The cast of Friends will never escape the fact that they were once the cast of Friends. Regardless of how many other shows they appear on, how many movies they headline or whether or not they manage to find a cure for cancer, the first line of any of their obituaries is going to include language along the lines of “...who rose to prominence as a member of the main cast of NBC’s Friends.” It’s an unavoidable fact, given the show was so prominent in the zeitgeist for so long, has so much affection left over from people who watched it and continues to run ad infinitum in syndication. And it was a good show for the majority of its run, so there’s certainly worse things to put on your tombstone.
As such, it’s not surprising that the projects its cast has gone onto since have tried to cash in on affection for their big break with a bit of stunt casting. Cougar Town has done that twice now in its run, first in season one’s “Rhino Tooth” where Lisa Kudrow appeared as a caustic dermatologist and then in the season two premiere “All Mixed Up” where Jennifer Aniston appeared as Jules’ crazy psychiatrist. While it never moved the needle to any significant degree, the idea still makes sense on paper, so it makes sense that TBS would try it out as well with Courtney Cox’s former sitcom husband Matthew Perry. Not that he’ll likely boost the ratings much as despite his comic timing Matthew Perry has since become Showkiller Matthew Perry, with Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip, Mr. Sunshine (yay) and Go On not making it past a first season.
That being said, of the three Friends who have appeared on Cougar Town Perry’s the one the show makes the best use of, because “Like A Diamond” remembers that the cast of Friends worked best together when they were... well, friendly. Perry plays Sam, a wealthy venture capitalist who Jules rear-ends with her car and yet is instantly smitten with her, taking her out for coffee and showing up at her workplace. (“I’ve been sitting here for four hours! You don’t work very much, do you.”) Even though it’s been almost a decade since they were Monica and Chandler—yes, we are old—the chemistry that existed between Perry and Courtney Cox is still present as they’re once again bantering with each other over coffee and sharing an awkward flirtation. And thankfully, it’s devoid of direct Friends callbacks and references, always a minefield for this kind of cameo.
Why is Jules playing along with this? Well, in a very un-Monica fashion, she’s fallen behind on all of her bills, as her bright idea to avoid “tree murder” with electronic billing has ruined her schedule of paying bills as they arrive. With her car insurance lapsed, she’s got no choice but to play nice with Sam—a move that Grayson, surprisingly, is okay with. One of the main reasons Jules and Grayson have been such a good couple over the life of the show is that they have a similar narcissistic and chaotic approach to things, and it’s oddly comforting to see them bond over this shared deceit.. Theirs is a marriage that spends a lot of time on the dysfunctional side—witness their reaction to Ellie as make-out spectator—but it’s a solid one, and one we don’t need to worry about Sam breaking up.
Unfortunately, that fact doesn’t keep Sam from trying, and his carpe diem attitude and deep pockets lead him to go all in on Jules. In Cougar Town’s most ambitious set piece since “A One Story Town,” he brings in a full flash mob dance number and marching band set “Hooked On A Feeling,” building up to a marriage proposal. (“Like A Diamond” also marks the directorial debut of Brian Van Holt on Cougar Town, and while I don’t know if he randomly drew this episode he ably deals with the pageantry.) If the first scenes made him seem eccentric, this makes him seem legitimately crazy, which undermines some of the earlier work the two did in the first act. Yes, Cox also came across as loony when she appeared on Go On, but it built to that point for better comedic timing there. Here, it’s a lie spiraling out of control, just building up for a fall as Sam invests more and more in this relationship.
The resolution of the plot seems a little bit too clean as well: Rather than have Jules break Sam’s heart in front of his family, Grayson opts to be the bad guy by offering his own proposal. (Tom, who’s shipping Sam and Jules, is disappointed.) Even though we know that Grayson and Jules mean each of their expressions of love, the statements wind up feeling rushed as if they’re trying to get this plot over with as soon as possible. It feels unemotional, which is disappointing for a show as good at being emotional as Cougar Town can be. Sam’s exit also feels fast, and is one of the unfortunate parts of stunt casting like this: your stunt cast can’t stick around for long. (Especially when said stunt cast has a development deal going at CBS for The Odd Couple reboot.)
