Heading into the end of its second season, Cougar Town has built up a nice head of steam. Last week’s episode—which I thank Michaelangelo for reviewing so ably—was one of my two or three favorites of the season, and I liked this one almost as much (in fact, I’m hard pressed to explain why I’m giving this one the “minus,” outside of my growing suspicion that the show is leaning a LITTLE heavily on the music montages at this point in its run). The jokes are hitting as hard as the show ever hits, and the stories are consistently goofy and winning. Meanwhile, the big, dramatic storylines are bubbling along nicely as well. It was pretty obvious that Kirsten was going to say no to Travis—the show wasn’t going to make her a regular, sadly (though it totally should have!)—but the moment when she did was still well-handled, with much of Travis’ proposal to his girlfriend taking place in wide-shot, from Jules and Grayson’s point-of-view. It’s the little things that matter, and shifting the proposal to this perspective was one of those little things that worked.
But let’s talk about something that’s always funny: canes! One of the greatest of all Newsradio episodes featured Bill McNeal wandering around with a cane, using it to add emphasis to all of his sentences and just generally make a nuisance of himself. Tonight, Jules took a spill down the stairs, resulting in her having to use a cane, and while her use of the cane wasn’t as funny as Bill’s was (wisely, the show didn’t even really try to compete on this front), I’m going to see this as a Newsradio homage anyway. And Jules using the cane to whack anybody who crossed her was still funny, simply because I enjoy seeing people get hit, preferably with canes. Anyway, this is a lesson for all TV showrunners out there: more cane-related humor.
Moving on to stuff that had greater emphasis within the episode, let’s talk another thing that’s (almost) always funny: characters who have little in common switching lives for a little while, via largely improbable comic devices! Of course Jules wouldn’t so quickly devolve into an utter mess while living on Bobby’s boat (for just two days!), but the exaggeration of the whole thing was hilarious, through and through. Life on Bobby’s boat has been one of those things that the show has always offered little hints about, and those hints have usually been very funny. Tonight’s episode really layered on the Bobby’s boat gags, but my favorite might have been the inspired addition of a homeless guy named Shark, who wanders around with a surfboard poking out of a shopping cart and trawls for food. Just hearing Bobby describe Shark was great; seeing Shark’s “fin” appear over the edge of the boat, then his hand appear onboard, searching for something to eat or drink (finally settling on Jules’ wine), was even better. Cougar Town needs a great, never-seen character like Maris on Frasier or Vera on Cheers, and I nominate Shark. (Man, I’m in an agreeable mood tonight.)
I enjoyed almost everything in the “Jules and Bobby swap living situations” storyline, but the little touches around the edges really sold it for me. Jules started drinking wine out of a vase while onboard the boat (of course), and the group had to hang out with Bobby in the mornings, instead of with Jules. (Also, Bobby and Andy used towels to sumo wrestle, and OF COURSE they wore underwear, wink, wink, nudge, nudge.) Bobby’s got a drawer full of his “little buddies,” which turned out to be cockroaches. Dog Travis made numerous appearances, and Jules gradually descended into a dirty, stinky mess. This was all pretty basic sitcom 101 type stuff, but it was supremely well-executed and very, very funny.
The other big running gag of the episode involved the crew deciding, at the behest of Laurie, to form an ad hoc secret council, known as The Council, to decide on punishments and demerits for members of the crew who have disappointed the others in some way or another. This wasn’t so much of a plot as it was one of those inside jokes that rolls along amusingly, with each new punishment topping the last, until we had Andy locked in a car or Ellie sitting on top of a building or Bobby wondering what his punishment was (which, of course, was his punishment). I like when the show has the crew do silly, competitive things like this, so I liked this storyline.
But all of this silliness was surrounding the true center of the episode: Travis’ decision to propose to Kirsten, an idea that everybody realizes is a bad one, even as they resolve to stay out of his life and let him make his own mistakes. That is, they do so until Grayson figures out that Kirsten’s going to say no, that she loves Travis, but she’s ready to start a life of her own on her own. And since Jules has been bugging Grayson about being closer to Travis, well, he decides to tell Travis, but Travis won’t listen. Sure, Kirsten might say that about her BOYFRIEND, but would she say it about a FIANCE? As it turns out, yes, and when she turns him down, the moment is devastating, even as it leads to a really sweet and genuine moment onboard the boat, when Jules and Grayson try to tell Travis that he’s a Cobb and he can get through anything, even the worst day of his life. And then both let him know how much they love him, in a great scene that suggests the show has decided to stick to its decision to keep Jules from butting into Travis’ life. But that doesn’t mean she won’t be there for him after things go sour.
One of the complaints I hear from people who don't like Cougar Town is that they just don’t buy that these people are the surrogate family for each other we’re clearly meant to believe they are. But I don’t see how you can watch an episode like this and NOT see that kind of bond between these characters. Sure, they’re hard on each other, and sure, they drive each other (and us) nuts from time to time, but when everything heads south, they’re there for each other in a way that’s somehow immensely believable and satisfying. The end of this episode ties everybody together in a way that feels earned and, ultimately, moving.
Aw, heck. I’m in a good mood. Let’s get that minus out of here. A all the way!
- The National popped up in this episode, and while I love that band, I thought Jason Katims had called exclusive dibs on that band forever at the annual meeting of TV showrunners?
- Maybe Dog Travis and Kirsten could have a spinoff together where they solve crimes while driving around in a Winnebago?
- I don’t know if you saw, but I interviewed Busy Philipps a few weeks ago, and the interview went live on the site earlier this week. She says some interesting things about the process through which the show evolved and what it’s like to work on the show, including discussing a joke that got cut because it was too much for even her. Go check it out!
- “Hopefully, the karma gods are having lunch with Santa, at a restaurant called We Don’t Exist.”
- "You better pay all my bitches!"
- "People assume I know Farsi."
- "One soy latte for Lady J. Love Explosion."
- "It is time for some justice, foster-home style, except without the coat hanger brandings."
- "We'll form a secret council called… The Council."
- "We slept in shifts, unless we were really cold or homesick."
- "He's a homeless dude who pushes around a shopping cart with a surfboard hanging out the back. When he shows, I want you to throw him some food, or he gets aggressive."
- "Just me, a vase full of wine, and a smelly, wet bear that just puked up flip flop."
- "I once made a turquoise bolo tie for Lou Diamond Phillips."
- "Why are you throwing cans at me?"
- "You wanna catch crabs, you gotta be patient." "Or unlucky."
- "That's what friends are: people you can constantly crap on." This is pretty much the official motto of this show.