The stories in Cougar Town are by their nature fairly small. That doesn’t mean they are unimportant, but they don’t exactly have implications beyond the cul-de-sac. That gives the show its strength: In telling stories on a human scale, it gets to delve into the series of tiny events that eventually add up to a life together. The two central couples in the show (Jules/Grayson and Ellie/Andy) aren’t done as human beings, but the stories that the show has left to explore with them fall under an even smaller microscope. The “big” stories, in terms of Cougar Town, have to come from the other three core characters.
“You And I Will Meet Again” zooms in on two of these characters, Travis and Laurie, and produces what is by now an almost unsurprisingly solid episode. “Unsurprisingly” sounds like a negative word, but really, it’s a testament to how well Cougar Town has spun their journey from season one’s one-sided awkwardness into an intimate yet epic romance defined less by what they have than by what may never occur. The will-they/won’t-they story is as old as… well, stories, let’s be honest. But the Travis/Laurie material is less about their compatibility and more about their timing. It’s not enough for them to be right for each other. Life in general has to be right for them as well.
That’s where Cougar Town’s small scope comes into play. The obstacles that prevent these characters from being together don’t involve mystical curses, alien invasions, or centuries of domestic warfare. Those types of stories tend to feel contrived, as if their writers didn’t know how to keep two people apart without sending in an army of lizard people wielding bazookas. (Although, to be fair, that would cockblock anyone.) What keeps Travis and Laurie apart is more benign, but also much more relatable: differences in age, their respective relationship to Jules, and the sheer fact that each has taken a long time in order to be a good match for the other.
The journeys two people take in arriving at a state of compatibility almost never align, even if the pair involved are closer in age than these two. Cougar Town hasn’t simply demonstrated how much Travis needed to grow up in order to be worthy of Laurie—it also detailed how Laurie had to travel in order to be worthy of him—and that’s been a strong suit for the show. Those paths are insanely different, to be sure. If you drew them up, Family Circle-style, you’d have a series of wildly disparate dashed lines that only intersect occasionally (like, say, in “Southern Accents”) and then continue along their own, unique ways.
Both characters have room to maneuver so wildly because of the lack of restrictions on their lives. Unlike the other five members of the group, there’s more potential in what they can still accomplish. That doesn’t make what the two married couples have any less important or noble. It just means that Jules, Ellie, and their respective spouses have put down roots that keep them more or less tethered to a certain spot. Travis and Laurie have not felt that weight, and yet have also been often paralyzed by that freedom. When you can do anything, you often choose to do nothing. The two have danced around each other for a while, but the option to eventually make a move has always existed as a glimmer on the horizon. Each failed attempt to connect when their paths occasionally cross is sad—but not earth-shattering—because of this.
When the two part at the end of “You And I Will Meet Again”, however, it feels different. The return of Wade last week, and his subsequent moving in with Laurie, puts her in a place closer to where Jules is than where Travis is. Permanence isn’t guaranteed at this point, but it’s certainly a possibility. While Cougar Town has gone to lengths in making Wade a viable romantic partner for Laurie (I mean, she tells everyone she’d love him even if he wasn’t black), the dissonance between the way she thought her life might go and where it’s actually going is giving her pause. The dissonance comes from her settling down (although there’s that) as well as the fact that she’s not going to settle down with Travis.
After all, “Will they or won’t they?” is a fine configuration, but misses one key component. It’s not about “meeting someone and being happy” versus “not meeting someone and being miserable.” You can be perfectly happy with a host of different people. But with whom might you be happiest? That’s a different question altogether. This isn’t about Lady Mary marrying Sir Richard Carlisle versus Matthew Crawley on Downton Abbey. The idea of happily ever after doesn’t exist on Cougar Town, but that doesn’t mean happiness is absent. It means that happiness takes work to achieve, and that that work isn’t a chore—it’s what makes life worth living in the first place. That each couple on this show has to continually reaffirm their love and respect for another isn’t a bug, but a feature.
Recent episodes of the show (last week aside) got that mix slightly wrong, yielding characters that weren’t butting heads while working towards mutual goals so much as characters simply being mean to one another. It’s a delicate balance, and one that the show gets right far more than it gets wrong. While the majority of “You And I Will Meet Again” was about Travis and Laurie, the “sexiest day ever” plot involving Jules and Grayson still ties into the episode’s central theme. On one level, it’s tempting to look at this as a way to simply show off some skin (albeit in the one spot in the house that makes Jules look good). On the other hand, Naked Day is about Jules and Grayson actively ensuring they don’t fall into a rut early in their marriage. Season three ended with one of the most perfect weddings ever depicted on the small screen. (Seriously: watch it and try not to cry. If you don’t, you’re history’s greatest monster), but Jules and Grayson’s marriage only started when this season began. Had TBS not picked up the show, we could imagine their blissful life together. Season four has depicted a life far less perfect—and much more realistic—than that.
The Jules/Grayson story is a small one, but also one Cougar Town tells well. It’s a story involving people most TV shows or movies would assume no longer have tales to tell. They are characters that support the stories of other characters, such as Travis and Laurie. But while that latter pair might have more space in their lives for different types of adventures, the former pair has their own infinitesimal world in which to play. That world might look fairly limited from an outside perspective, ending at the end of the driveway where the morning paper arrives daily. But there’s a host of stories that can be told from the island in Jules’ kitchen, even if it takes Travis and Laurie a little while longer to truly join in on those types of stories themselves. There’s time yet. There’s always time. Even if it seems like time is running out.
- This week’s title card gag: “Courteney Cox’s boobs at 6:03”. Informational!
- I didn’t mention anything about the Andy/Bobby/Stan storyline up top, since it was the slightest of the episode’s three threads. But I liked Bobby’s parenting skills across the board, and am anxious for Cougar Town to pick up the threads from “Between Two Worlds” and push him to whatever the next level his character needs to achieve.
- I could complain that Tom is in the group yet still at the window, but I honestly couldn’t give a shit. Tom at the window (or slightly on the periphery of the crew) is funnier than him in the mix. Each line delivered as Jules’ “cheerleader” is well-deployed, and half of the fun comes from his distance from her.
- “All holes, all day!” Best rallying cry ever?
- “That’s gold, J-Bird, but why tell me?” Bobby’s reaction to Jules’ name for Grayson’s penis (“The American Way”) might be the funniest moment of the episode.
- Poor Wade. He’s going to go broke buying wine for the Cul-de-Sac Crew.
- Travis has actually been doing semi-well in getting dates this year. Both Game Of Thrones Girl and Green Screen Girl were pretty hot. I think he’ll be okay in the short-term.
- “It’s good. Because I can finally just let it go. I’m free.” Actually, check that, because not even Jules bought that Travis actually meant what he said there.
- Many thanks to Les Chappell for taking over last week during "Second Opinions". I'll be his Tom-esque cheerleader any day.