Cougar Town: “You Can Still Change Your Mind”
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Cougar Town: “You Can Still Change Your Mind”

Cougar Town has been on such a roll this season that it’s no surprise to see it hit a slight rough patch with this week’s outing. It’s just too bad this road bump occurs after two unplanned weeks off thanks to Dancing With The Stars recap shows airing in lieu of ABC’s normal comedy lineup. “You Can Still Change Your Mind” isn’t by any stretch a bad episode, but it sometimes falls into the pitfalls that non-fans often incorrectly associate with this show. Many of the third-season episodes have featured earned dramatic moments in their final moments, but the three this week have varying levels of success.

The strongest top-to-bottom story in “You Can Still Change Your Mind” finds Bobby at a crossroads with Angie. While Sarah Chalke didn’t have a lot to do in “Something Big,” she’s front and center this time around as Angie and Bobby try to suss out what the future holds for them as a couple. Bobby starts out the week atop the world, and by association, so too does Andy. The two work almost like Elliot and E.T., with the well being of one proportional to the well being of the other. So both are equally hurt to see Angie smooching another guy. Turns out, she didn’t view herself and Bobby as an exclusive couple. So while she didn’t cheat, she’s certainly forcing Bobby to sort out his priorities.

Change is often the enemy of comedy, which makes a show like Parks And Recreation stand out for its commitment to constantly evolving its characters. I’m not sure Cougar Town moves at nearly the pace Parks And Rec does in this regard, but the Bobby of even last season wouldn’t have been as conflicted about Angie’s carefree attitude. The idea of commitment-free booty calls with a hot teacher wearing a pair of Zubaz sans underwear should sound like a dream for Bobby. It’s not simply that Bobby has turned into Ted over on How I Met Your Mother, all ready for the idea of a serious relationship in the abstract. It’s Angie specifically that pushes him to this new plateau, which makes their breakup all the more disheartening. Still, it’s less painful than watching her string him along over the course of the next few episodes. As a viewer, it’s a bummer to know Chalke won’t be part of this world anymore. But it’s a meaningful move meant to indicate just how much Bobby has grown up.

Angie also intersects with the Jules plot of the week as well. Travis’ interest in photography has skyrocketed under her tutelage, and he wants to take the pictures at Jules’ wedding with Grayson. The problem? The pictures from her first wedding feature disembodied figures and far too many pictures of Bobby’s uncle’s junk. Jules wants to support Travis and his ambitions, but also doesn’t enjoy Travis’ body of work. (He enjoys taking the “beauty out of beauty,” which doesn’t sound like something you’d want to put on a wedding photographer business card.) Travis’ excitement over the wedding feels a bit over-the-top, until you realize he’s more excited about the chance to practice his passion, rather than anxious about helping out his mother. 

Grayson tries to give advice, since “Day Two” now has quite the ego after 48 hours of minding Tampa. Cougar Town has ramped up Grayson’s self-involvement this season, and when it comes to his time as a model, it’s all harmless fun. But his smug attitude about parenting comes as much out of left field as Jules suddenly realizing his place is full of wedding photos from his previous marriage. Pile on the ’90s drawer filled with belly chains and nose strips, and you have a lot of stuff cluttering up what should be a clean, concise story. As such, by the time Jules gets to finally supporting Travis via motherly love and CGI shark-punching, it doesn’t feel as emotionally charged as the moment in which Jules saved Travis from Domination Ball back in “Lover’s Touch.”

The less said about the Ellie/Laurie plot, the better. This show walks a fine line between friends giving each other grief and geographically close denizens mocking the shit out of each other. The Simon plot felt like it triple jumped over the line from the former into the latter, with neither character particularly coming out well from their time together. Putting aside the fact that Simon is an ’80s toy, not a ’90s toy, the entire way in which Ellie went out of her way to make Laurie feel bad felt tonally out of character for both. Earlier, I talked about how Bobby has evolved as a character. Well, so too have Ellie and Laurie. Their interactions tonight would have seemed extreme in season one, albeit still within the bounds of their characters at that time. But as Laurie points out tonight, all of their subsequent interactions have been couched in the understanding that there’s deep affection for one another. Their plot tonight feels absent of any affection whatsoever. 

In short: This was a slight bump in the road in an otherwise stellar season. Getting the mix right each week is a nearly impossible task, so it’s better to focus on those episodes that have worked this season and assume we’ll get more of that sooner rather than later. If Cougar Town struggled as much with balancing its disparate elements as Jules does with her newly baby-proofed cabinet drawers, maybe there would be cause for concern. But there’s hardly any glass in our metaphorical wine glasses at this point. 

Stray observations:

  • Grayson is totally right: Looking at the horror show that is a nose strip post-removal is indeed the best part.
  • Grayson is totally wrong: We need to call his daughter Tampa. It’s just funnier.
  • Ding dong, Travis’ helmet is dead! After last outing’s line stepping, that’s probably for the best.
  • I always enjoy the return of the truth gun, which runs a close second to Penny Can in terms of my favorite recurring gag.
  • A more amusing example of how naïve Laurie is? “Look at the cute little elephant called ‘Bob Dole.’”
  • Nobody writes better Andy/Bobby fanfic than… Andy. I assume.
  • The origin story of the name “Jellybean”? I would have kept that little nugget a secret. Not much of a payoff there, really.
  • Continuity error alert: Travis notes Grayson enjoys being the “little spoon” when he and Jules cuddle. Yet the photo shows the opposite. Yes, I notice these things. No, I’m not proud.
  • While this week didn’t work for me, the next three episodes are uniformly stellar. Lots of fun stuff coming down the pipe for fans of the show.

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