It’s easy to say that the characters in Cougar Town work so well because of their intimate knowledge of one another. But “Lover’s Touch” goes a long way toward showing just how limited that knowledge can actually be at times. Sure, on a macro level, the Cul-De-Sac Crew is pretty tight. But there are gaps, blind spots, or simply unexplored emotional/historical sections amongst them all. Sometimes, another member of the group understands what lies in that undiscovered country. Other times, not even the four-legged denizens of a dog park can bring about enlightenment.
Travis’ freak accident while heading back to college via Bobby’s patented “Dog on a Rope” technique (patent pending) kicks off the major soul-searching in this episode, but exploration is already well under way by the time Jules gets the call from the hospital. Grayson spends the episode figuring out his place in the New Jules Order, so to speak, as “all wedding, all the time” leaves little room for him at all. Last week, the gang laughed at Grayson’s suggestion that he should have some say in the wedding plans. But those plans are just a potential preview for his life with Jules after their nuptials. And it looks like a life without much in the way of affection.
This worry puts him directly into Andy’s orbit for the majority of tonight’s installment. In the past, the two haven’t always been the best suited as a pair. While Bobby and Laurie turn into “Beef and Bubbles” when isolated, Grayson and Andy turn into two men who hang around due to an overlapping social Venn diagram. They aren’t necessarily antagonistic (although early episodes certainly featured some friction between the two), but they haven’t always seemed like two men that would naturally bond outside of the community created at the end of their street. This past makes the present all the more striking, as these two probably had their strongest material to date as Grayson approaches married life and, by extension, a greater empathy towards Andy.
At first, Andy simply mocks Grayson, acting as The Ghost of Marriage Future. Sure, the repeated trips to the dog park are fun, but less so after Grayson realizes that he’s fifth in Jules’ speed dial. (He’s behind Travis, Ellie, Jules’ father, and…the wine store.) Grayson soon realizes that The Truth, his unironically named physique, might soon only receive touches from random patrons of his bar. All this leads to a satisfying scene in which Ian Gomez tones down his portrayal of Andy just enough to have a heart-to-heart with Grayson about balancing physical needs and personal pride. That scene has Grayson wondering why Jules won’t just treat him like baby, which is funny. But it also reveals that Andy knows much more about Grayson than he’s previously let on, via surreptitious spying that started long before they were friends. It’s a gap in their history that, once filled in, should probably dismantle any progress made tonight. Yet Andy’s so damn sweet about his desire to help Grayson not repeat the mistakes of his first marriage that it somewhat dignifies his Peeping Tom activities.
Speaking of Peeping Toms, boy, what a coming-out party for Dr. Tom Gazelian, right? As someone who doesn’t know the last names of his neighbors in any direction, I sympathize somewhat with the way our primary players know nothing about him. They don’t know his last name, occupation, or number of kids. And once they learn a fact about him, it instantly disappears, almost as if the fact itself never existed. (Maybe The Silence from Doctor Who lives in the cul-de-sac?) Still, none of this feels cruel so much as Darwinian: There’s only so much information any of us can determine as important at any given point. So their lack of curiosity about Tom is essentially benign. They don’t wish him harm; they simply have other priorities. Tom probably knows Stan’s birthday better than Ellie does, but that lack of reciprocity will probably always exist.
Learning that Tom is a neurosurgeon leads us back to Travis’ accident, which lets Bill Lawrence once again explore both comedy and pathos within a hospital setting. (You’d be forgiven if you spent the majority of those scenes searching for Dr. Cox.) It’s not really fair to try and compare the two endeavors beyond that cursory observation, but it’s certainly worth exploring just how much deftly Scrubs and Cougar Town walk the line between making their characters ridiculous while also keeping them three-dimensional. Something like Dominance Ball is a fairly silly and slight plotline, but one that exists in order to achieve a powerful scene in which Jules convinces Travis to wear his newly acquired helmet in order to prevent further injury to his skull. “I can no longer tell you what to do. I can only ask,” Jules tells her son. “So please, please wear that stupid helmet so I can sleep.
You could say that’s a selfish way for her to state that wish. On the other hand, these characters are always counting on each other when things get tough. Sometimes, that means bonding over Andy’s big toes. Other times, it’s verifying that a doctor said “okay” during a diagnosis. And other times, it’s about knowing that love can last past marriage even when evidence points, at times, to the contrary. What makes Cougar Town so satisfying is the ways in which it subtly shifts the ground underneath the Cul-De-Sac crew’s feet, changing the landscape, and thus the problems (and thus the pairings), around them. Grayson won’t always need Andy, but he sure as hell needed him this week. Travis won’t always need Jules, but he certainly needs her after his accident. Some ensemble shows just rotate their characters to stave off boredom, or to simply see what happens. Cougar Town smartly pairs up people at the right time to produce an answer that would have eluded any other iteration. Or, it puts them together to lean on each other’s shoulders as they collectively realize that some problems (like guaranteeing the safety of their children) simply have no answers.
- My wife and I are down with playing Penny Can. But I don’t think either of us could handle incorporating Caveman Dinner into our routine.
- Between that scene and Jules acting like a cymbal-clanging monkey, it was quite the week for Courteney Cox to demonstrate that she’s unafraid to look silly onscreen.
- Apparently, “peeing standing up” is no longer just a guy thing.
- Andy’s toes are as wide as they are long. May we never, ever see this on screen.
- Older women have a tendency to moan inappropriately around Travis.
- Big Carl is there for good times and bad. Atta boy, Big Carl.
- “You think my name if Tom Gazoinks?” Sorry, Tom. She's never going to remember your last name, as evidenced by the scene over the closing credits.
- “She was no you.” “They never are!” This felt like a season one exchange, but I'll accept the occasionally creepy mother/son vibe every once in a while.
- “I miss being a ho!” “You want back in? Because we’ll take you back.” Is Laurie part of a secret slut community, not unlike the Freemasons? I smell spin-off!
- “I don’t even have kids.” “You probably do.” And cue the Monty Python and The Meaning of Life scene where the child drops painlessly from the mother's overworked womb.