“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.
Handicapping the 2010 Emmys: Comedy Acting
June 2nd, 2010
In comedy this year, a lot depends on what shows make it big: we know that Glee and Modern Family are going to make a statement (as noted in my piece handicapping the Comedy Series race), but is it going to be a statement of “this is a great show” or a statement of “this is the greatest show since sliced bread?” The difference will largely be felt in the acting categories: both Modern Family and Glee have multiple Emmy contenders, but it’s unclear whether some of the less heralded performers will be able to rise along with the big “stars,” or whether the halo of series success won’t help them compete against some established names already entrenched in these categories.
Ultimately, I’m willing to say that there’s going to be some pretty big turnaround this year in some of these categories, but others feature quite a large number of former nominees who likely aren’t going anywhere, so it should be interesting to see how things shake out on July 8th. In the meantime, let’s take a look at the four major Comedy Acting Emmys and see where the chips lie.
May 19th, 2010
Jules Cobb loves plans. She makes the argument in “Finding Out” that plans make everything better, an argument which is proven correct as an elaborate plan at the end of Cougar Town’s first season finale ends up working just as she and Grayson had predicted.
Of course, the irony is that Cougar Town is a show which threw out its plan early on in its first season – I’ve written enough about the show’s transformation to not necessarily feel like going over it again (Todd VanDerWerff’s review of the finale nicely captures it, also), but suffice to say that the show is completely different now than it was when it started. However, rather than one plan being replaced by another, the show has largely gone without a plan: sure, Jules and Grayson eventually got together as the show seemed to be gesturing towards, but each episode doesn’t feel like it’s playing into a particular formula, or that it’s forcing characters into particular moulds. Rather, each episode seems like it stems from characters hanging out, or characters dealing with facts of life, or characters just acting like human beings and following their whims.
“Finding Out” has all of the show’s characters struggling to figure out how to manage what is unquestionable a “plot development” which threatens to undermine the show’s sense of laidback stability, and Grayson does come up with a plan that allows them to micro-manage the situation to their benefit. However, the way that plan plays out within the show itself is so wonderfully handled (and the rest of the episode around it so gosh darn fun) that the balance never wavers, and the show handles its transition into a new era and into a second season with the same confidence that it has showed in recent episodes.
In other words, there’s no better time than the present to get caught up for September.
“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.
“Letting You Go”
April 28th, 2010
I am officially nearing the point with Cougar Town where I may make it my personal crusade to travel across the country in order to force every person who gave up on the show in its (admittedly pretty bad) early episodes to sit down and watch an episode like “Letting You Go.” As a show which seemed to begin with tired archetypes, I can see why people were perhaps impatient with the series, but these characters are real people now: while Modern Family has a set of dynamic character types that offer plenty of storytelling opportunities, characters on Cougar Town evolve and change in life the same way that J.D., Elliot and Turk changed through medicine.
“Letting You Go” is a careful negotiation of the show’s central relationships told through a combination of some bare bones emotional realities and some ridiculous, over-the-top sequences that would seem like dream sequences on any other show. That the show is capable of achieving this makes it all the more impressive, and makes me all the more sad that people who would truly love this show let it go before it really had a chance to shine.
“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.
January 6th, 2010
I think a lot of people have chosen to judge Cougar Town entirely based on Courteney Cox’s performance as Jules, which was perhaps fair early in the season – the show was about Jules dating younger men, which was a premise with very little room for growth for both the show and Jules as a character. And yet, something has happened over time that has evolved the show into something very different, a show with a fairly deep ensemble that isn’t afraid of mixing them up to create different pairings.
In other words, Cougar Town has become a show about a community, a group of characters who are capable of interacting with one another in social situations without things seeming chaotic or dramatic. While Grayson was once an antagonistic neighbour, he has become a reluctant participant in more age-appropriate social interactions, and while Bobby was once a deadbeat ex-husband he’s become someone who Jules cares about despite his use of a fish tank as a boat toilet. Ellie and Laurie were once actively antagonistic of one another, but they’ve now come to unite as Jules’ friends even if they maintain a six-foot distance between them when she’s not around.
And while some could argue that this is contrived, it’s given the show a sense of effortlessness with its story lines: it doesn’t feel like a stretch for new characters to interact with one another, and even if it makes for a definitively “small world” it’s one that has been effective both at delivering some strong comedy and, perhaps more importantly, accommodating guest stars like Scott Foley and Lisa Kudrow without feeling as if the show is changing in the process.
Cougar Town is simply a place I want to visit now, and I’m really enjoying what Bill Lawrence and company are offering.
“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.
September 23rd, 2009
Pilot season is really kind of an awkward time, when you think about it. If you’re going to be a “breakthrough” show (like Modern Family, which aired before Cougar Town), you need to move outside the bounds of the traditional pilot to surprise and excite. However, part of the nature of a pilot is tempering expectation, creating a template for your series which won’t always be smooth and which in some instances might not even be that compelling. It’s an episode where you open the episode with a conceptual scene that establishes your premise set to a hip indie music selection, and the result can often be a sense that this is “just another pilot.”
But there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. Yes, Modern Family deserves its accolades, but Cougar Town is a solid if unspectacular pilot for a show that has amassed a pretty impressive supporting cast, a fantastic lead actress, and sets up a premise which could on the surface result in diminishing returns and yet could just as easily turn into a really engaging premise for a sitcom. It is certainly not subtle, but with Bill Lawrence behind the scenes and some elements of interest I’m definitely willing to stick around Cougar Town for a while.