Cougar Town – “Turn This Car Around”

“Turn This Car Around”

March 24th, 2010

Earlier this week, How I Met Your Mother did an episode which more or less spoke to one of the more popular readings of the show: people think that Ted is a jerk, so they did an episode where the characters discussed whether Ted was a jerk. In the process, at least to my mind, they were able to control the narrative of Ted’s behaviour and use that unpleasantness in order to say something about their friendship.

I guess you could say that “Turn This Car Around” says the same thing about the love of wine and sleeping with younger women on Cougar Town. The episode becomes about “change,” which is one of those really terrifying words on most sitcoms (Chuck Lorre is shaking in his boots at the very thought of it, I’m sure), and the show ends up making a compelling argument for small changes, rather than large ones. Combine with a completely useless subplot that made me laugh a lot, and you’ve got a nice half-hour.

Cougar Town is one of those shows where there are some things that will never change, and other things that more or less have to change. There’s no way, for instance, that Jules is going to stop drinking wine, considering that no one who fills wine glasses to the top is going to suddenly go cold turkey. The show wasn’t making the argument that Jules was an alcoholic, but rather she was trying to prove that she is capable of making small changes in her life. And while the story took Courteney Cox dangerously close to the sort of over-the-top performance that got her in trouble early in the season, the show’s character didn’t let her get to that point; the fake intervention, perfectly in character for everyone (see: Grayson agreeing to attend but only saying “this is silly” because he, well, thought it was silly), pointed out that wine is part of the group dynamic, and Jules stepping away from that part of her life was damaging their dynamic. While they drink wine in humorous volumes, there’s no sign of any dependence (this isn’t that kind of sitcom), so this was a nice way of confirming the role of alcohol within the series.

That may not have been entirely necessary (I haven’t heard an outcry against their alcohol intake, but then again the audience is dwindling week by week), but it was a nice lead-in to the role of the question of change for Grayson. Sure, Sheryl Crow isn’t the world’s greatest actress, and the change in Grayson sort of happened overnight, but we knew that Grayson’s penchant for co-eds wasn’t going to be able to last forever, both because the show eventually wants to try its hand at the Jules/Grayson combination and because it has always been clearly labeled as a coping mechanism to get over his divorce. These scenes were intelligently written to basically force Grayson to talk to himself, or to Ellie, or the Bobby, about his situation. The show has a really fun dynamic, but it has some characters who have some serious growing to do, and I thought the show did a good job of hashing out Grayson’s situation without changing his position within the group too drastically.

Otherwise, let’s just get it out of the way: I’m entirely up for Brian Van Holt getting an Emmy nomination at this point. I’m fairly certain it won’t happen, but Bobby is the sort of character who can basically be given any subplot and make it feel unique to this show. Van Holt is capable of selling a fairly traditional “Character gets a dog” story like it’s some sort of revolutionary idea, and somehow a hula skirt made out of water bottles seems like a punchline for the ages. The story of “Travis” never bothers to be about what Bobby claimed it was about (the real Travis going away to college soon), but the canine elevator was a stroke of genius, and letting Andy get into a feud with the dog gave them some fun physical bits to play – it’s simple, but it works for the show, and I don’t want that side of things to ever “change.”

In the end, Jules proved she was able to change in that she isn’t going to talk on the phone while driving anymore – all it takes for sitcom characters to change, in other words, is driving your car into a pool or having a famous guest actress ask you probing questions. But with some nuanced responses rather than outlandish sitcom plots surrounding those stimuli, I buy the degrees of change we were shown here, and look forward to more in the future.

Cultural Observations

  • So, since the show is going to Season Two, and Travis is apparently heading off to college, it raises the question: how does the show handle it? They can send him to a local school, but do they have Bobby get a job as a custodian there to try to keep the characters connected? Have Andy guest lecture in his economics class? Have Grayson’s bar turn into the student hangout?
  • I’m not shocked that Jules near-death experience was so easily shrugged off, considering the show and all, but it was still a little bit bizarre.
  • Dogs are funny. Yes, that’s the entire observation.

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