Oy vey. Or as Virginia Chance (Martha Plimpton) might mangle her Hebrew-isms: "Molotov! (for mazel tov)." Fox sure doesn't make it easy to say goodbye to Raising Hope as it ends its third season on a new night with back-to-back episodes (9/8c), the sort of treatment you'd normally see from a network burning off a show in which it has lost faith. Thankfully, that's not the case here. Hope has already been picked up for a fourth season, and it goes out on a delightfully deranged musical high, with Burt (the sublime Garret Dillahunt) center stage as he frantically preps for his overdue Bar Mitzvah.
Turns out he's "Jew-ish" (emphasis on the "ish"), courtesy of a late-in-life revelation from his visiting mom and dad (a droll Shirley Jones and Lee Majors). His crash course in Judaism includes a trip to the local deli, where an elaborate Fiddler on the Roof-style production number (complete with singing bagel and brisket) spells out "Here's What Makes a Jew a Jew," while wife Virginia heads to the grocery and gets caught up in her own wacky song-and-dance about how to prepare a seder dinner. Before it's over, the whole family participates in a catchy "Rock the Torah" pastiche. This is the more memorable of the two episodes, although the second, titled "Mother's Day," gives Cloris Leachman even more of a tour de farce than usual, as Burt discovers that Maw Maw's own ma might still be alive, and if she is, she's definitely kicking. Amid all the chaos, there's a sweetness to Raising Hope, underscored in a final scene of rare familial harmony. Will that last? Fat chance.
Another sitcom departure, of NBC's 1600 Penn, with final episodes airing at 8:30/7:30c and 9:31/8:31c, seems likely to be much more permanent.
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ACT TWO: Jim McGreevey knows something about second chances. Nine years ago, he was the latest chagrined fallen politician at the eye of a media storm, resigning as New Jersey governor after a sex scandal forced his hand to come out as a "gay American." Fast-forward past a messy and ugly divorce, book signings and Oprah appearances, and HBO's quietly moving documentary Fall to Grace (8/7c) re-introduces McGreevey as a man at peace with himself and his God, having turned from the homophobia of the Catholic Church to studying for the Episcopal priesthood — the church has yet to ordain him — and dedicating himself to a mission of counseling women in prison and in recovery, with the message that "Everyone has the right to redemption." His easy camaraderie with these women forms the core of the film, HBO's eighth collaboration with filmmaker Alexandra Pelosi, and their mutual affection and hope for a better future is genuinely inspiring.
THURSDAY NIGHT DRAMA: Look who's back in the hospital, if not in Scrubs. Sarah Chalke, who starts a run next week in the midseason comedy How to Live With Your Parents (For the Rest of Your Life), guests on ABC's Grey's Anatomy (9/8c) as a worried mom whose sick child's diagnosis presents a puzzle for Meredith. And possible bad news for April's hunky paramedic crush Matthew (Justin Bruening), who's injured in the aftermath of a gas-tanker explosion. ... The venomous Hollis Doyle (Gregg Henry, always a fun TV villain) returns to ABC's Scandal (10:02/9:02c), this time as a client, when his daughter is kidnapped and held for ransom. ... The fangs come out on the CW's The Vampire Diaries (8/7c) when Elena and Rebekah go in search of Elena's evil double Katherine and instead run into an Original we haven't seen in a while: Elijah.
THE THURSDAY GUIDE: Fox's American Idol marks its 450th episode with this week's elimination show (8/7c). And while we wait to see if yet another of the guys will bite the dust, Idol welcomes back runner-up turned Smash star Katharine McPhee to perform with OneRepublic. Also returning to sing: last season's Colton Dixon. ... Hoping to reap some of the ratings rewards History has been enjoying with its Bible miniseries, National Geographic TV devotes three hours of Maundy Thursday to providing some actual historical context in Jesus: Rise to Power (8/7c), with scholar Dr. Michael Scott traveling to ancient sites to explain how Christianity evolved and grew in the first centuries after Jesus' crucifixion. ... In recognition of the 50th anniversary of its theatrical release, the Encore Suspense channel airs the Hitchcock classic The Birds (8/7), as gripping now (especially in those final reels) as it was then. ... What happens when you enlist a socially conservative Tea Party activist and a "poly-amorous" household — husband, wife and live-in girlfriend — to play along with ABC's Wife Swap (8/7c)? So much conflict that in what is described as a first for the show, one of the families refuses to participate in the climactic reunion. That'll show 'em. Or not.
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