In The A.V. Club’s 100 Episodes feature we define the shows that have made it to this point as “an unusual group”—an entirely true assertion, given it’s the only way you’ll be able to mention The Andy Griffith Show, Supernatural, and The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air in the same breath. And after this year, Cougar Town will be joining these august and eclectic ranks, closing out its run with six seasons and 102 episodes. Not a bad legacy for a show whose survival was at one point so in doubt it turned into a running gag on Community, the definition of a pot-kettle-black moment.
Much has already been written about the show’s improbable survival—and more will be written as its ending draws closer—so there’s no sense in belaboring that point any further. Instead, what’s important is to focus on the joyful fact that a sixth season of Cougar Town is still met with anticipation instead of dread. The show never fully recaptured the spark of seasons two and three during its TBS run, but unlike Jules’s various gigantic wine glasses it continues to hold together and deliver consistently fun stories and punchlines. Consistency is a fine legacy to carry into the twilight, and the sixth season premiere “American Dream Plan B” provides reassurance that the show can end as well as it began.
Once again, Cougar Town enters a season on the heels of a seismic shift to the Cul-De-Sac crew, after “We Stand A Chance” revealed that they’d be welcoming a new member in nine months. Interestingly, Cougar Town dismisses almost immediately the idea that the birth of Laurie and Travis’s child would serve as the centerpiece of the finale, leaping ahead eight months. It’s a decision that works well on a comedic level—the transition from confident skinny Laurie to massively pregnant Laurie is a nice visual punchline—and also on a narrative one. Cougar Town’s historic disinterest in children seemingly extends to their gestation, and no one in the writers’ room was likely keen on sidelining Busy Philipps into pregnancy-related gags for the final season.
Not that the writers are adverse to those gags, as “I HATE EVERYTHING!” Laurie is a great comedic vine for Philipps. First, it takes advantage of her capacity for rage when she reacts to the discomfort by hurling socks full of nickels (“It’s my go-to weapon from juvie”), and then it switches to broader physical comedy when Ellie and Jules tell her how much you can get away with when pregnant. Once again, the episode chooses not to draw this joke out too long, as Laurie stays true to form and pushes it so far she receives a citation from the police by the end of the first act. Everyone on Cougar Town is so committed to staying relaxed that watching Laurie explode in this matter is as unsettling to the viewer as it is to Jules—who’s so determined to make her friend feel comfortable that she says the entire group will give up wine until Laurie can drink it herself.
Of course, given that wine is the sacrament of Cougar Town, it’s clear that no one will be following this edict for long. Salvation comes in the form of Tom’s latest effort to be cool, with a 1920s speakeasy bar set up in his garage. At this point in the show’s life finding new ways to drink is essentially its weekly mission statement, and the 1920s dress adds a fun bit of Boardwalk Empire style to the bright setting of Florida. And for any fans worried the group might be sobering up as we head towards the end, everyone’s resolve is so weak that it’s not even a contest. (“You can be mad, or you can drink.” “…Okay!”) And like so many of those scenes, it breaks up the action with a shootout, when following Tom’s Twitter account—one of Laurie’s things to do instead of drinking—exposes the secret and puts Laurie on the nickel-sock warpath.
The baby’s father, meanwhile, is less concerned about the last stages of his child’s gestation with what comes after it. Given Travis’s natural inclination away from physical activity and injury, the idea that he’ll be responsible for a human life in a few weeks strikes terror into his heart. Once again, Tom’s strange ideas about life come to the rescue, with his new pet pig Squiglet serving as a stand-in for a real baby that can teach Travis about being careful. The idea of Dan Byrd carrying a piglet in a BabyBjorn is every bit as amusing as it sounds, particularly once the animal slips its holding pen and the desperation levels go even higher.
That silliness extends to Grayson’s effort to teach Travis a thing or two about being a father—which he has been since season three’s “Something Big,” as he reminds everyone with increasing frustration. While it builds on the makeshift father/son dynamic between the two that was explored last year in “Too Much Ain’t Enough,” it makes the odd decision to couch that idea in a Matrix parody. Cougar Town has gotten more assertive about inserting pop culture homages in its episodes as it’s aged, and while those are usually good for a laugh they often lack the context that a show like Community (at its peak) can deliver. The Untouchables-style shootout works because it’s part of the speakeasy gag, this one is only introduced because Tom thought he could pull off a long leather jacket. It still delivers a laugh—largely due to Josh Hopkins’s gift for impressions—but it’s such an accurate remake to the film’s woman in red dress scene that it doesn’t feel organic to the rest of the episode.
Both of the sillier plots manage to tie together in way that’s emotionally rewarding, when Laurie and Travis admit they may not be ready to be parents but can always rely on Jules. The idea buoys their confidence and deflates hers at the exact same time, allowing the show to return to one of its central themes. For as bad as the show’s original conception was, the emotional core of a woman trying to figure out the next stage of her life has always been its bedrock, and Courtney Cox has long kept Jules human alongside all her obsessive, neurotic, cartoonish, alcoholic qualities. Her breakdown on Bobby’s boat feels real, as does Grayson’s counsel that she’s come a long way in her life (“I took my pregnancy test at the bathroom of Wrestlemania!”) and she’s at a place where she can handle what life throws at her.
All that tension is finally dissolved by a nonsensical fusion of plot elements: a “super-pregnant dance party” in the middle of Tom’s speakeasy. Cougar Town is at its best a show about the joy in the little moments, and the glee everyone is clearly experiencing in the midst of this dance is on par with other moments of contentment from hot tubs to snowball fights. Heading into the last lap of its improbable run, Cougar Town still feels as joyful as ever, and seems to have no intention of messing with the formula that let it get this far.
- Title card: “Season 6! Is it too late to change the title?”
- The biggest question about the final season is how it’s going to be affected by the departure of Brian Van Holt. For the most part, the premiere sidesteps the issue by sending him to a golf tournament in Atlanta, keeping in touch with Andy via phone. Not having Bobby around in person doesn’t throw off the dynamic too badly, though thinking ahead to future episodes it’s disconcerting that all the funniest lines are tied to him. It’s a toss-up between his cooler of spiders fighting a scorpion and his inability to think and text at the same time. “Hey J-Bird! How’s that secret bar in Tom’s garage? Oh wait, Jules doesn’t know about that. Shoot. Better not press send.” (He did.)
- Speaking of Bobby, one wonders if the decision for Señor Casa’s mascot costume to switch from burrito to red pepper is at all motivated by Bobby’s assault on the prior design back in “Too Good To Be True.”
- Although the jokes about no one remembering Tampa wear thin as the episode goes on, it’s nice to see Ground Floor’s Briga Heelen show up again briefly as Grayson’s baby mama Holly.
- Cracker alert! Jules’s farm girl past comes back as she demonstrates a flawless pig call that stuns Grayson into silence and will never be mentioned again.
- Tales of Laurie’s past: Her cousin Tina could have been featured on I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant, giving birth to unexpected triplets in a movie theater snack line. “Hence their names Mike, Ike, and Goober.”
- “I have so many tiny little stretchmarks on my ass it’s starting to look like a diagram of the Japanese alphabet!”
- “Are you holding an imaginary glass?” “No, these are just my Lego guy hands.”
- “Wine isn’t as good without the fear of being caught.”