Well, the good news first: Cougar Town is still Cougar Town. It survived the move to a new network (TBS) and a new showrunner (Ric Swartzlander) while keeping its basic DNA and overall sensibilities intact. If you weren’t the type of person to frequent weekly reviews or keep up on the behind-the-scenes elements that keep the Cul-De-Sac crew onscreen, you’d be forgiven for not knowing anything changed. For those that never locked onto the show’s sensibilities, this probably is a bad thing. For those that have been loyal to the show over its first three seasons, this is most definitely a good thing.
In keeping with the show’s low-key sensibilities, not a lot particularly happens in tonight’s premiere, “Blue Sunday”. But each plot strands picks up on elements either implemented or left hanging in the last moments of season three. The show picks up just seven days after Chick married Jules and Grayson on the beach. With last season’s Napa Valley trip serving as pre-emptive honeymoon for the couple, there’s no where to go but back to Jules’ kitchen. There, Grayson learns about the “precedents” that can be established early in a marriage. Do anything two days in a row, and that’s the way it will be. (Being married to someone now stuck with making my lunch each morning before I drag myself out of bed, I can attest that this is true.)
It’s a simple engine for action, but one that suggests the two tying the knot isn’t the end of their struggles but in fact the launching point for a whole new set of conundrums. “Will they or won’t they” storylines get a lot of juice out of delaying the inevitable, but Cougar Town put Jules and Grayson on an inevitable collision course about halfway through season one. The show’s challenge isn’t so much inserting obstacles that will break them apart. Other than Grayson’s desire for more children, there really hasn’t been a single problem between them that didn’t seem solvable. But putting up immense obstacles isn’t the modus operandi of the show. It’s throwing in the everyday problems that still manage to undo countless relationships in the real world and seeing how these characters manage to zag where so many others zig.
The trick that co-creator Bill Lawrence’s script has to pull off in “Blue Sunday” is that this premiere has to both serve as a continuation of the story to date but also function as a pilot for viewers stunned to see actual commercials for a show called Cougar Town. Sure, we get the wink-wink-nudge-nudge meta opening lines in which the crew marvels that they once again get to tell their stories “to the world”. But just as in the season three premiere “Ain’t Love Strange”, this script has to orient people to the “rules” of this show. And rule number one? “Jules is the center of a tight-knit group of friends, all of whom bend over backwards to keep her happy no matter how insanely she acts in any given situation.”
So while it’s funny to see Jules’ depression spread like a virus to both Laurie and Andy (who, as Ellie points out, is essentially the “wife” of that relationship), the storyline really establishes Ellie’s longstanding friendship with Jules and how that relationship has fundamentally changed now that Jules is married. Jules both knows exactly what Ellie will say during her inevitable apology, but also understands that phase of their life is now over. It’s that shift that grounds the rather silly scene in which Grayson assumes the mantle of “Holder Of The Light” via a mimed torch. Sure, it’s funny to watch Andy and Bobby react to the invisible torch as if it’s a real object. But the fact that everyone buys into its reality also helps sell how important Jules’ happiness is to all of them.
While Jules has her slow-but-sure breakdown, Travis spends most of the episode getting fatherly advice from Bobby. With Travis now 21, Bobby wants to pass on life lessons to his son before it’s too late. Primary on that catch-up list? “Always run away from your problems.” Cougar Town sometimes has a hard time calibrating Bobby’s character: we see in that aforementioned bar scene that he realizes not attending to Jules’ emotional needs helped land him divorced and living on a land boat, but he also shares sandwiches with homeless people and runs away from $6 debts. But this storyline is really about Travis, who spends most of the episode once again distancing himself from his father only to realize how much they have in common. When Laurie finally confronts Travis about this week’s elephant in the room (what he said to her in Napa), he bolts, unable to confront either her or his conflicted feelings for her.
Both the A and B plotlines are classic Cougar Town, and as such serve as both a great reintroduction to the world as well as a solid start for anyone wanting to check the show out. Not everything in each plot works (Andy’s inability to defecate in his own home, the really specific height that turns all the guys on, the brain freeze sequence), but both end up in places that feel emotionally true. In the past, I’ve seen confusion in the comments section in which people who don’t watch the show can’t square up the show’s title with the square that are these reviews. Talking about half-hour comedies landing in “emotionally true” places sounds like a bunch of pretentious bullshit until you actually sit down and watch the show. Nothing seismically changes in “Something Blue”. Essentially, Grayson and Ellie slightly shift responsibilities, and Travis and Laurie realize their chemistry hasn’t dissipated despite the roadblocks between them. But change in Cougar Town happens on these incremental scales all the time, until both the characters and the audience realize we’re miles downshore from where we started. By the time that Crystal Fighters’ “Champion Sound” plays during Jules’ dance party, we’re still in Jules’ kitchen. But we’re in a different place all the same.
- The first title card gag of the season: “Welcome BACK to Cougar Town. Thank, TBS. Can we curse on TV now?”
- If this show had moved to Cinemax, and not TBS, we would know EXACTLY what Andy did to Ellie during their Ambien-infused sex session.
- On that note, I anticipate a series of "Hey, Now We're On Cable!!!" moments in this section of the reviews each week.
- I understand that “Coffee Bitch” would make a bad superhero, but I often wish “Wine Guy” would come and save me.
- I can easily see future generations of Cougar Town fans referring to this installment as “The Nunnalingus Episode”.
- Cul-De-Sac Dictionary, Volume 34: “junk in the trunk” now means “having emotional baggage”. Ellie approved the change, so now it’s a real thing.
- “He’s so black I feel like I’m in a sensory deprivation tank when he’s on top of me!” Laurie’s descriptions of Wade are never not incredible.