The strongest aspects of the third season of Cougar Town frequently involve the cul-de-sac crew bumping up against the spectre of change. Things don’t alter drastically, but they definitely evolve over time. Sometimes the characters are aware of this change, and other times it simply sneaks up on them. Steve Heisler made a similar point in his Parks And Recreation review last week, noting that all of the characters on that series still feel familiar even if their situations have largely changed. Cougar Town hasn’t had such drastic turnover for its denizens, but that’s a function of the show’s leisurely pace. Much like Bobby’s golf cart, it’s not going anywhere quickly. But it’s always headed toward a particular destination.
That being said, change is coming more rapidly this season, and especially in its second half. All three stories tonight concern changes in the lives of these characters, but what makes these changes particularly effective is the way they reverberate around the group and ultimately affect each of its members. Again: Cougar Town isn’t a show that trades in soapy, stop-the-clock revelations. But tonight’s episode, “Money Becomes King,” deals with the difficulties of impending marriage, the desire to follow one’s passions, and the fear of losing one’s best friend. These may not sound like fodder for comic storylines, but the episode offers many laughs while (fascinatingly) not solving every problem that arises.
The Jules/Grayson material tonight is particularly interesting, since it follows the pattern established last week in “Ways To Be Wicked”: Not offering a pat solution to a substantial problem. Ellie didn’t get closure with her mother, and it’s possible she never will. That feels realistic, but also goes counter to many comedies that open a door only to close it by the time the credits roll. Jules and Grayson are well-suited to each other, but the two are also alike in ways that are destructive. Both enjoy control, both enjoy passive-aggressive behavior, and both love to put off dealing with problems for as long as possible. We’ve seen this for a while, especially in the season-two finale in which the pair took a trip in Hawaii to not only find Travis but literally run away from their own problems.
Jules spends the majority of the episode dragging people into therapy with her, as a form of punishment. But while her therapist Lynn can now buy a large catamaran thanks to Jules’ incessant sessions, it’s clear that Jules isn’t particularly getting much out of her time there. Jules treats therapy not unlike a skeezy dude hitting on every girl at the bar: She is playing the odds, hopeful that, with enough visits, she’ll eventually get the answer she wants. Grayson isn’t much better, and neither character is willing to give up their respective homes in the wake of their upcoming wedding. It’s silly to think that these two haven’t talked about this sticky situation yet, but Andy’s analysis of their finances demonstrates neither is particularly willing to sacrifice their particular lifestyles for anyone—not even their soon-to-be legally wed partner.
While Jules drags her feet about her home, she also drags it about her business. Yes, she has a business, even if the show pays it only the tiniest of lip service at this point in its run. Other than Andy mentioning earlier this season that Jules runs a successful real-estate agency, you’d be forgiven if you forgot what she actually did for a living. That’s fine, since Cougar Town usually takes place at night or on weekends by design, with Grayson’s bar functioning as a happy medium between work and drinking for the group. “Money Becomes King” reintroduces the real-estate business in order to get Laurie on the next stage of her nascent cake-making business. And yes, having Laurie’s dreams coincide with Jules’ financial difficulty is the coincidence of coincidences. Still, what sells the stand-off between the pair throughout the half-hour makes sense. Neither wants to hurt the other’s feelings. On top of that, Laurie is still terrified of making a go of it full-time. “Nothing ever works out unless you’re in 100 percent!” she tells Travis, but she’s unwilling to apply that advice to herself.
You could argue that Laurie’s sudden interest/success in cake-making feels jarring compared with the relatively languid pace of the show. I wouldn’t put up much of a fight against that argument, except to say that Busy Philipps is doing Emmy-caliber work this season and just about everything she’s done (outside of that unfortunate Simon subplot) has been gold. It’s nearly impossible to root against Laurie, whether she’s facing her fears about her career or the “short-haired bitches” with whom she has the occasional run-in. Bobby took some steps toward actual maturity during his arc with Angie, and now it’s Laurie’s turn to actually step up. Having Krazy Kakes run out of Jules’ office is convenient, but also reflective of the fact that Jules took a chance on her in the first place. Paying homage to that decision helps seal the emotional deal on this storyline.
Speaking of Bobby, his storyline with Andy is thematically related but infinitely slighter. In many ways, Andy Torres has gotten the short end of the stick this season, with the shortened order cutting out a lot of material designed to get him involved with local government. Whether or not such stories would have worked is up in the air, but Ian Gomez sells his affection for Brian Van Holt’s Bobby so well that it’s a shame that Andy (Braveheart scene aside) hasn’t had a lot of time to participate this season. Still, perhaps that’s a function of his character’s overall stability. Of all the people on the show, he probably has things figured out the most, even if he often acts the most childlike. Once upon a time Travis held that mantle, but I’d give the slight edge to Andy at this point. He understands how group dynamics work, as well as his part in keeping those wheels greased. Sure, he has a soft spot for Bobby, but who wouldn’t? Even if messing with Bobby earns him sex with Ellie (with her top off, to boot!), I can’t see him doing it again anytime soon.
- From this week’s title sequence: “She’s marrying a man her own age, so why is it called Cougar Town?”
- The intro in which the entire bar sings Tampa to sleep is straight out of Cheers. I should know, since I recently covered that episode along with some of The A.V. Club’s finest.
- I can’t decide if I want way more Holly or to never to see her again. I do want as much Lynn as possible, though, since Nicole Sullivan fits so well within this world.
- Other Laurie life philosophies: “Don’t get hammered at brunch!” and “You gotta shake it ’til you make it!”
- There are a lot of failed screenwriters at Laurie’s disposal in the coffee shop. Are we sure that Cougar Town doesn’t take place in Los Angeles?
- “I wish there was more than one of me. And not just for the sex stuff.” Aaaaand cue a new branch of Laurie fanfic.
- “You’re a thunder stealer!” “That’s my Indian name!” While the “Tom Cruise Running” sequence is still my favorite Jules/Ellie moment, those two lines might be my new favorite exchange between the pair.
- I’m not sure what I enjoyed more from the bumper over the closing credits: “Mommy looks weird without her makeup!” or Christa Miller’s slow, slumped-over walk while wearing the demon mask.