Talk," I assumed it was referring to the big emotional moment when Kristina (Monica Potter) would reveal her breast-cancer diagnosis to the rest of her extended, messy family. I was wrong. That will take place next Tuesday. What's so special about tonight's episode is that while time has more or less stopped for Kristina and Adam as they movingly deal with how best and how soon to deal with this crisis — while also humoring Max (Max Burkholder) as he takes his obsession with his school's vending machine to a new activist level — we're reminded that life moves on for everyone else.
Most particularly the domestic unit of Crosby (Dax Shepard), Jasmine (Joy Bryant) and little Jabbar (Tyree Brown), as the parents steel themselves to have "the talk" with their son. Not the talk we've seen in so many family sitcoms about the delicate dance between the sexes, but a trickier subject for a mixed-race family to contend with, involving a loaded word that's typically a TV taboo. These scenes hit it out of the park — which is more than I can say for the tired subplot of Joel (Sam Jaeger) trying to get his newly adopted son out of his shell and off the couch by forcing him to play sports. Still not as painful as last season's surrogacy storyline, so that's a plus.
Elsewhere on NBC, The Voice (8/7c) wraps its "blind auditions" with a best-of recap episode — gonna miss that revolving-chair action — and the hilarious Jackie Hoffman guests on The New Normal (9:30/8:30c) as Dr. Dave's mom, who hasn't heard the baby news yet. Hoping the show can continue being as entertainingly provocative as last week's contentious and surprising dinner party.
Joining CBS' Vegas (10/9c), which got off to a strong start last week: Sarah Jones (Alcatraz) as Mia Rizzo, the daughter of a Chicago mob boss who goes to work for Savino (Michael Chiklis) at the Savoy.
FALLEN SON: You may want to avert your eyes in the first minutes of FX's Sons of Anarchy (10/9c), as the "previously on" recap replays last week's horrifically graphic prison murder of Opie (Ryan Hurst) — whose character's loss is well and mightily mourned this week, especially by Jax (Charlie Hunnam), as the club picks up the messy pieces from last week's physical and psychic carnage. While the gang considers how to contend with a well-connected menace like Pope, who "could kill us with a phone call as easily as a bullet," their new ally Nero (Jimmy Smits) sifts through his own wreckage caused by Gemma's rampage through his cathouse last week, which has put the life of Visiting Hooker Ashley Tisdale in danger. "What the hell's happening to us?" wonders a grieving Gemma (Katey Sagal) — who has at least one catfight left in her before this melodrama moves on. R.I.P, Opie, because there's not much peace in the world you left behind.
WHAT ELSE IS ON? The more appropriate question, given the explosion on cable on nights like this, is what isn't on? Among the highlights and premieres: Bravo's too-infrequent Inside the Actors Studio returns (7/6c) with Liam Neeson as guest. Wait till you hear how he answers one of James Lipton's final questions about what he'd like to hear at the gates of heaven. ... OWN revisits some of The Oprah Winfrey Show's most memorable guests in the new series Oprah: Where Are They Now? (10/9c). First up, from 2006: abandoned brother-and-sister Kris and Daisy, whose mother was discovered in a Texas county jail. ... MTV milks one of its most popular reality franchises with a Teen Mom Farewell Special (10/9c), which I believe is as likely as the next Cher farewell tour. (Sure enough: Next week, there's a Teen Mom: Ask the Moms special.) ... History takes a pop-cultural look at How Playboy Changed the World (9/8c), challenging social mores for decades. When's the last time a single show featured such an eclectic lineup of commentators, from the Rev. Jesse Jackson to Donald Trump, Bill Cosby to Shannon Tweed. ... BBC America's Chef Race: U.K. vs. U.S. (9/8c) is a mix of Top Chef and The Amazing Race, pitting teams of eight British and eight American chefs in a cross-country race, starting in Santa Monica, with only one contestant winning $100,000. Adding to the challenge: They're all stripped of their money, forced to cook to make money to move on. ... Nat Geo WILD's new Animal Intervention (9/8c) steps in to see whether exotic animals are being kept in appropriate conditions by owners who have their hands full with lions, tigers and capuchin monkeys. Actress/ activist Alison Eastwood leads the crusade with animal expert Donald Schultz. ... Having dashed through endless long corridors of these terminals to make connecting flights over the years (often to Key West), I'm particularly intrigued by Travel Channel's Airport 24/7: Miami (9/8c), which goes behind the scenes of Miami International Airport to profile the people keeping things running even when the airlines can't.
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