For the rest of “Like A Diamond,” it’s business as usual. Interestingly, after making Laurie and Travis’s relationship the central issue of the premiere it’s barely mentioned this week, and both characters get to have stories independent of each other. Ellie’s grown fed up with Laurie’s increasingly outlandish stories of her friends, family and sexual exploits, and the claimed existence of a black-haired doppelganger named Missy who never has any money is the last straw. She decides to follow the example of Carrie Mathison and David Rosen, assembling an elaborate board of connections and references trying to find the one lie that could undo anything. She finally finds it in a trip Laurie claimed she took to Belize—wherein she broke up a fight between two drug dealers using her body as an ice luge—and triumphantly exposes that Laurie’s passport means she’s never been to Belize. (Probably a good idea in the long run, given some of the connotations of taking a trip to Belize.)
The plot of Ellie attacking Laurie specifically is nothing new—recall the Simon subplot in season three’s “You Can Still Change Your Mind”—and once again, Laurie’s chiefly upset because it’s a core part of who she is being challenged. However, while it makes sense on paper there’s still a bit of emptiness to the execution, as Ellie doesn’t seem to be doing this for any reason other than being bored and Laurie’s hurt doesn’t seem proportionate to the effort Ellie goes to track down Missy. It’s fun to go through Laurie’s weird and twisted stories (see the stray observations for more), but that’s about all holding the story together.
For Travis’s part, he’s in another cycle of having to be more responsible than his father, as the weather forecast’s 10 percent chance of snow has thrown Bobby into childlike glee at the prospect of a snow day. It’s a lighter story for Bobby—understandably given Van Holt was busy directing the episode—but it’s more important because it reminds us of some of Bobby’s more endearing traits. Last week in the comments there were a few of you talking about how Bobby seems to be getting dumber as the series goes along, and this is a nice reminder that a large part of his dense nature is because he’s essentially just a big kid at heart. Of course just the chance of snow is enough to lead him to buy a full winter outfit (“You look like the hero in an 80s ski movie!” Andy excitedly says), borrow a pizza peel to turn his golf cart into a snowplow and give Dog Travis a whiskey barrel for rescues. Sure, it may not snow, but he legitimately believes the chance is there—an optimism that’s so contagious Andy needs to reward it by simulating the snow.
And it’s not a surprise that for all the pomp and circumstance of Sam’s $200,000 proposal, it’s seeing the Cul-De-Sac crew playing in the snow that’s the most rewarding part of the episode. While “Like A Diamond” uses one of its Friends connections better than they’ve been used before, it still suffers from the fact that adding Perry for an episodoe takes up a lot of the show’s oxygen, and keeps the cast from pinging off each other to maximum efficiency. It’s nice to remember the old days, but even better to focus on the connections you’ve got right in front of you.
- Title card: Now with more Friends. (For more Monica/Chandler Friends nostalgia, check out Vulture’s excellent piece from last year on how the writers’ room decided to pair them up in the first place.)
- This week in Jules Doesn’t Get Movies: The Silence Of The Lambs. “There are silent lambs?” “Well, not really, they were more of a symbol.”
- I am stunned that once introducing Bobby and Andy as wearing knit caps that said “Best” and “Friends,” the writers didn’t have a single joke of Andy standing between Jules and Sam. That’s remarkable restraint.
- I’m in the tank for Dog Travis, so of course I found the image of him with a whiskey barrel around his neck and Bobby trying to break the news of no snow to him the best moment of the entire episode.
- Partial list of Laurie’s life stories: She was born and conceived in a Jacuzzi, her father was a philandering politician, she’s had five stepdads and countless foster fathers, her cousin slept with Robin Williams and got her foot caught in his arm hair, she’s been medically dead four times (“Beach, rave, rodeo, Kid Rock show”), was molested by a dolphin, attacked by an animatronic bear, goes to a psychic whose hands were ripped off by a chimp, has one friend who “dropped fetus” on the dance floor, a friend with robot arms (“Ooh, Amanda!”) and a friend with robot legs (“Ugh, Nessie”).
- “Can’t help you there. Just watching this makes me ovulate.”
- Loved the closing tag outtakes of Perry and Cox messing around. “Grayson. Monica.”