A few weeks ago Cougar Town’s title card offered a piece of advice to viewers: “If you’re not watching with a glass of wine in your hand, you’re sort of missing the point.” That statement rings true, because wine is unquestionably the lifeblood of the show. Cougar Town began its journey to something special when it realized it was about drinking with friends instead of middle-aged dating, and found ways to integrate marvelously human plots alongside the endless cocktail hours. When the show was in danger of being canceled on ABC it relied on fan screenings well-stocked with wine to keep interest in the show high, and when it moved to TBS the new network embraced wine as central to the show’s image. Justified demands whiskey and Cheers demands beer, but the casual buzz of wine pairs perfectly with the laid-back, overeager and occasionally melancholy mood of Cougar Town.
As a rule, when Cougar Town has plots that move drinking wine to the foreground, there tends to be a higher level of energy as both the characters and writers are talking about something they’re overly fond of. (Case in point: this greatest hits compilation.) “Too Much Ain’t Enough” is the latest episode to drink even deeper from the bottle and increase the laughs while doing so, as Jules tries to convert her drinking habits into cash to the amusement, delight and horror of her circle of friends.
The impetus for this scheme is a large check Jules receives as a real estate commission, which causes visions of even bigger dollar signs to appear in front of her eyes. Jules, it turns out, has a track record of spending her various cash windfalls on elaborate get-rich-quick schemes, convinced that once she has a lot of money it’s easy for her to double it. Examples include driving to Biloxi with a tax refund and a book on blackjack tips (“Dr. Dennis ‘Double-Down’ Brown knows the tricks to beat the casino at their own game!”) and trying to start a boy band that failed due to Travis’s wardrobe malfunction. While this hasn’t come up for the character before it makes perfect sense—Jules is defined by her enthusiasm and her short-sightedness, and she’s certainly never given any indication she knows how to spend wisely.
Ellie tries to steer her friend in the right direction by encouraging her to make a sensible investment with Andy (auguring the welcome return of Ian Gomez’s “Come on!” as he praises a 4 percent return) but Jules has a bigger idea. That idea? The Guzzle Buddy, the greatest innovation in alcohol consumption since wine fountains, the marriage of glass and bottle to maximize wine delivery. It’s an idea that seems both brilliant and stupid at once, the culmination of Cougar Town’s efforts to make drinking as fast and innovative as possible, and Courtney Cox and Gomez clearly feed off each others’ enthusiasm to make it seem better and better. The scene where Jules and Andy perform their own infomercial is possibly the funniest scene of the entire season to date, because it uses every ounce of the cast’s skill to make it work: the utter commitment of both parties to the schtick up to and including the closing freeze-frame, Bobby’s willingness to play along and Grayson’s utter confusion at the whole endeavor (“If this is being filmed, I need to call my agent”).
Unfortunately, there’s a fatal flaw in this get-rich-quick scheme, in that it relies on everyone drinking as much as the Cul-De-Sac Crew does. And it turns out they don’t. (Prospective customer on the design: “But then I would have to drink the whole bottle.” Jules: “I’m not seeing the problem.”) With a grand total of one Guzzle Buddy sold in a day—to an old man who knocked it off the display—Jules sadly has to admit she made a huge mistake. When she admits to Ellie the idea tanked it offers up a nice moment between the two best friends, as Ellie provides the (ironically) sober viewpoint on the whole endeavor. It’s not only Ellie’s usual aversion to total stupidity that kept her pushing back on Jules, it’s the fact that she recognizes how hard Jules had to work to reach this place in her life and that she keeps risking opportunities to secure it. Something like this is certainly going to happen again—and Ellie’s attitude when she tries out the Guzzle Buddy indicates she knows it—but next time, maybe it’ll be a little easier to pull Jules back from the brink.
Normally Grayson would play a more active role in stopping his wife from wasting money, but this week he’s more concerned with his own image. Now that Travis is a barista he’s rolling with an entirely different group of friends, ones with names like “Azrael” and “Orion,” who only drink local craft brews made with pumpkin and chocolate and wear glasses despite their perfect vision. While it’s a depiction of hipsters so deeply cliché they may as well have taken lessons from Max of Happy Endings, they instill just the right amount of discomfort in Grayson, his usual efforts to seem cool even more pronounced next to their withering disdain. (Hilariously, Tom is accepted by the group immediately as they like him for being tall and random. They immediately decide to bring him to Coachella.)
