Cougar Town – “Don’t Come Around Here No More”

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“Don’t Come Around Here No More”

November 4th, 2009

It’s been a while (since, you know, the show’s pilot) since I’ve visited Cougar Town from a critical perspective, as the show has largely stood to serve as background for my Modern Family review writing. There are worse fates for a series, of course, such as not watching them at all, but with Cougar Town I feel as if there’s a definite need to say something about a show that’s been unfairly maligned in some respects and quite fairly attacked in others.

There were moments in the first six episodes of the show that it became the show that some critics and viewers make it out to be, an overacted farce of an insufferable woman dating a younger man. But what I liked about the show was that it was never just that show, never just a show about that particular phenomenon. Instead, the show was about a woman dealing with a lousy ex-husband who remains in her life, an overly critical best friend, a dependent co-worker, a sarcastic son, an antagonistic neighbour, etc. And what makes me stick with the show is that for all of Courteney Cox’s overacting (which is truly bad at points) is that, by and large, I like those character. I like Bill Lawrence’s writing style, I like the dynamic between the different characters (Bobby remaining friends with Ellie’s husband, for example), and I think there’s an engaging show here.

And to be honest, I thought “Don’t Come Around Here No More” brought it out. With Jules’ boyfriend out of the picture, the show becomes a show about a “cul-de-sac crew” rather than about simply Jules’ character, and even elements of the episode which in theory should have amplified Jules’ worst qualities connected for me. It’s still not a perfect series, but this half-hour was a lot of fun and I’m not going to pretend my Modern Family review wasn’t later because of it.

It makes sense that this episode would move away from Jules’ insanity, considering that last week we got rid of poor, poor Josh. The idea of giving Jules a younger boyfriend wasn’t a terrible one, but their break-up was the sort of protracted affair that just didn’t work in practice. Cox was too prone to diving into Jules’ neuroses with abandon, and the entire thing just didn’t work. Here, however, the show makes Jules’ very aware of one of her neuroses (her inability to remain alone) to the point where she purposefully attempts to curb that behaviour. As a result, the character is more toned down, and the episode is better for it. Even when we get the montage (which the show has put to good use in the past) of her time alone, which I thought would have the character losing her mind, it’s more frustrating than crazy, and the only over-acting is a justified reaction to a crocodile. I was fully expecting it to be a total mess, but it ended up being pretty enjoyable. The episode synopsis claims that the episode is actually about Jules going on a date with an older man, but rather than being the point of the episode it pretty much is just a brief aside before focusing on more interesting things.

The episode is also helped by having quite a few fun elements for the men, who have really been holding down the fort on the show even as Jules has been particularly all over the place. The episode had a chance to go into a really annoying place by turning Jules’ sex dream about Grayson into an ongoing sense of tension, but her neighbourly overshare makes it a quick little note before the episode goes for something a bit more subtle. The show has slowly been wearing down Grayson to become part of the group, and I thought the troubadouring and the Rudy viewing were both examples of why I like both Josh Hopkins and this character. He is willing to criticize Jules where others aren’t, and I like what he adds to the show – plus, let’s face it, “Comfortable in my Sexuality” was kind of catchy.

The episode also succeeded in making Jules’ decision to break the bet into something more than a crazy and wacky journey. She breaks it not through slapstick attempts to avoid doing so but by accepting that people need her, or that people want to talk to her, or that she needs people too. The episode has no greater moral than the importance of having a group of people around you, and in the process the show demonstrated it has the same feeling about its ensemble. I genuinely love this cast on paper, and they’re doing some fine work both with broad comedy (Dan Byrd playing both the pumpkin explosion and the awkward flirting with gusto) and with more emotional stuff (like the always great Brian Van Holt helping bring Ellie and Andy back together). It’s just an enjoyable cast, and when an episode feels designed to work with them the show clicks.

It’s still not perfect, some jokes falling flat here and there and Busy Phillipps’ wonderful performance never quite making me care about Laurie as I may about other characters, but I am charmed by this show’s universe. It will be interesting to see if the show returns to Jules’ younger lovers in earnest, or her love life in general, but this episode demonstrates that Lawrence and Co. see as much as we do that the show is more engaging as an ensemble piece than as “Cox Gone Wild.”

Cultural Observations

  • This is the moment where I have to admit that I’ve never watched The Shawshank Redemption or the final 2/3 of Rudy. *Ducks*
  • It’s interesting to see that the show has been retaining more of the Modern Family lead-in than one might have anticipated: it doesn’t seem as if the show would be entirely compatible especially considering how divisive Cox’s character has been, but it’s been holding well since it got its full season order.
  • While we’re here, in case you didn’t hear, Scrubs (in its new format) will debut its 9th season on December 1st, at which point Bill Lawrence will officially have taken over ABC. It’s not clear if ABC’s stroke of luck with non-Hank comedies this season will extend to his other show, but I hope it does for both it and Better Off Ted (which arrives December 8th for its second season).
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