Earlier this season, I talked about how one of the greatest strengths of Cougar Town is its strong memory. Be it its roster of callback jokes or its commitment to the bonds between its characters, this is a sitcom where the writers are as familiar with the show as anyone slavishly updating the show’s wiki. That familiarity has saved the show on multiple occasions, as if worst comes to worst it can always do a plot centered around Penny Can, devise some new way for the crew to consume wine (as we saw last week), or find some random detail from an earlier episode and build on it.
“Too Good To Be True” is a fine example of this, and also an episode that could serve as an example for how Cougar Town can remain creative this late in the game. Both of the episode’s main plots are drawn from throwaway jokes at least two seasons old—Andy’s stand-up comedy routines from season one’s “Turn This Car Around” and Tom’s heretofore unseen family from season three’s “Lover’s Touch”—and both of them are able to leap off these references for new and amusing stories. While season five hasn’t been a steep downgrade from previous seasons, this is a sitcom that’s starting to show its age, and needs to either dig deeper or go in a completely new direction. And since it’s not likely they’ll go the Archer route and turn the crew into rumrunners, obscure details may be the answer.
Amusingly, one detail the show recalls is something Jules isn’t able to remember no matter how many times someone tells her. Tom’s daughter Hayley is down from New York for a few days to visit her father, and for all his desire to hang out with Jules and company he hasn’t introduced her to any of them. It seems like the plot’s heading for a rehash of “I Should Have Known It” where Jules digs too deeply into Tom’s personal life and causes chaos in the process (Ellie, Laurie, and Bobby practically expect such a result, strapping themselves in for the Jules Spiral). However, it turns out that Tom’s motivations were more complicated than simple shame: Tom just didn’t want Jules to meet Hayley as he’s been telling her for years that Jules is his girlfriend.
While this could be a problematic plot given that Tom’s affection for Jules has always been more than a little unhealthy, “Too Good To Be True” largely sidesteps the ick factor by offering a more benign explanation for Tom’s lies. He’s not so much trying to live a fantasy life—he’ll save that for his model Cul-De-Sac and crushing Grayson under a car—he’s trying to persuade his daughter that he’s doing all right on his own. Tom’s so often used as a “creepy neighbor” punchline that it’s possible to forget he’s human, and so much of his original affection for the crew is motivated by a loneliness he’s terrible at expressing. (Season two’s “Free Fallin’” did an excellent job of showing that, in the midst of a plot about demonic “chalk children” no less.) And for all her inability to remember Tom even has a family, Jules’s natural empathy wins out, and the minute Hayley comes back she leaps into his arms for some “Grade-A loving.”
From here, the plot moves into classic farce territory, though it’s well-executed farce that doesn’t rely too heavily on spinning lies out of control. Ellie eagerly pushes Tom and Jules together for increased PDA, a move that shifts Tom’s face from confused to delighted and Jules’s from affectionate to uncomfortable the longer it goes on. Grayson is explained away as Jules’s mentally damaged brother (he truly picked the worst time to wear a hockey helmet around the house and to be caught off guard by a conversation) but he’s easily swayed into participating once it’s painted as an acting job, and embraces it to a distressing degree. Things fall apart thanks to a predictable misunderstanding—Hayley glimpses Grayson and Jules kissing—but that doesn’t collapse the entire lie as she mistakes it for incest, and that allows Tom to be the bigger man and admit defeat himself.
In its inimitable Cougar Town way, the episode manages to tie the episode off sweetly by having Hayley be oddly okay with the fact that they put on this elaborate lie for her benefit. She talks about how she’s happy that her dad has friends willing to go the distance for him, but it’s probably also a safe bet that she knows how off-putting he can be, and she’s happy he’s found a group that absorbs and reciprocates that weirdness.
Ellie misses the final blowup and resolution because she’s busy with “dueling train wreck scenarios,” this one involving her overeager husband. Travis is taking advantage of his new position as a barista to put together a talent night at Coffee Bucks, adding a degree of bohemian culture to his corporate gig and living out his more artistic dreams. That is until Andy decides to unintentionally shatter those dreams by reliving some of his own, dusting off a comedy routine that was dated back when he was trying it out in college years ago: “Ladies, what is up with all the shoes?” While it’s certainly a Cougar Town audience crowd-pleaser—the return of “Bitches be loco!” is a cause for celebration—the Coffee Bucks patrons are less pleased with “two thumbs” jokes and flee the shop in droves.
