Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Cougar Town: "Free Fallin'"

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One of the things I really value in comedy is weirdness. I don’t like weirdness for its own sake; I usually like it to be tied to a story that then has weird touches around the edges. But if a show can come up with something from out of left field that, nonetheless, fits within its universe, then I’m usually pretty happy. And despite a few problems around the edges of “Free Fallin’,” I’d say this was the weirdest episode of Cougar Town maybe ever. For God’s sake, you can’t just toss out a storyline where Grayson and Ellie confront a bunch of pale children who like to make chalk drawings of rainbows and apparently can cause chaos with their minds and not expect me to laugh. And the episode’s other two storylines—involving Jules and Travis having something very like a one-night stand and Lou Diamond Phillips becoming the face of Penny Can—were similarly oddball.

The best thing about this is that the episode never really left the show’s reality. The kids that the characters face off with LOOK like the kids from Village Of The Damned, but we never really see them do anything other than stare threateningly. If they’d actually started breaking branches and destroying stuff (as Tom insists they do) with their minds or even with their hands, then the whole gag would fly too far off the tracks to work. In a recent interview I did with Community creator Dan Harmon (that should appear sometime next week), he talked about the need for stories on sitcoms to not get so wacky that they break the show’s reality and offered a test he uses, which is whether he can picture the story appearing in the local newspaper. Two bored suburbanites getting into a feud with some weird little kids? That could maybe, maybe, maybe be a quirky human interest story on page 15 on a slow news day. A bunch of kids who terrorize the neighborhood with mind powers? That’s the most important news story of all time.

Where I’m going with this is that a show like Cougar Town can BE weird, but it needs to stay somewhat within the realm of reality, too. When I try to insist this show is weird to some of my friends, they’ll often think I’ve lost it, because this is nowhere near as weird as, say, Squidbillies (is that show still on the air?). It’s just about a bunch of friends who hang out all of the time, right? Well, sure, and that’s a fairly traditional sitcom trope, but at the same time, the show finds so many ways to have fun around the edges of that idea that it rarely feels tired, like just another spin on the same old idea. My point (and I swear I have one in here somewhere because even I’m getting lost) is that the Village Of The Damned stuff was hilarious, but it’s also probably way out there at the limits of the show’s weirdness. I’d dare the writers to prove me wrong, but I wouldn’t want the show to fall apart. Still, I laughed a lot, and I liked the way that it managed to briefly make Tom feel like a part of the group and gave him more of a motivation than “creepy neighbor.” The show’s got a big heart, and it encompasses even the weird guy who comes and sticks his head in your window when he sees the curtains are open.

Next, we move on to the story of Travis finally getting out of the house, thanks to Jules and Bobby’s awesome parenting (there’s sarcasm in there somewhere). The weird bond between Jules and Travis has been a little over-the-top a few times this season, and in theory, I should have been kinda horrified by the scenes where Jules all but has a one-night stand with her son, but at the same time, they were sort of the farthest-out, most logical extensions of the whole basic idea that the relationship between these two is terrifying and clingy. So I laughed at Travis regressing and leaving Jules the opening to be tempted back into treating him like she used to (we all backslide). And I really liked the scenes where Jules woke up and found the note from Travis on his pillow and where Grayson pretended to be Travis and ended up making out with Jules. They were creepy and weird and potentially offputting but somehow still funny. (I was less enamored with the Jules and Bobby parenting cheer, which was kind of obnoxious.)

And, finally, let’s just get this out there: I’m kind of getting tired of Penny Can. It was a good time there for a while, and the game seems like a lot of fun, but every time it pops up, it feels a little more forced to me, particularly with the endless rule extensions. That said, it was great to have Lou Diamond Phillips return, bringing with him many, many Penny Can endorsement opportunities. Barry Bostwick is one of my favorite occasional guest stars on the show, and I liked the scene in the board room where they first revealed the new Lou Diamond Phillips Penny Can Can (which has a chain of lights around the top, climbs walls, and says, “Way,” when you say, “Way”). I also like the idea that selling out gives Bobby the money to really start over in his life (and that the scene where he signs the paperwork to sell out takes place at a prominently promoted Subway, which is a winking joke that doesn’t call attention to itself), because that’s often how selling out—even on something as stupid as Penny Can—works (hence the “sell” part of that equation). And having Travis end up on the boat? That feels like the sort of thing we’ve been building to for quite a while.

So we’ve got plenty of places to go in next week’s one-hour finale, which will take the story to Hawaii for some reason (well, I know why, but I’m not telling). And since next week’s episode is an “event” episode that will live or die based on how well it lives up to the event status, I feel fairly comfortable in saying that Cougar Town’s second season has been a nice step up over the first, with a simultaneous increase in weird inside jokes and emotional heart. As I’ve said before, it’s not the kind of show that’s on everyone’s wavelength, but if it IS on your wavelength, then you probably love it as much as anything on the air right now. And it works for me, and I do.


Stray observations:

  • Sorry if this one makes no sense, folks. I’ve gotten something like 10 hours of sleep over the last four days.
  • I hope Lou Diamond Phillips moves in on the cul-de-sac. He’d make an excellent new roommate for Tom, and then the show could drop in on their place every so often. I know I’m an ideas man. You don’t have to tell me.
  • For all of the weirdness in this episode, it did have some genuinely sweet and touching moments, like Jules and Travis getting to relive their beach days (complete with extras who, from the back, at least, looked like Jules and young Travis).
  • Why would you ever wash off a chalk drawing some neighborhood kids did? That just seems churlish, Grayson!
  • Remember: Bees are attracted to women’s periods. Tom just wants you to be aware so you can be prepared. (What a strange, strange show.)
  • "Worst weekend of my life."
  • "I wanna stop working out of my boat and built a giant can shaped office."
  • "Jules left her curtains open. That's her signal for me to come over."
  • "That one's the leader."
  • "Oh, sweetie, those people actually died."
  • "Hey, this is Lou Diamond Phillips saying, 'Penny can.'"
  • "They draw what they dream."
  • "Hey, let's take everything awesome about the first movie and puke Bon Jovi all over it."
  • "Me?" "Travis." "Good. I think."
  • "That's just my thinking face."
  • "It's the fresh start I've dreamed about for us."
  • "I like that we added a baby, but I don't think you should shoot it."