Ken Jenkins (left), Bob Clendenin, Courtney Cox, Dan Byrd, Busy Philipps (TBS)
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Of all the reasons why Cougar Town has stayed as consistently funny and emotional as it has for five-plus years, the chemistry of its cast is at the top of the list. The impression provided both on and off-camera has always been that this is a group of people who genuinely love working together, going back to the viewing parties thrown between seasons two and three when the entire crew brought the show on tour and worked to keep it alive on social media. A large part of the reason why the TBS transition worked as well as it did was that the entire cast came with it, no impression that the show was going to change in its new home and no impression the team had things they’d rather be doing.

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That feeling is changing in the show’s twilight season with their first main cast departure, as Brian Van Holt left the show between seasons. Given Van Holt’s increased profile over the last couple of years with stints on The Bridge and Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. and a starring role on Ascension, it’s not surprising that he’d want to capitalize on new opportunities. It is however a keen disappointment for fans as Bobby Cobb has long been the heart of the show, the delivery system for its best jokes and emotionally resonant moments. “Full Grown Boy” has the unenviable task of sending him off right, and does a respectable job—even if the rapidity of his departure forces it to pack a lot of things into the running time.

Thankfully, the show’s solution to remove him is one that makes sense in Cougar Town’s universe, going back to his background established in such episodes as “No Reason To Cry” and “The Same Old You” that indicate he’s a better golfer than his slovenly lifestyle indicates. The tournament Bobby was away at in the season premiere has yielded a job offer from an Atlanta country club, complete with apartment, insurance, and salary. (Bobby: “They offered 50,000 bucks! Not in a big bag like you’d think.”) Grayson and Andy think it’s a great opportunity for Bobby, but he’d rather stay where everything’s comfortable and doesn’t change… leading to a particularly weighty moment where he runs down a list of everything that has changed over the last five years, and the smiles are wiped off everyone’s faces.

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Poignant moments are to be expected, as Bobby’s final episode is in the hands of former Cougar Town showrunner and Enlisted (RIP) creator Kevin Biegel, a writer rightly identified as sharing a special relationship with the character. Biegel understands better than anyone the mix of goofiness and melancholy that makes Bobby tick, and gets plenty of that across here. In particular, the idea introduced here that Bobby’s lack of growth is largely of his own choices hits home—several reviews have taken the show to task for not advancing Bobby beyond his station, and it’s more palatable that he’s a screw-up because of his own choices, not because the writers
feel they need to keep him in screw-up status.

Most crucially, “Full Grown Boy” understands who needs to give Bobby that final push. As important as Bobby’s relationships with Jules and Travis are, the true romance at the center of Cougar Town is Bobby and Andy. Andy has always looked up to Bobby to an distressing extent, willingly followed him into the craziest adventures, and most importantly pushed him to be the best version of himself possible. Both Van Holt and Ian Gomez are terrific in their scenes together, be they chewing imaginary Gummi bears to avoid serious conversation or Andy channeling early Community by evoking Good Will Hunting. Bobby’s big heart has long been his strongest feature, so the fact that he’d be doing this for someone else as much as himself is the perfect sales pitch.

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Unfortunately, “Full Grown Boy” is held back by the fact that it has to juggle Bobby’s departure with the birth of the Keller-Cobb baby. Understandably, the show’s creative team didn’t want Bobby to miss his first grandchild, but their similar desire to get through Laurie’s pregnancy as soon as possible this season means that a lot of plot has to be compressed into a single episode. The episode’s b-story, wherein Laurie is determined to name her child before it’s born and Travis is mortified by the choices that she’s made, could be a story that deals with Laurie and Travis’s shared fears about becoming parents in the same way “American Dream Plan B” dealt with them separately. Instead, it’s notable for some well-deployed bitchiness as Ellie uses her bitch powers for good, brutally eviscerating such names as Macho and Fancy with stories about people who shared those names that make even Laurie terrified. (Example: “I made him keep his nose on.”)

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A further sign of how overstuffed the episode is that an appearance by Ken Jenkins as Chick is relegated to a c-story. Chick appearances are typically a sign that a Cougar Town episode is going to be a cut above the rest, but his plot here—an overprotective Jules refusing to let him go to the Civil War reenactment—is used primarily for laughs. Good laughs, admittedly, ranging from Tom forced into a dress as the reenactment’s newbie to Jules’s complete lack of knowledge on who was involved in the conflict (“The king of England! … The king of France! … Russia! … Mars?”), but laughs are all it produces. The emotional payoff of earlier Chick episodes like “Hard On Me” or “You Don’t Know How It Feels” are missed, because that entire plot and whatever is happening between Jules and her father has to be shelved once Laurie’s water breaks.

To its credit, once the water does break the two plots dovetail together nicely, as the labor mid-reenactment and Laurie is horrified at the idea of having a “battlefield baby.” Jules gets to literally ride to the rescue in a horse-drawn carriage, and even Tom gets a moment to be a hero when his track background lets him get to the car before Travis. And the moment in the hospital is exactly the sort of group scene that Cougar Town has long specialized in, an Ed Sheeran song playing as everyone tearfully welcomes the Cul-De-Sac Crew’s newest member: Bobby Cobb the Second. Everyone’s overwhelmed and without sarcasm here, particularly the baby’s namesake, who takes a moment before holding his grandson because he’s holding a video camera: “I wanna make sure to get all of this.”

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The fact that the birth takes up the emotional close means that we’re denied the moment of a heartfelt goodbye from the rest of the cast—the ending tag is Bobby and Andy driving to the location of said goodbyes—and not getting that moment is disappointing. Losing Bobby leaves a big hole in the show, even if Van Holt returns for the finale as sources have suggested, and while “Full Grown Boy” does its best to ease the sting of losing him it doesn’t leave full reassurance that things will be all right in his absence. Hopefully new Bobby is up to the task of filling his grandfather’s shoes.

Stray observations:

  • Title card: “We pity the fool who’s missing this.”
  • I pray that losing Bobby doesn’t mean the show also loses Dog Travis (sadly not present in the episode) or the boat-in-a-parking-lot setting that has served as the site of many memorable scenes. Given Cougar Town’s love of running gags they’ll hopefully stick around.
  • Speaking of, lots of recurring gags popping up here: Ellie’s deployment of finger guns after shooting down Macho and Fancy, one last round of Penny Can with the boys.
  • Tales from Laurie’s past: Evidently not named until she was three, she cycled through a list of nicknames. “Squirmy, Screamy, Tinkles, Doorstop, Dumptruck, Stupid, Mama’s Little Oopsie, and 15 other ones.”
  • Jules on Chick’s Civil War garb: “What’s with the World War II outfit?” Chick: “God, did we have horrible public schools.”
  • Laurie: “You, sir, are toast! Ellie, write down Toast on my list of baby names!” Ellie: “It’s one of the stronger choices.”
  • “I’m probably the only person who equates ‘fancy’ with ‘shocking degree of skankitude.’”
  • “I’m coming to see him every other weekend. Like a divorced dad!”
  • This will be the last regular review of Cougar Town at The A.V. Club. However, we’ll return in a few months with a review of the series finale, “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” and we’ll talk at length about the season—and the series—as a whole. Get your biggest glasses ready.

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