Cougar Town: “A Mind With A Heart Of Its Own”
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Cougar Town: “A Mind With A Heart Of Its Own”

Starting, rather than ending, a season with a wedding engagement seems like a smart narrative move. Rather than spending months having people speculate about what changes will unfold, the show gives the chance for the audience to think about those changes in relatively real time along with the program. So pairing off Jules and Grayson last week seemed like a good move for Cougar Town, both as a reintroduction to this world and a way to create a spine upon which to hang every story this season. And while not every episode this season will deal with the impending nuptials as explicitly as these first two, how much that proposal affects the Cul De Sac Crew informs a lot of the events that will unfold.

For now, the group splits off to all deal with the immediate aftermaths of the engagement in different ways. “A Mind With A Heart Of Its Own” is probably the weakest of the third season's first five episodes, but all that means is that I merely “really enjoyed it” rather than “straight up loved it.” There’s a lot of business in tonight’s episode that feels necessary in order for things to proceed, but it never feel quite as organic as other Cougar Town stories. But that’s part and parcel of introducing something as big as wedding: while it changes how people feel towards each other and their own lives, there’s also a whole lot of practical shit that needs to get done in order to prepare for the big day.

For Jules, item No. 1 on her list is finding a maid of honor. She asks Ellie, who accepts primarily to please her friend but also for the chance to throw the distinction in Laurie’s face. Ellie accepts on the condition that Jules turns into less of a “people pleaser” and more of a self-centered person, especially when it comes to her wedding. I’m not sure I had thought about Jules as a people pleaser, since her earliest defining characteristic was that she demanded all to bow to her whims and desires. Ellie isn’t entirely wrong in her determination here, but it’s striking to think about how far Jules has evolved. Still, a lot of Jules as “people pleaser” exists in relation to Ellie, who pleases people other than herself as little as possible.

Jules loves Laurie, but it still feels right that Jules wouldn’t have asked Laurie to be her maid of honor. That doesn’t put Laurie into an inferior position of friendship—just a different one. Nevertheless, Laurie asking to be a co-maid of honor (or “co-moh”), coupled with Jules’ inability to break Laurie’s heart, means that the bride-to-be spends a lot of time and energy lying to Ellie about Jellybean’s insertion into the proceedings. While Ellie is on one level happy to be freed from all the duties a co-moh must perform, there’s nevertheless some jealousy over Laurie’s intrusion. After all, does Laurie keep a bag in her car on the off chance she and Jules decide to finally run away together? 

A lesser show would play these tensions as cataclysmic, but the low-key vibe of Cougar Town keeps the squabbles in perspective. There’s no chance either Ellie or Laurie would ever leave the group over the selection of co-mohs. But each person involved in this triangle has a specific role to fill that occasionally overlaps with the needs of another. Laurie keeps expressing the desire to hold Jules in a pool like a baby, which is a silly idea until you realize that the former only wants to reward the latter for all the support over the years. Laurie understands that she’ll never have the longevity of friendship shared by Ellie and Jules, but wants to do her part all the same. And even if Ellie isn’t really threatened by Laurie usurping her in Jules’ eyes, she isn’t keen to see Laurie’s generosity on display 24/7 in the days leading up to the wedding. Ellie enjoys her selfishness so long as she’s not constantly reminded of it.

All the material involving the women of the show was smart, subtle, and often laugh-out-loud funny. The men, by contrast, get slighter and thus less-satisfying stories. Bobby’s gift-giving instincts have often caused chaos (tub speakers, anyone?), and thus his desire to connect Jules’ house with Grayson’s via zip line is appreciated, if downright hazardous. All of his efforts come from the same place of trying to give Dog Travis to his son: He’s better at showing than saying, continually trying to use gifts to supplant conversation. While it’s fun to watch various parties have a go at the zip line, it would’ve been more fun to watch Bobby put blood, sweat, and tears into the gift (which he refers to as a metaphor for his approval his ex-wife and good friend’s pending nuptials). As it is, that metaphor appears fully constructed. I’m all for a super-sad two-man tandem zipline as the end of an act, but Brian Van Holt is so good at conveying emotional devastation behind a simple smile that going smaller might have yielded a bigger outcome.

Less successful by far Grayson and Travis’ trip to receive the blessing of Jules’ father, Chick. I’ve loved Ken Jenkins’ previous performances on Cougar Town, but there are too many shortcuts taken at his barn to really feel as if a complete story occurs out there. Chick treats Grayson gruffly for the majority of the time, and then asks his would-be son-in-law to shoot his beloved horse Annabelle. All of this is ultimately shown to be a ruse, a way for Chick to make up for the fact that he feels guilty for letting Jules marry Bobby in the first place. Since Cougar Town is often so good about making these emotional moments land, it’s strange to see Chick’s sudden turn towards genuine emotion feel unearned.  

Still, as mentioned before, these failures only stand out because the show so often avoids them. And the next three weeks represent nearly flawless examples of what the show does best. It’s probably no coincidence that the wedding gets somewhat sidelined in those upcoming episodes, allowing these characters to simply react to each other rather than the needs of the nuptials. Jules tells Ellie late in tonight’s half-hour: “Making my friends happy is what makes me happy.” That ethos applies to Jules, but it also ultimately applies to all the core characters on Cougar Town. Without that basis, each week would be an exercise in people pissing each other off for no real reason. What unfolds for the foreseeable future doesn’t consist of flower choices, DJ/band arguments, or squabbles over seating arrangements. What unfold instead are ways in which these people make each other happy in new and interesting ways, and how they each evolve through that process. If we needed to get through some busy wedding work in order to achieve that, then so be it.

Stray observations:

  • My wife, like Jules, is an eavesdropping ninja. It’s incredible. Also? Scary.
  • Speaking of scary, the faux murder scenes depicted by Travis “Ansel Adams” Cobb were bloody good fun. I don’t know for sure, but I imagine Kevin Beigel saw at least a few of those scenes depicted in films screened at the Alamo Drafthouse. 
  • The murder photos, along with the constant use of “Thanks, babe!” show just how well-oiled Cougar Town’s writing machine is. While I love its overall looseness, having certain callbacks and payoffs in each episode is well-appreciated.
  • Other titles that the Cougar Town writing staff likes better than its own? Sunshine State, The Drinking Age, Cougar City, and Mid-Life.
  • “Prince Charles” seems like something that would be difficult to say were I ever actually nauseated.
  • Tom sleeps nude. Laurie ziplines sans underwear. It’s a theme this year. I’ll allow it!
  • Poor Ricky. First, Laurie turns him down for a second date because he’s too short. Then, the waitress gives him crayons.
  • Jules getting confused over movie, television, or book references will someday not be funny. But that day won’t be anytime soon. 
  • We need to come up with a name for the drink that consists of six yellow pills crushed up and served in a glass of wine. You know, besides “Big Roofie.”
  • No one apparently knows how old Jules is. But we should all know that, according to Grayson.
  • “Shh, babies don’t talk. Babies don’t talk.”
  • “You paint a pretty picture. Yet this reeks of people-pleasing.”
  • “Oh just say ‘co-moh.’ It’s a new abbreve I came up with. Total t saver!” 
  • “You’re gonna fly like that iron man in Iron Man!” “Is that a spoiler?”
  • “No, no, honey: I have time for all the words.”

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