Cougar Town – “The Damage You’ve Done”

“The Damage You’ve Done”

October 13th, 2010

When Cougar Town changed (for the better), it could have completely ignored its past: considering that Jules dating younger men was a failure, there was every ability for the show to just pack up and move on.

However, while the show did change its focus to the community developing amongst the characters, “The Damage You’ve Done” actively unearths the show’s past. Jules runs into one of her ex-boy toys, someone who I had completely forgotten existed, and the show returns to an event that I had no recollection of which it could have swept under the rug.

And yet, in some ways it’s Lawrence and Biegel showing off: they’re sticking their tongue out at the skeptics, proving that the community they’ve developed is strong enough to withstand explosive secrets. However, at the same time, the episode is not without its consequences, maintaining the sense of weight that the show has carried even as it has established its casual atmosphere.

I had no memory whatsoever of Grayson and Laurie sleeping together or that Matt existed, but I forgot for two different reasons. In the latter case, I was trying to forget, considering how much the show struggled during that period. However, in the former case, it just sort of slipped my mind: once Grayson and Jules got together, it didn’t seem to matter anymore, especially since there were no emotional feelings and it more or less resolved itself before it really began. Once the show’s sense of community was established, it didn’t need such secrets hanging over things for the show to move forward, and so to see it return was sudden, and a little bit concerning.

What becomes clear, though, is that nothing is actually in danger – there is no chance of Grayson and Jules are going to break up, or that Jules and Laurie aren’t going to be friends. As I argued last week, the show is all about giving the impression of tension when in reality nothing is going to go irrevocably wrong. And so Jules gets over Grayson sleeping with Laurie, Laurie sleeping with Grayson, and Ellie keeping the secret from her. It’s a confirmation that the characters share a particularly bond, and the moment where Ellie is forced to admit that Jules will never leave Laurie behind speaks nicely to how the antagonistic relationship between Ellie and Laurie does fade away at the end of the day.

However, what makes the episode work is that there is not a lack of consequences – when it became clear that Smith was balking at this newest drama, and starting to second guess his relationship with Laurie, we realize that this will not end “happily.” I like the idea that when something this substantial is revealed something will have to change: just as Travis going to college changes the terms of his relationship with Kylie, news of Grayson and Laurie’s affair becoming public creates a new context for Laurie’s relationship with Smith. It might seem like something small, but it’s a test of any good relationship. If it lasts through something like this it has the potential to be real, but if it falls apart then it’s proof that it was never meant to be. While there was never any question that Laurie and Grayson’s fling had no real meaning, Laurie believed that her relationship with Smith was something more than that, and so to see it end was heartbreaking for both the character and the audience.

In other words, the episode establishes that while secrets are unlikely to shake the foundation of the series, it has the ability to disrupt those elements which are more temporary. So, based on how these secrets (Jules’ boy toy beginnings, Grayson and Laurie’s affair) land in the episode, perhaps we could presume and Jules and Grayson’s relationship is close to permanent. However, that doesn’t mean that Travis’ relationship with Kylie is going to last forever, or that there won’t be more transient figures within the show’s world; while parts of the show remain solid and familiar, other elements will be disruptive, and disruptive elements from the past will not be hidden from view for all of eternity.

This wasn’t a laugh riot, outside of a few small moments I’ll probably mention in the bullets, but I thought it deftly handled one of the central concerns with a show this comfortable, and offered a nice counterpoint to last week by offering some real consequences in Smith’s departure. So, another strong outing in what’s been a very solid second season.

Cultural Observations

  • Yes, the real reason Smith is leaving is that Ryan Devlin isn’t a regular, and is actually moving to ABC’s Brothers & Sisters in a recurring part (all after being dumped by Shat My Dad Says after the show got picked up by CBS). I’ll miss Devlin here, as I liked his dynamic with Laurie, but I thought his exit was emotionally resonant if not necessarily substantial for his character.
  • Enjoyed Bobby’s staredown with the iguana (or was it a lizard? I wasn’t clear) – Bobby didn’t get to do much substantial in the episode, but his devotion to the sword swallower was very much in character.
  • My favourite moment: the attack against Travis’ soul patch. So deserving.
  • Actually, other favourite moments: Josh Hopkins on roller skates.
  • The week’s title card: Not What the Show Is Cougar Town.

1 Comment

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