Right around the three minute mark of the Cougar Town season finale, I stopped taking notes. I didn’t write down any quotes. I didn’t write down any particular moments I wanted to remember. I didn’t write a lengthy discussion of how the return of Ted Buckland fit into the existing mythology of the earlier program Scrubs. I just wanted to enjoy the episode, to have a good time with it in the spirit it was offered. It’s really easy in this job to get so down in the weeds that you pick on tiny little things that won’t necessarily matter to anybody who’s just watching the show. And while that’s sometimes beneficial, sometimes helps point out problems that become larger and larger and eventually swallow the whole show, it’s also sometimes a real drag. I’ve always saved myself certain shows that I could just watch and not have to think too heavily about, shows to enjoy, and sometimes I wish I’d saved Cougar Town in that fashion (though I’m glad by writing about it, I’ve brought the show to a wider audience of you all).
Anyway, the season finale seemed like the perfect episode to just sit back and enjoy without thinking about too much. It’s a vacation episode of the show, after all, with all of the characters racing off to Hawaii to bring Travis back from the bad decision he makes in the wake of Kirsten’s rejection of him. (In retrospect, I’m impressed the show took his emotions this seriously for this long, though, really, it only needed to do so for a few episodes, and a summer away will probably cure the boy of what ails him.) It’s often a very silly episode—two episodes, really, since it’s pretty easy to see where the dividing line will come for syndication purposes—but it’s also an episode that takes all of its characters’ emotions seriously, and for that, I’m thankful.
The most important character, of course, is Travis, who pretends to be fine when everybody arrives to drag him back home. And from the outside, yeah, he does look like he’s doing all right for himself. He mostly just lazes around with Ted from Scrubs, he has a job waxing surfboards, and he doesn’t terribly care about any of the stuff he did back on the mainland. He’s the prototypical guy who’s run away from it all, and it’s fun to watch the other characters—who have always been the ones who just spend all of their time not doing much of anything—try to convince him to head back to his life at college and end up with a nerd job and have nerd kids.
By the end of the episode, of course, they’ve convinced him to do so, since this is not the kind of show that’s going to write out a major character by sending him to Hawaii, but the way in which Travis is convinced is pretty nifty, too. Laurie takes him on a date, shamelessly playing the role of a girl who’s interested in him (and is she?), but at the end, she lets him know that it could never happen, that if he follows her back to Florida, then he’s once again not making up his own mind. He can’t let Kirsten or Laurie or even Jules be the one to make up his mind for him. But she knows who he is and what he’s always wanted, and Hawaii Travis isn’t really that guy. And so he makes up his mind to go, though he’s sore with Laurie for a while. It’s a nice way to simultaneously build up and deflate the sexual tension between the two characters (which, sorry, is always going to be a little creepy to me), and it also shows a good understanding of how Travis has always been the mature one of this little group and his about face is so disturbing to them.
The other major character storyline of the episode involves Grayson’s continued quest to convince Jules they should have a child together. And while I wouldn’t say that the episode ends with a definitive statement one way or the other, she’s at least more open to it as everything wraps up (thanks to Ted!). This is another conflict that won’t be easily resolved, one that will take a while to figure out, and I’m glad the show doesn’t pretend there’s any magic solution to it. Do I terribly want to see a season where Grayson and Jules have a kid? Not really (though maybe at the end of a long run it could work, though that would likely strain credulity). But I like that the show has at least raised it as an issue. Grayson’s a guy who’s worked through his “fun” years, but now he’s with a woman who needed to be responsible and is now trying to have fun. And at some point, that’s going to lead to problems. (I do like how the show keeps using little kids to remind us of Grayson’s wishes in this regard.)
Finally, we have Andy and Ellie and Bobby, who all end up in a weird, twisted situation where Bobby plays the adventurous husband for Ellie, who just wants to do adventurous things like snorkeling and hang-gliding over a volcano, and the bored, uninterested husband for Andy, who wants to go look at banyan trees and get massages. (Brian Van Holt’s disinterest as Andy starts weeping about the tree is hysterical.) It’s a cute, mostly comedic storyline, but it also zeroes in on the central issue with Bobby: If he’s the one guy in the group without somebody, will that mean he’s just an eternal third wheel to everybody else? If you accept that Laurie and Travis will eventually become a couple (and they probably will), then Bobby’s always going to be on the outside looking in, stuck over in the other hotel room, knocking on the door, and while there’s lots of fun to be had with the weird relationship he has with Andy and Ellie, there’s also something a little poignant about that.
But as much as I talk about the episode’s emotions or the way the show has a big heart while ultimately seeming very silly on the surface, it’s easy to forget that what makes the show work is its very weird, very warped sense of humor. This series pulls off gags like Ted being able to make every single song—up to and including “Love Shack”—sound like the saddest song in the world or like Tom secretly going to Hawaii and never approaching the group (and I really liked how the group welcomed him when they saw him at the end, rather than reacting in disgust). For as much as we discuss the deeper core of the show, what makes me keep pointing people in its direction and what makes me think it’s worth catching up with—even with that name—is the fact that once you get into its loopy vibe, there are few funnier shows on TV. The touching stuff? That’s just the cherry on top.
Finale and season grade: A-
- Yes, that was Danny Pudi hanging out in the background of the scene at Subway, thus completing the little extra swap between this show and Community. As a fan of both shows, that was really a lot of fun, and I like that it was mostly kept under wraps.
- The show made some pretty great use of Hawaiian locations. In particular, I liked Travis and Laurie’s walk on the seemingly remote beach and the final scene with Grayson and Jules looking out over the ocean.
- Spinoff idea presented to the Cougar Town producers, free of charge: Ted moves in with Tom, and they’re joined by the guy who plays Vorp on The Guild. Lou Diamond Philips also moves in with them, and the show is called Three Bald Guys And Lou. I would watch.
- I’m pretty sure “Seinfeld guy” is executive producer/co-creator Kevin Biegel.
- Best episode of the season: The Halloween episode continues to be my high-water mark for the show mixing goofy laughs—Travis dressed up as Andy!—with genuine emotion—Jules and her dad reconciling. Runner-up: The one from a few weeks ago that Michaelangelo covered for me. I really liked that one.
- Worst episode of the season: The Thanksgiving episode just didn’t work for me. I’m never going to like plots about who says “I love you” first, and the memory of the season one Thanksgiving episode loomed too large. Runner-up: Maybe “Damaged By Love”? The Grayson subplot there doesn’t make a lot of sense.
- See you in the fall-ish! Be working on pulling off your glasses to look like you’ve just seen a super hot chick!