I’m not gonna lie. There are weeks writing about a show like Cougar Town or like Community, where I really like the show, and I really think there’s a lot to say about it, when all I want to say is, “It was funny!” run a bunch of quotes, and call it a day. In a way, it’s easier to write about episodes of these shows that DON’T quite work (or write about shows that don’t work) because at least there’s some material to be gotten out of the storylines that don’t match up. But an episode like this one, where just about everything hit exactly as it should, where I was often laughing so much that I didn’t have time to write down all of the quotes that set me off? Well, then I often just have no idea where to start. But, hey, there are worse things to get paid to do, right?
Anyway, let’s start from the fact that this show features so many interesting possible character combinations that it almost doesn’t matter who the stories are about. There have been a lot of Jules and Grayson storylines this season, and it’s almost as if the writers have noticed this and compensated for the same by tossing her into storylines with a few of her other friends in a handful of episodes this season. Tonight, we get a Jules and Laurie storyline for the first time in a while, and it’s a nice reminder that while Courteney Cox and Busy Philipps are giving very different performances (Cox has grown more and more understated as the show has gone on, while Philipps has headed ever further and ever more hilariously into outright insanity), the two work very well together.
Here’s the situation: Laurie’s having her place painted, so she needs somewhere to crash. Naturally enough, she asks for this favor after a moment where Jules says that she would never say no to either of her best girl friends, so Jules pretty much has to say yes, even if she’s sort of concerned that having Laurie around will mess with her Jules time or whatever. (This is preceded by a great bit where Ellie points out that Jules is the only bridesmaid in her wedding photo that she’s still speaking to—including Andy’s sister, Tina. Is there a woman on Earth who’s still speaking to every single one of her bridesmaids and/or is just as close of friends to them as she was when she got married? This seems like a potentially huge, unmined vein of comedy.) Anyway, of course Laurie makes kind of an overbearing houseguest. She’s LAURIE, for God’s sake. This all leads to Laurie rooting around in Jules’ stuff (like a raccoon!) and the two eventually having to have a conversation about just why Laurie’s doing what she’s doing.
If I were to quibble with the episode (and I really don’t want to, but again, money has changed hands, so I kind of have to), it would be with the scene where Laurie spells out exactly why she’s acting like this: She’s missed Jules. Since Jules and Grayson hooked up, she’s had less time for her other friends (and for storylines to share with those other friends), and Laurie’s wanted things to go back to how they were when the series started, I guess. It ends up being a very sweet scene, particularly when the two express just how much they love each other, but there’s often a moment on a show like this where I wish some of this could remain subtext. (It’s kind of a network sitcom thing to have one of the characters say, “This is what the theme of the episode is!” but it can be aggravating from time to time.)
That quibble over, I’d say that one of the other things that has been interesting about the show this season has been how much it’s worked to make sure that the characters don’t turn into one-joke stereotypes or become unlikable because of how they treat each other. Unlikable characters aren’t the worst thing in the world, but they probably wouldn’t work on a show like this. The writers are constantly aware that someone like Jules or Ellie could push too far and become too much, so they’re usually careful to drag them back from that edge. (Notice how Ellie’s plot with the new, mean wine bar owner, whom I hope returns, ends with the character reminding us of her essential loyalty to her friends, her most likable trait. OK, that and her ability to offer up long lists of funny descriptions, like in the last scene.) Part of the way this happens is by pairing off the characters with others who can make them appear more sympathetic. Jules and Travis’ relationship can seem kind of creepy, but by tossing Jules into a storyline with Laurie, we get a better sense of why she’s such a good friend to her friends.
Speaking of Travis, he’s straining to compete with Kirsten’s last boyfriend, a highly attractive, rich 30-year-old who took her to Paris and spent their last date together watching the first season of Community and Emilio Estevez movies. (Pretty sure this guy is me. Yeah.) He turns to Grayson for advice, causing the part of Bobby that Ellie ever-so-conveniently ribbed about his son viewing Grayson as a father figure to switch on and wonder just why his son can’t come to him in these situations. (You’d think he’d know this by now.) The show’s been turning to this Travis and Bobby combination a lot this season, but that’s likely because it’s a winning pairing. Travis loves his dad, but he also passed his dad up intellectually a long time ago, and both parties know it. The affection that remains is real, but there are certain things Bobby’s just not as good at as Travis would like him to be. It’s inherently poignant, and it doesn’t hurt that Bobby may be the show’s most consistently comic character. That this storyline slowly evolves into a Bobby and Grayson storyline—another pairing the show does a good job with—makes it work even more.
But, c’mon. The true test of a Cougar Town episode is whether it was funny or not, and this one was funny all over the place. From Ellie and wine bar guy dishing out insults to people they saw out walking around to Jules trying not to fall into a “Barb trap,” the episode was filled with inspired comic lunacy, of the kind only this show can toss out. We’re only a couple of weeks away from the great Cougar Town hiatus of 2011. The show is definitely coming back for season three, so there’s no reason to fear its cancellation, obviously, but it’s still not going to be fun to say goodbye to the show for as long as we’ll have to. Episodes like this are a good reminder of why it’ll suck to have the show go away for a while.
- So you’ll notice this was later than usual. I don’t know if you’ve heard this, but PRESIDENT OBAMA HIMSELF is trying to get this show canceled, as the airing last week was bumped because of the president’s speech at the memorial for the victims of the Tucson shooting. Anyway, that meant that the episode scheduled for last week aired this week, so my DVR thought it was a rerun. Stupid DVR! So, anyway, that’s why we’re here so late.
- A few tidbits from a Cougar Town set visit: Kirsten’s going to keep popping up. So will wine bar guy (who’s played by the show’s head director, no less). The fake movie posters that hang outside of the theater are the greatest thing ever.
- For the record, I prefer Grules.
- "No! Get back in your spaceship!"
- "Only because raccoons are cute, and sometimes, Laurie goes through my trash."
- "My nachos are great. I use three kinds of cheeses."
- "My only interests are drinking wine and judging people."
- "With that overbite, she could eat an apple through a chain-link fence."
- "Dear, Jules, you're awesome, love Jules."
- "I think I'm gonna use that idea when I'm dating a dude in prison."
- "Not your your my toes, but I mean mine, as in the flipped version of us."
- "Have you ever tasted mischief?"
- "The last one's easy 'cuz it's your mom."