RAISING HOPE. 9 p.m. tomorrow, Channel 29.

GARRET DILLAHUNT has played so many cool and creepy customers in recent years that just seeing his face on-screen is often enough to trigger my inner cartoon canine: Ruh-roh!

Anyone who saw Dillahunt's turn as a 19th century serial killer in "Deadwood" - the second of two characters he played in the HBO's drama's three-season run - might shudder, too, but even when he's not playing a homicidal maniac, his appearances usually signal some disturbance in the force.

At least until last week, when Fox's "Raising Hope" premiered with the boyish and versatile 45-year-old playing opposite Martha Plimpton as reluctant grandparents in a series about an aimless 23-year-old named Jimmy Chance, (Lucas Neff), who finds himself with custody of his infant daughter after the child's mother is executed for murder.

Did I mention it's a comedy?

Given that the cast also includes Cloris Leachman as Jimmy's senile (and often underdressed) "Maw Maw," Dillahunt's character might, for once, be the least disturbing thing in "Raising Hope," one of the fall's funniest new shows.

"It's a funny business, you know, because my first jobs in Los Angeles were sitcoms, and I couldn't for the life of me" get other opportunities, Dillahunt said last month in an interview in Beverly Hills, Calif.

"When I would audition for dramas, they'd say, 'Oh, he's the sitcom guy.' And then a few years later, you're the drama guy and you can't get a sitcom," he said.

As for his reputation for scaring the bejesus out of viewers, "people's memories are so short," he said. "I actually play lots of good guys. I played Jesus Christ, for goodness' sakes."

But even Dillahunt's Jesus - who appeared to an Episcopal priest played by Aidan Quinn in NBC's short-lived "The Book of Daniel" - was kind of disturbing, I suggested.

"He was disturbing? I mean, the show might've been disturbing," Dillahunt said, laughing. "I just like a good story, you know. In most stories, there's a good guy and a bad guy. I just want to be part of a good story."

Had Dillahunt, whose last regular sitcom gig was in Norm MacDonald's Fox series, "A Minute With Stan Hooper," been looking for another comedy?

"I've been making a lot of movies this past year and the kind of movies that I do, that I get good roles in, are independent movies, which I love very much" (including "Amigo" and "Oliver Sherman," both of which screened at the Toronto Film Festival earlier this month).

"But those kind of movies don't pay too well," so he looks to TV to help finance his work in them.

One difference between "Raising Hope" and some of Dillahunt's other TV work is the presence of infants (a set of twins played the baby in the pilot, and Dillahunt said he expected "we'll go through a lot of them, like the 'Babe' piglets").

Has he worked with babies before?

"I have, yeah. And there's good days and bad days, that's for sure. I generally just feel horrible for them, you know? Because there's no good reason, other than some laughs, or the story, for them to be going through this when they're miserable. But when they're having a ball, it's all right," he said.

It's not so bad for the adults, either.

"It's a fun thing to do, to get together with a bunch of people you like and try to make each other laugh all day. That's not a bad job."

A 'Lone' voice

In what might be the earliest save-my-show campaign in recent memory, Kyle Killen, executive producer of Fox's "Lone Star" (9 tonight, Channel 29) put out an online appeal last week for viewers to tune in tonight for what otherwise might be the Texas-set show's last roundup.

I like "Lone Star," too - we didn't run all those pictures of star James Wolk just because he looks like a young George Clooney - but after seeing that only a little more than 4 million people watched last week's pilot, I had to wonder what Fox was thinking in making a promising new drama fight it out against the premiere of ABC's "Dancing With the Stars" and the likes of Bristol Palin. Not to mention CBS' "Two and a Half Men."

But then NBC did the same to "The Event" and that didn't go nearly so badly.

I still hope you'll give "Lone Star" a shot tonight.

You can find Killen's plea here:




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