After a couple of really stellar episodes, it’s back to a nicely done, fairly bland episode of Cougar Town. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with that, but not every storyline was clicking tonight like the show is at its best. I really enjoyed Ellie and Laurie’s adventures with Laurie as a human stress ball, somewhat enjoyed Andy’s insane family, and didn’t mind some aspects of the Travis storyline. But the other storylines in the episode struck me as the sort of stuff that happens when TV writers talk so much about their own shows with each other that they occasionally forget that we’re out here watching the damn thing and maybe not getting the nuance they’re getting in their writers’ room discussions. This is not always a bad thing, but I thought the Grayson stuff tonight was pretty much a dud.
Here’s what’s up with Grayson: He’s taken up rollerblading, but he’s really bad at it. (Jules describes him as walking around like a newborn calf on his skates.) While he’s out doing his roller hockey thing, he ends up taking some weird sort of Incredible Journey, the sort that only happens to sitcom characters with wacky modes of transportation. Along the way, he encounters a small boy on a Big Wheel, and while I liked the visual of the two looking down a big hill—here is the arc of the rest of your life, kids!—I don’t know that the choice to make the kid mute was such a terrific idea. This turns into a lot of monologuing from Grayson, mostly just talking about what he’s thinking about, and while there are some nice notes about how he wants kids and Jules doesn’t that mostly stay subtext, everything else is right out there in the open, centered on the fact that Grayson increasingly feels like he’s not an independent guy or something.
Now, granted, these are pretty common emotions for people in long-term relationships to feel. But the drama with which this point was raised—to the point where Grayson idly tosses off the idea of breaking up with Jules!—was kind of strange. The show has toyed with these plots where Grayson and Jules seem to be contemplating a breakup from time to time, and that’s fine. All of us in relationships have those moments where we wonder if, hey, the life of single people isn’t preferable. (I believe they’re resurrecting the body-swap comedy this summer to riff on this idea, for some reason.) But when Grayson and Jules have such an important issue staring them in the face—Grayson wants more kids, and Jules doesn’t—it feels sort of silly to have this sort of decision come up over roller hockey. I liked the final moment of this storyline, where Grayson reclaimed his independence, but not really, by surfing behind the golf cart bringing Jules, Bobby, and Jules’ dad home, but the whole storyline felt like the sort of thing TV writers cook up to address a problem only they have noticed.
Meanwhile, Andy’s brother has come to town, bearing with him Andy’s sister-in-law, played by Ian Gomez’s real-life wife, Nia Vardalos. Vardalos can be a… shall we say… over-the-top presence, but she’s nicely modulated here, and I loved the idea that she was married to a stereotypical Latino lover from a romance novel cover but what she really wanted was Andy, with his big, stupid bald head. It’s always funny to see Ellie feel vaguely threatened by somebody, and even if Andy’s fairly oblivious most of the time, it’s obvious to everyone around him what his sister-in-law wants to do with him. (The visual gag of Andy’s cousins wandering around the background of shots within the house felt like it was another subplot that got cut way down.) Gomez and Vardalos were fun together, and the storyline also gave plenty of material to one of the show’s best pairings, Ellie and Laurie. The scene where Ellie insults Laurie about all of the gross stuff she eats might have been the episode’s funniest, and the emotional payoff to the storyline felt earned, which is something the episode had problems with here and there.
Meanwhile, the Cobbs were dealing with the fact that Travis spends all of his time in his darkened room since Kirsten left. I’m enjoying the way that the show is letting Travis’ emotions over the split with his girlfriend play out, and I’m always happy for any excuse to have the great Ken Jenkins back as Jules’ dad. (Can he be as much of a recurring player as, say, Tom is in season three? Please?) Jenkins has an easy affability that immediately gives you a sense of how his relationship with his daughter was strained when they were both younger but has gotten better since she became an adult, and I thought his story about how badly he wanted God to help Jules’ boobs grow when she was a flat-chested 15-year-old was surprisingly sweet (y’know, for a story about boobs). But he also felt like kind of an afterthought in an episode that might just have been too busy, ultimately.
I’m not entirely sure what the “competition” between Jules and Bobby over the parenting of their son is supposed to be all about. It comes up every so often, but it’s never felt like a thread that’s made much sense in the show, where Travis is as much a product of this community of people as he is anything else. While I liked many of the emotions of this storyline, it still felt like it was in kind of a holding pattern, while everybody waits to see what Travis’ next move is. Still, it was worth it for the wonderfully strange sequence set at a strip club in the mid-afternoon, where the only stripper is fully clothed and hoping nobody comes in so she can just go home without getting naked. Strip clubs are one of those sitcom devices that are hard to make new jokes about (the bit where Jules gives the stripper money is something that’s been done many times, most notably on 30 Rock), but giving in to the seediness of the place gave Cougar Town somewhere new to take the idea. Like the rest of the episode, it was an interesting idea, even if there wasn’t enough time to really get into it.
- I don’t want to spoil anything for anyone, but if you like Cougar Town and Community, tonight’s Community is going to be a must-watch, if the press photos are any indication.
- I actually think I prefer Cougar Town to Wine Time, but I’m sure that will turn out to just be me.
- Just three episodes left, two of which are the one-hour season finale. I’d ask you all to make predictions for where this is all going, but, well, that seems sort of silly with this show, doesn’t it?
- "We could be like Mole People. They're real you know!"
- "It's not a crime scene anymore. They found the head."
- "I really have to go, but we are definitely playing this game later."
- "On the other hand, you never know. Things change. People die."
- "They come out looking like ponies!"
- "Are there any naked ladies who can shake it for my family?"
- "I am very sensitive about my sausage toes."
- "I am majorly jonesing for wiener sniglets, whatever those are."
- "Maybe to feel more Spanish, you should take off your shirt." "Ellie!"