Cougar Town – “Feel a Whole Lot Better”

“Feel a Whole Lot Better”

May 5th, 2010

In Scrubs’ first season, J.D. and Elliot were two people who should logically be together: they were clearly attracted to one another, they were both young and attractive, and they were the male and female leads on a television comedy series. However, in the span of a forty-minute episodes entitled “My Bed Banter & Beyond,” the two characters decide to embark on a relationship after spending a day in bed having sex and chatting about the future of their relationship. The episode cuts back and forth between their time in bed on that first day and their attempts to make the relationship work in the real world, and at the end (spoiler alert), they realize it was all a mistake, and just as we finally see them part as young lovers on that first day we see them broken apart a few weeks later. It was a really fantastic episode of television in terms of breaking down and psychoanalyzing the show’s decision to not follow through on that pairing, and it was the sort of subtle and effective storytelling that would abandon the show and that relationship until the show’s eighth season.

I was just saying to my friend Colin yesterday that Cougar Town is shaping up into a spiritual successor to Scrubs in certain areas, so it’s fitting that the show would introduce its own play on that episode and its functions with “Feel a Whole Lot Better,” another in a pretty long line of really strong episodes for the show. Playing out the “Will They, Won’t They” outside of the thralls of young love and within the dynamics of two divorcees trying to keep from being lonely for the rest of their lives, the episode plays out the consequences from Jules and Grayson’s hookup last week by having the characters lie to themselves about the dramatic conflict apparent in the story. While the episode skips over some of last week’s subtexts that could have made this even more complicated, they manage to squeeze in a lot of story which transforms last week’s hookup into something definitive.

And thus the transformation from “What the hell is this” to “the new Scrubs” continues.

We open immediately on Jules and Grayson the morning after their hookup, at which point the show kicks into gear: Grayson admits he took advantage of her fragility, Jules seems fine with it, and then the Friends with Benefits idea is floated. Usually I’d scream sitcom plot, but the show was so brazen about it that it sort of works. Grayson is the one who notes that he doesn’t want anything to change, as he’s become attached to being part of the Cul-de-Sac Crew (trying out new show names?), and he’s become used to being her friend, and he doesn’t want to lose any of that. It’s a logical reason why he would jump to “FWB” as a logical solution to their situation, getting closer to Jules without placing his position in the group into jeopardy should something go wrong. For this relationship to work we need to understand why both characters want to be involved with one another and why they might resist their feelings, so having Grayson initiate that plan out of fear of losing his (relatively new) friends rings true.

Similarly, Jules undergoes the logical transformation: while she is initially skeptical, since I’m pretty sure Jules tends to overthink everything when it’s first proposed to her, once she starts falling into a relationship pattern everything changes (as that nice split-screen parallel sequence demonstrates as her tune changes to the precise opposite once she starts getting used to have Grayson around. Jules is not particular good with barriers, which often leads to the character going a bit too over-the-top; the difference now, compared to earlier in the season, is that it tends to manifest as love for her son (watching him as he sleeps) as opposed to a desire to bag a younger man. Here, she ends up losing her senses when she’s with Grayson, but she is eventually able to self-diagnose a case of the “inability to remain just friends with the guy she has feelings for” and channels her craziness into an honest speech about her feelings.

Put the two narratives together, and you have something very clear: two characters, driven by fear of loneliness towards one another, coming together by refusing to allow their fear to keep them from diving in. The episode doesn’t test out every situation regarding their relationship, but considering that the two characters end up together the show clearly wants some material for the rest of the season. “Feel a Whole Lot Better” doesn’t argue that they’re meant to be together, or that everything is going to work out fine, but I found it pretty realistic in how these sorts of “Will They, Won’t They” situations would play out with with two 40-year old characters on a slightly weird sitcom. They have their moments of levity (their “classy” signal for when they want to hookup), and they have their moments of drama, and they come to a logical conclusion without things spiraling out of control and without their final kiss turning into a joke (as we saw last week). Hopkins and Cox have a lot of chemistry, and this episode did little to wear the relationship thin, so I’m excited to see where it goes in the future.

The “B-Story” of the episode was perhaps a bit more laboured, but Christa Miller finally got a dramatic story all her own as she struggled to deal with her self-consciousness about having a nanny when she isn’t actually working. On the one hand, it seems out of character for Ellie considering that she is usually so unbreakable when it comes to these things, but it makes sense that this would be a “weak spot” and that Laurie would pounce on it. The character needs to show a softer side on occasion, and this seemed like something which would bring that to light: it helped that the character didn’t just mope about it, and that she got to drink some wine on the sidewalk and set up her “office” with wine and almonds at Jules’ house. I thought the episode rushed to Laurie’s “you’re my hero” speech for the sake of tying the story into the other “happy” conclusions, but I like the dynamic between the two characters, and the Nanny will open up more opportunities for Andy/Ellie to logically spend time away from Stan (although I admittedly don’t worry about the kid as much as I probably should).

Bobby and Travis’ quest for the balloon never really came together as its own story, seemingly existing as a commentary on the Jules/Grayson story (the balloon chase not being well thought-out [just like their relationship], Bobby leaping off the building without knowing what was there [just like their relationship], etc.), but Andy running into a pole and the running moustache gag were fun enough that they get away with it. Plus, the bait-and-switch as Bobby was actually in the race to get Travis a car was the sort of endearing thing which is very “Bobby,” and the way the show has managed to keep the character fairly unintelligent and make him immensely likable at the same time is truly a testament to Brian Van Holt.

When Grayson was so worried about the group dynamic being thrown off by their relationship, I was right there with him: the show is on such a roll that a big shift like this one might seem dangerous. However, while Scrubs had good reason to put off the relationship early on, Grayson and Jules as characters don’t really have a reason to not take this particular chance, and so “Feel a Whole Lot Better” doesn’t mess around with it. I do sort of wish that the show had an extra seven minutes of story like Scrubs did with its super-sized episode, but I think they made do without it, and nicely transitioned from a potential one-night-stand into something that can be part of the show’s wacky cohesiveness.

Cultural Observations

  • My one major complaint about the episode: no Dog Travis. He would have been invaluable chasing that balloon.
  • Speaking of the balloon, I really liked the nonchalant way that Jules stepped into that story, explaining to Laurie that it’s sometimes easier to just do what Bobby says without asking why.
  • One difference between “My Bed Banter & Beyond” and this episode: J.D. and Elliot’s relationship was revealed to everyone once the secret was done, but this time around only Ellie was brought into the loop. The show clearly has to deal with the other characters (Travis and Bobby in particular) dealing with the new relationship, but since this one is going to continue (and J.D. and Elliot were not) they can save that for another week.
  • I wish we had gotten more of Jules and Grayson’s “Friends with Benefits” song in the tag, but I guess moustaches are fine too.
  • In terms of recurring characters, disappointed to see Barb return and intrigued to see Smith pop up so casually. I think that Ryan Devlin fits in nicely with the cast, but knowing he was cast in a pilot (as I noted last week) still keeps me from fully investing.

1 Comment

Filed under Cougar Town

One response to “Cougar Town – “Feel a Whole Lot Better”

  1. rosengje

    I also enjoyed the way Jules was incorporated into the Bobby-Travis plot. It wasn’t done as deftly, but it was somewhat similar to Ellie seeing both Andy and Stan while drinking outside. I like when shows give us touches of storylines overlapping and people moving in and out of other’s designated portions of the episode. Definitely gives the series a sense of community.

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