One of the best things about Cougar Town is that I think if I knew these people in real life, I would kind of hate them. The show manages to make endearing characters who spend all of their time playing silly games and looking for ways to goof off (not that there’s anything wrong with that), but it also finds out what makes these people tick at their core. I completely get the people who find the show too annoying for words, even if I’m not in their number, because, well, these people sort of CAN be annoying. And yet there’s something refreshing about a show where the characters not only embrace the things that would get them denigrated on other shows but also find ways to make that a central part of their identities. I mean, how many other shows would have a moment where one character rejoices in the fact that she’s once again a tramp? How many other shows would have a character as bitter and as much of a malcontent as Ellie but still ask us to fundamentally be fond of her? And how many other shows would take a character as occasionally abrasive and creepy as Jules and require that we find her, on some level, weirdly charming?
I guess what I’m saying is that Cougar Town has come up with a great modern version of the hang-out sitcom. There’s more there going on beneath the surface, I’d argue, but if you just want to enjoy the show as a show about a bunch of slacker adults who can’t find anything better to do with their time than standing around and challenging each other to stupid dares while drinking wine, well, there are worse things in the world. This latest episode is a prime example of how well this “hang-out” structure works. The story, such as it is, really sneaks up on you, and there doesn’t seem to be a lot going on until everything starts to collide wonderfully, and Ellie’s trying to train her baby with goldfish crackers.
The A-story involves Ellie and Jules having an argument about who has it rougher as a mother of an infant: Ellie in her 40s or Jules in her 20s. It’s a silly argument, ultimately, but out of such silly arguments are Cougar Town episodes born. When Andy decides to go off to be Laurie’s wingman for the night (so that she may find a random guy to sleep with), Ellie challenges Jules to take care of Stan for one whole night. With Grayson’s help, Jules does just that, but it doesn’t come easily, with Stan, in comical baby fashion, locking himself in a pantry filled with dangerous implements, breaking out of his baby fort/prison, and keeping Jules and Grayson up until 5 a.m. When Travis was a baby, Jules was young, dumb, and energetic. She was able to keep up with her kid and figure out ways to still have a life outside of him. Even with an attentive husband and a nanny, Ellie’s got the rougher time of it, even Jules will admit. And then comes the “twist” ending: Grayson loves kids and hopes he can have one of his own someday. Jules suggests to Ellie that maybe when she and Grayson are married, she’ll get him a dog, but they both know that’s not going to work. And so the Jules/Grayson pairing will face what may be its most significant hurdle.
What I like about this is that it plays into the show’s themes of growing up in a couple of different ways. Grayson wants to have a kid because that’s a part of being an adult and he wants to pass on his genetic code and whatever. Plus, he’s not getting any younger. Jules already had a kid, and now she’s enjoying the freedom of her 40s, just having a good time doing the sorts of things she might have done as a younger woman. While the show’s initial premise didn’t work long-term, I always did think that there was an intriguing nugget buried inside of it: What happens when a woman in her 40s realizes that she can finally have the youth she didn’t get to have before? Grayson’s threatening to take that away from her, and this might be the thing that pushes the couple apart.
But ideas of growing older were scattered throughout the episode (and, indeed, throughout the season in general). Laurie finds herself unable to enjoy the club as much as she used to because, well, she gets tired at 9:30 now (and as someone who abruptly hit a wall where I had trouble staying out all night when I hit about 28 or 29, I can definitely sympathize). Andy realizes that he’s way too old to be at a club, even if he’s just going to be there as an ironic support system for a friend. (And I loved the gag where the club music didn’t carry over into the wine bar and vice versa.) Bobby’s figuring out a way to wake up at 5 a.m. so he can hit the links at 6, which is the only time he can get on the course. (And I very much enjoy Dog Travis and wish to see more of him.) All of these people are taking steps to make their own lives better, and if that sometimes means re-embracing your trampy past in a new way or coming up with an elaborate way to make sure your dad gets up, you do what you have to.
At its best, Cougar Town feels like a long, funny story a friend is telling you, one that maybe doesn’t have much of a point but is fun to hear, just because he’s telling it. I don’t know that “Rock ‘N’ Roller” was quite to that level, but it definitely captured the loose, freewheeling vibe that makes the show fun when it’s at its best. Put another way: Cougar Town takes silly ideas that feel like sitcom plots—i.e., Jules and Ellie trading off Stan for the night—and makes them feel like they’re the sorts of things that actually happened to your friends. It finds the realism in stupid sitcom tropes.
- Did this episode feel pulled out of the regular order to any of you? I wasn’t expecting an immediate resolution to the “Travis is going to propose” storyline, but this episode definitely felt like it took place in a weird vacuum, outside of the very end.
- In my experience, goldfish crackers really do tame toddlers that effectively. Always keep a small supply on hand in case of emergency.
- Bill Lawrence has been making the rounds to talk up the show in the last week. Of his chats with various reporters, I recommend this talk with the Hollywood Reporter and this one with Alan Sepinwall.
- "What's an aardvark? Will we ever live in London?"
- "I used to let him use my pill bottle as a rattle."
- "It feels like that shouldn't make a woman sad."
- "Chuck it and... rechuck it."
- "It's so on. If Ellie says it's on. It may not be on."
- "My son almost made honor roll. Twice. I'm a little bit of a Mary Poppins."
- "Ass worship is contagious."
- "Hold my hand and let's kiss a little."
- "It has all of my favorite things. Sticky floors, shiny shirts, weird, rich Russian dudes who say, 'You want to make dance with me?'"
- "We're just sitting back relaxing while he plays in his baby prison."
- "I don't wanna stab a baby."
- "Plus it reduces the odds of you being randomly murdered by, like, half."
- "He's not a duck."
- "Their marriage isn't working out because she likes to travel and he likes to sleep with dudes."
- "Don't tell Andy. He'll come over here and start pawing."