I don't know if you heard the news, but Cougar Town's going away for a while, starting in February, when Matthew Perry's Mr. Sunshine pops in for a short run. The producers are trying to put a positive spin on things on Twitter, and I get why they're doing so. (It keeps everyone happy and slightly alleviates any bad press.) And, honestly, this is probably better for the show than ABC trying the series out in some new time slot, where it very possibly might bomb. For as much as I believe the show to be one of TV's two best currently running comedies (it's that "currently running" that lets me avoid the also-very-good Parks & Recreation and Louie), it's never going to be a big hit, and it's always going to be reliant on its Modern Family lead-in. That's a problem if ABC decides to use Modern Family to develop new shows on a more full-time basis, but for now, ABC seems protective of the series, as if it knows what it has here and wants to keep the show on the air.
But that doesn't mean I'm not going to miss the show when it goes away for a couple of months. I'm going to miss it like crazy, because as good as Cougar Town got toward the end of its first season, it's really been on a roll in season two, particularly since the Halloween episode. While I wasn't a huge fan of the Thanksgiving episode, tonight's was a nice return to form, playing off some of this season's major themes about finding a second act in your adulthood and groups of friends that function as well as a family might. Granted, when one of the subplots involved two of those friends realizing they might be kinda sorta attracted to each other, the "friends as family" theme can only be stretched so far. But more about that in a moment.
One of the most notable things about this series is the way that it takes Bobby Cobb, a guy who could be a cartoonish villain, haunting the edges of the series, completely seriously. He's Jules' ne'er-do-well ex-husband, and that could make for an over-the-top, hillbilly stereotype. The show indulges in that side of Bobby's character from time to time, and it's almost always funny, but things are even better when the series takes his ambitions and his disappointments seriously. Tonight, the episode came back to the idea of Bobby as a great golfer who just missed his big moment, with the idea that he should head to a local golf tournament and try to qualify for the PGA tour. Bobby's pretty sure he'll just screw it up. He's Bobby Cobb, sure, and that once meant a hyper-confident young guy who was able to stride around like the king of the world and tell his girl he was a "lucky duck." But he's been a screw-up for so long that the phrase "I'm Bobby Cobb" has taken on an entirely different meaning.
One of the things that unites Cougar Town and Community (my other pick for the best currently airing comedy) is a sense of a group of people that aren't always blood relations but do love and support each other. Via this sense of love and support, these people are able to build a supportive environment wherein every single one of them is free to examine themselves and figure out who it is they really want to be. The circles of Community and Cougar Town are such that they give the characters safe space to grow, a place where they can try on new personas and become new people, until they're finally in a position to realize their dreams. At the end of tonight's episode, Jules is right. Bobby doesn't need to fear the tournament because he's no longer the kind of guy who would screw it up. He's a guy with friends who care enough about him to fish the floating detritus of his boat out of the drink. He's not a screw-up, no matter how much he fears he is. He left that version of himself behind a long time ago, and even if he and Jules are no longer together, she still cares about him because he's worth caring about.
Let me lay out my very minor criticism of the episode here: I didn't like the way that the thing kept cutting to the golf tournament in the midst of everything else. I liked the idea behind it, behind showing us Bobby at a pretty low ebb and then showing us his moments of triumph, but it felt a little too haphazard to me. It took a little while to figure out just what was going on and why it was going on, and by the time the first scene like this was over, I was well and truly confused. Granted, I figured it out pretty quickly, and then the scenes turned into a kind of punctuation to the rest of the episode, but starting at the first hole of the tournament and then cutting back to the build-up to it might have made the structure make slightly more sense. But I liked everything else in the storyline, particularly as his friends tried to patch up his houseboat (complete with "angry, sweaty" montage to "Walkin' on Sunshine"), only to send it to the bottom of the ocean. And, of course, it all ended with Bobby realizing he had what it took inside of him all along, an ending that could have felt cliché but instead felt fairly moving.
The other two storylines were mostly running jokes. I liked Ellie and Grayson's ever-escalating war over the information they could dig up on each other, but it didn't rise above the level of goofy runner. (Still, learning that Grayson was once on the pageant circle strikes me as a development that could pay dividends.) On the other hand, the latest development in the potentially-creepy, potentially-awesome Laurie and Travis relationship took place, as Kirsten developed a bit of jealousy at the ease the two have around each other. The show is almost certainly going to go down this road at some point, and Dan Byrd and Busy Philipps obviously have ridiculous chemistry together, but I'm not sure this is the time to pursue this storyline. It still feels a little soon, particularly since we're always acutely aware Travis has JUST started college. Though Kirsten, an older blonde with a slightly outsized personality, feels rather like a stepping stone to that relationship, doesn't she? (I do hope the show keeps her around for a while. I'm really enjoying her character.)
So if there's a reason I'm not going to like Cougar Town going away for two months, it's because of episodes like this. What continually impresses me about the show these days is the way that it earns the sentimental turns each episode takes by grounding them in the long history the characters share, rather than trying to force them in the moment. Bobby Cobb could be the butt of jokes on the series; instead, he's a guy who kind of went to seed and is now trying to pull himself back together. That's a great storyline. That the show has given it to the character who could be its biggest joke is a sign of just how strong of a show it is.
- "I saw myself laugh in the mirror last night, and I thought I looked a little horsey, so now I'm gonna say it instead of do it."
- "Bobby 'Batman' Cobb, we believe in you!"
- "It was Little Mr. Miami, OK? And it was actually pretty cool."
- "I ate a whole tub of uncooked biscuit dough, and I think it's rising in my stomach."
- "His garbage disposal is a dog. He eats cereal out of a turtle shell. His bottle opener is a dog."
- "I love the way you laugh. It's like a happy tugboat."
- "You like to fight. My cuts don't clot. It'll never happen."
- "You were always a bitch, Missy!"