It makes for an interesting role reversal to earlier this season in “The Trip To Pirate’s Cove”—this time a Cobb is the responsible one and Andy’s the one acting crazy—and it works because there’s a balance between the two. Yes, Andy’s complete obliviousness to how terrible he is up there is definitely a problem, but Travis’s pretentious approach to his club certainly isn’t an unimpeachable position either. (Travis: “I’m trying to establish myself as Gulfhaven’s official taste-maker.” Ellie: “Talking like a douche is not helping your case.”) Between Andy’s puppy-dog enthusiasm and Travis’ unwillingness to crush said enthusiasm, it creates a status quo of positivity that only Ellie’s raw force can break down, willing to make the sacrifice of setting regular sex nights. Nothing too consequential, just a good reminder of how Travis can have adult plots that don’t involve his girlfriend or his parents.
After both of these plots, Bobby’s story is pure silliness wrapped up in a tortilla. Once he discovers a golden ticket in his burrito from Señor Casa, he earns a lifetime supply of burritos and—as we all would under these circumstances—switches to an entire diet of nothing else, with breakfast burritos going to lunchtime burritos without breaking a sweat. Laurie cautions him against too much of a good thing, but Bobby refuses to listen, continuing to consume until a queasy feeling overtakes him and he passes out. This gives us a wonderful look into Bobby’s head, as he hallucinates a giant talking burrito chasing him down the street slasher movie-style (“I’m free, you son of a bitch!”) and then waking up and screaming loudly once he sees one in his hands.
As much as I value the need to treat Bobby Cobb as a serious character, there’s still an innate ridiculousness to him that can never be tamed—and shouldn’t be tamed because Brian Van Holt is so good at playing broad. His emotional breakdown driving through the streets on the golf cart, sobbing and hurling burritos is a thing of beauty, and gets even better once Laurie persuades him he needs to get rid of the ticket to set himself free. And his solution is an oddly elegant one, speaking to the character’s unique ability to right his reality: swap his beloved burritos for quesadillas (“A burrito in a different shape!”) and punch out the Señor Casa spokesman for catharsis. Yeah, it’s a silly ending, but if the silliness is this well-executed it’s hard to gripe about it. And who knows? Maybe down the road, Bobby’s newfound love for quesadillas will be the center of an episode all their own.
- Title card: “Several burritos were harmed during the filming of this episode.” Rest in peace, noble Mexican cuisine.
- This was one of those episodes where Ellie’s behavior seems too mean to be likable, but it’s salvaged by the genuine glee on her face and the fact that Jules and Travis’s problems are clearly of their own making. That said, I was a touch disappointed they missed the opportunity to parallel Bobby’s plot and have Ellie load up on so much schadenfreude she lost the ability to enjoy any of it.
- Speaking of Tom’s children, he also mentioned in “Lover’s Touch” that he has a son named Bryce serving in the Marines. I’m going to watch future Enlisted episodes even closer to see if there’s a Bryce Gazelian assigned to Fort McGee.
- Señor Casa means “Mr. House” in English. I wonder if this is how the Fallout: New Vegas antagonist started his empire?
- Jules’ suggestions to weasel out of this lie: to tell Hayley that Grayson choked on a peanut and was getting CPR, they were two siblings sharing their last mint, this is the way their family cures hiccups, and a snake bit her on the mouth. (Grayson: “Can you even hear yourself?”)
- “Sheep grow their own sweaters and cows have finger boobs!” Clearly Grayson needs to take some acting lessons from Tropic Thunder’s Kirk Lazarus, as he doesn’t know the pitfalls of going “full retard.”
- “I was playing Forrest Gump when I should have been playing Philadelphia!” It’s a sign of how worried Jules is that she doesn’t stop to ask for an explanation of either film.
- “You’ve hit rock bottom! I’ve been there, except my bottom had actual rocks.”
- “Pico de Die-o, man!”