More importantly, the hipsters are a delivery system for some good character work between Grayson and Travis. Other than Travis accepting $20 from Grayson way back in season one in return for never calling him “new dad” again, the idea of a father/son vibe between the two has been largely unexplored by the series even as Grayson grew closer to Jules season by season. And both characters are so matter-of-fact that they’ve never felt the need to have the conversation, to the point that when Travis makes the connection that he sees Grayson in a paternal light they’re both a little taken aback. It’s a nicely understated moment between Josh Hopkins and Dan Byrd—neither one of them is going to go for raw emotion, but they carry well a quiet acceptance that they like and appreciate seeing each other in this familial light. Yes there’s a big hug, but it’s played for laughs (as it should be).
Against these moments, Bobby’s plot feels comparatively lightweight—his reliable chewing gum/twine/duct tape/well-placed staples bag has finally broken down and he’s replaced it with a sleek black briefcase that looks woefully out of character. He decides to beat up the briefcase, only to find it’s apparently crafted of an adamantium alloy and is invulnerable to all of his scuffing techniques. He and Laurie try stomping it girl-fight style, drag it behind the golf cart through the car wash and even dip it in a bleach bath, but nothing leaves a mark. It’s a cartoonish plot to be sure, but it succeeds because it’s a stealth delivery system for Bobby/Laurie interactions. Laurie tends to bring out the best in Bobby because he’s the only character who listens to her train of thought earnestly—their Beef and Bubbles talk in “Lost Children” is a memorable highlight—and she points out that he can match himself to the briefcase rather than the other way around.
While I’ve bemoaned in recent weeks the fact that Cougar Town has largely forsaken Bobby’s major efforts to put his life back together, it is nice to see the show continues to find little ways to boost his self-esteem. And the ensuing scene of his swagger through the Gulf Haven central is another great moment, practically a commercial for the briefcase as he moves down the road and earns some respectful nods. True, the bag gets stolen off his shoulder and the illusion’s broken, but all that matters to him is that he made that illusion work. And in Cougar Town’s universe, every little victory counts—because it gives one more excuse for a glass of wine.
- Title card: “Tonight’s episode proves we are still terrible at naming things.”
- At time of writing, the Guzzle Buddy is still not available on the TBS store. I expect all of you to keep your eyes peeled and let us know the second one becomes available.
- “Too Much Ain’t Enough” also marks the directorial debut of Josh Hopkins, now the third cast member to direct an episode alongside Courtney Cox and Brian Van Holt. It’s not as ambitious an episode as Van Holt’s, but the enthusiasm of both the Guzzle Buddy sales pitch and Bobby’s millionaire stride are infectious.
- The episode’s cold open was an excellent installment of Jules Doesn’t Get Things, as Laurie and Ellie take advantage of her calling real estate “the oldest profession” and coax a sea of double entendres from her. “It can be a grind. There’s a whole lot of people looking to screw you!” It’s all fun and games until she makes a joke about satisfying Stan when he gets older, which deflates Ellie but only makes Laurie grin wider.
- This week in the Laurie Kellar family tree: a cousin nicknamed Limousine who picked up guys at the airport (for sex), an Uncle Frank who’s featured in a Netflix documentary because he has “a thing for bludgeoning,” an Uncle Billy who’s been shot 12 times and has no scars.
- Grayson’s bar is dismissed by the hipsters as having an “airport Chili’s vibe.”
- “Wine wrist” is a real medical condition that affects no fewer than 78 percent of television critics. Wear your maroon wristbands in support.
- “Andy’s investment ideas were all fund and percentages and mutual hedgehogs!”
- “Since when did the Pringles guy become a style icon?” “I thought it was Mario Bros. chic.”
- “Do you see the way I am dressed?” “Yeah, it’s like a box of melted crayons! It’s awesome.”