Cougar Town is going away for several months after this episode. Usually, when a show leaves us for a while, it does so with some sort of GIANT! CLIFFHANGER! so I spent most of “Cry To Me” wondering where the giant plot twist was going to come from. Would Laurie and Travis sleep together? Would Kirsten be pregnant or spring some sort of “I’m secretly married” surprise on Travis? Would Jules and Grayson break up? (OK, I was pretty sure that one wouldn’t happen.) WOULD BARB AND HER POOLBOY?! The possibilities for crazy, forced drama were endless, and, frankly, I was terrified at what the writers might pull out of their asses at the last minute to muck up TV’s most mellow comedy.
Instead, they didn’t do anything. This was just a nice, normal episode of Cougar Town, complete with some silly gags, some funny dialogue, some smart plotting, and at least one or two completely creepy moments. (If you thought Jules’ obsession with her SON was unsettling, well…) This is a show that tends to do holiday episodes fairly well, and this was not just a Valentine’s Day episode but sort of a stealth Christmas episode as well, meaning I shouldn’t have been worried. It wasn’t quite to the level of last week’s crazy brilliance, but that was the kind of episode that comes along two or three times a season. Instead, it was a nice reminder of what makes the show work so well and a good way to send everybody off until we see them again in… it’s April, right? Man, that seems like a long time.
Anyway, everybody’s having some relationship trauma on tonight’s episode. Ellie doesn’t want Andy to turn Valentine’s Day into a big production, which is a problem, since he’s a SHOWMAN. Jules just wants Grayson—who buys her flowers on the day before Valentine’s Day, because who expects that?—to open up to her about his dad, who died on Valentine’s Day a couple of years ago. Kirsten wants Travis to take a sexy picture of himself for her, something he stresses about to no end. And both Laurie and Bobby have the typical, “I’m single on Valentine’s Day!” stories, though at least the show doesn’t make a big deal out of it in either character’s case (and actually turns their lack of couplehood into a great credits gag). Cougar Town is sneakily becoming one of the better shows on TV at depicting what it’s like to be in the middle of a relationship that is working just fine but has some issues to iron out, and all three relationship-y storylines hooked into those sorts of questions tonight.
As always, the weird, relationship crown went to Ellie and Andy. Ever since co-creator Bill Lawrence revealed that much of Ellie’s dialogue on the show comes directly from the mouth of Christa Miller in real life at press tour, I’ve decided to imagine that ALL of it does. At the very least, this has the added benefit of making her lengthy speech about how Andy needs to see through her crazy to see what she really wants particularly poignant. As always, Andy has seen through that crazy to the needy core of Ellie, and he’s gotten her exactly what she wanted for the holiday by tearing down all of the neighbors’ Christmas decorations that are still up seven weeks after the holiday, then setting fire to them (much to the chagrin of Tom, whose reindeer is consumed in the blaze after Ellie took a golf club to his Santa earlier). It was a sweet ending to a storyline that also featured Bobby and Andy playing Penny Can in a fancy restaurant and all manner of other wacky stunts, a good reminder of the fact that the show can switch from silly to sentiment at the drop of a hat.
The Travis and Kirsten subplot was almost all silliness, complete with a sexy, shirtless Travis photo that somehow lived up to Kirsten’s agog reaction to it. (It’s very hard to create something like this that lives up to what’s in our heads, and the show somehow did that with the photo of Dan Byrd lunging at the camera, shirtless, rose in his mouth.) I realize that Kirsten, being played by an actress who’s increasingly in demand and being a character who doesn’t have a terribly natural role on the show past the life of her relationship with Travis, is not going to be on the show forever, and she was barely in this episode, but damned if I don’t enjoy every time she wanders onto the show. This plotline also worked well thanks to the assorted shoppers’ stunned reaction to Barb’s self-portrait, the awkward photo session with both of Travis’ parents and a blindfolded Laurie, and Busy Philipps continuing greatness at physical comedy, this time presenting all of her sexy photo poses in rapid, hilarious fashion.
If there was something that didn’t work quite as well here, it was Jules trying to get Grayson to open up. I get that this is one of the cornerstones of Grayson’s character and the major conflict between him and Jules at this point in their relationship. And while I liked the build-up to Grayson trying to talk to Jules about his dad (complete with the composition of a song about how you should always just give a woman what she wants), the follow-up, with Jules forcing him to go through his painful memories and hoping for tears, was a little too creepy and messed-up, even for a character who may be the most messed-up (yet somehow still sympathetic) lead character in a television comedy. The ending of this story, with Grayson giving Jules a copy of Field Of Dreams on DVD and saying he always cries at it and Jules realizing that Grayson gives her a minimum amount more of emotional interaction, worked, for the most part, but, again, the ending (with Jules watching Grayson weep while eating popcorn) was pushing it a little too far into the “Jules can be one unlikable person!” camp.
I’ve been trying to quantify just what it is I’d like to see from the show as it heads into its final eight episodes of the season, and while I would like to see it tackle some of the bigger, more emotional kinds of stories that it did in, say, the Halloween episode, I also enjoy just hanging out in an episode like this. Certain kinds of episodes become a show’s bread and butter, and while having some sort of huge cliffhanger might have given this show some sort of narrative momentum to get us to come back come April, it probably wouldn’t have been appropriate for this show. No, this show’s bread and butter are episodes like this, where nothing much happens but almost all of it rings emotionally true and makes you laugh.
- Hey, is it just me or is that ad where the guy comes up behind his wife as the storm is raging outside to say, “I’m right here, and I always will be,” while handing her jewelry, unintentionally creepy? It always freaks ME out. (Thank you for supporting Cougar Town, Kay jewelers.)
- I really liked the circle of love and the circle of anger in the teaser. That’s the kind of silly, heartfelt gag that this show is particularly good at pulling off, and closing it off with Tom sucking sticky buns off of a plate with a shop vac was the proverbial cherry on top.
- I only wish I could have figured out a way to accurately quote Brian Van Holt and Ian Gomez’s muffled “Penny can!” after getting the special penny in the wine glass, as it might have been the biggest laugh of the episode. Instead, you’ll just have to imagine it. Unless you saw it.
- "I don't even think I have tear ducts."
- "What, like Ryan Reynolds riding a horse or something?"
- "But I'm a showman! I need to wow you!"
- "I sent a photo to this guy in Iraq, and my junk was completely covered by a real stuffed eagle. So patriotic."
- "I made a joke." "Laugh!"
- "You were in my dream too, Jules." "What was I doing?" "We were making love."
- "It didn't mean I wanted to be alone while you acted like you just got a rose on the gay hillbilly version of The Bachelor."
- "I figured we'd drink a little and then burn everything."
- "And get me the ribs... bitch!"