“All Mixed Up”
September 22nd, 2010
I am officially to the point where I am done “defending” Cougar Town: I refuse to accept that anyone who has recently watched the series could think it is anything but honest, earnest and hilarious, and so I’m just going to pretend that there are no naysayers out there. While many turn to Modern Family for their television comfort food on Wednesdays, for me Cougar Town manages to hit the same emotional notes while abandoning neither the honesty nor the snark.
There is nothing complex about “All Mixed Up,” largely relying on the strong interpersonal dynamics that developed over the course of last season, but the episode says something about those dynamics in light of recent changes. It successfully makes the argument that while their relationships will sustain them through any number of challenges in life, it will not be able to make it so that those challenges don’t exist. This is a starkly honest show (as I note above), and this allows them to say something tangible and real about their characters without introducing false conflict.
In other words, things aren’t “All Mixed Up” at all.
Jennifer Aniston’s therapist character fits seamlessly into the world of Cougar Town: she’s a bit broad, she’s a bit crazy, and Aniston shows off some substantial comic chops in the role (especially compared with her mostly unfunny appearance on 30 Rock two seasons ago). However, at the same time, Bonnie is incompatible with the community the show has established: whereas the show is starkly honest, Bonnie is dishonest, disingenuous, and perhaps most importantly soulless. She and Jules are actually quite similar, in that both can act a bit crazy on occasion, but Jules’ friends ground her in something. Bonnie is not unlike what the show would be like if, instead of building out the community around Jules in response to early creative trouble, Bill Lawrence and Kevin Biegel had turned the character up to 11 and embraced her broadness.
The story’s eventual moral, as far as I can tell, is that Jules was reckless to stray outside of the community for advice: she should have simply asked Ellie, and going to a therapist was only going to damage her relationship with Grayson (in that she couldn’t understand the intricacies of her relationships with Travis, Bobby, or Grayson the way that Ellie could). It’s basically just an excuse to point out how tight-knit this group really is, and in the case of Jules it really is that simple: Aniston gets to play a fun and crazy character, Jules gets to go to the edge of being too crazy before coming to her senses, and Jules and Grayson get their romantic final moment.
However, what I liked about this theme is that as it twisted through the remainder of the episode it didn’t feel nearly as fleeting – while Bonnie might be out of Jules’ life until the point when the show decides they want to bring Aniston back, the other experiences with needing someone to talk to and connect with are being forever altered. For Laurie, Travis has always been the person who helped her feel younger, and who allowed her to remain connected to a younger generation. While the episode gives them one final hurrah, as she tricks him into sleep deprivation, in the end Travis is still moving off to school, and their relationship will still be irrevocably changed in light of that fact. Their relationship has always been a nice little sidebar for the show, and to see it highlighted here really made me appreciate the work that Busy Phillips and Dan Byrd have done with these characters.
For Bobby, though, he has the opposite problem of Jules: while she works best when she gets advice from her close friends, Bobby feels uncomfortable discussing his residual feelings for Jules with those who remain close friends with her. It’s a really nuanced way for Bobby to respond to Jules and Grayson’s relationship: his problem is not that they’re dating, but rather that he has lost the one person who was an “outsider” that he could talk to about those sorts of issues. Sure, he also doesn’t want to hear about Grayson and Jules’ relationship, and he’ll need to occasionally take out his frustration on a bench sign or two, but it’s the loss of a confidante that bums him out the most (since Dog Travis, although capable of discerning between happy and sad, has his limitations).
And thus, the episode becomes a multi-faceted glimpse into the Cougar Town community (the cul-de-sac crew, if you would). While the episode still has its giant glasses of wine, and the brilliant introduction (if not invention) of the Movie Mashup game, and a prominent guest star, it ended up becoming very clearly about the elements of the show which were most compelling last season and continue to be the series’ not-so-secret weapon. “All Mixed Up” makes it clear that things have not reset in any capacity from the changes instituted at the end of last season, but it reassures the viewer that the series’ core values have not been lost amidst those changes.
And whether people are willing to admit it or not, the result is one of the finest comedies on television.
- Movie Mashup really is a brilliant idea: I did a relatively easy one on Twitter, but here’s a blog exclusive – A young Swedish boy befriends the cold-hearted girl next door, and two hit men hiding away amidst European beauty.
- I am going to presume that Dan Byrd’s facial hair was a reflection of the character’s desire to mature himself before heading to college.
- Favourite moment in the episode? Probably Laurie’s imaginary opera gloves. Just fantastic.
- Dog Travis is the greatest characters ever created. That is all.