As time’s gone on for Cougar Town, the show has whittled away most anything that could potentially serve as an obstacle to its central goal of having these people hang out. Any issues between Grayson and Bobby over their respective marital statuses with Jules have been smoothed over, characters have settled into career tracks where they don’t have to strive for something more or work insane hours, and no one’s in a hurry to have any more children. The show’s equalized itself into a nice level buzz, still able to generate episodic conflicts but for the most part keeping everyone in long-term status quo.
In smoothing things out some plot threads have been almost entirely glossed over, and one of the most noticeable examples has been the matter of Travis’s college career. While the idea of Travis going off to school and finding his own way was treated seriously in the early years of the show, and even managed to drive plots with the rest of the crew—Bobby dating one of Travis’s professors comes to mind—it’s been largely abandoned since the character turned 21 and could drink with the grown-ups. Travis’s roommates Sig and Kevin haven’t been seen in ages, I can’t remember the last time there was a plot set on the college campus, and since getting into a relationship with Laurie whatever boundaries kept him from being a full-time member of the Cul-De-Sac Crew have largely been wiped away.
“Time To Move On” is the first episode in recent memory to finally remember that Travis is a college student, and that at some point he’s going to have to figure out what to do with his life. With his graduation only a few months away, Jules grows concerned that his art degree and photography passions aren’t going to be enough to support him and he’ll turn into a deadbeat. Travis doesn’t do much to assuage her concerns, as his short-term plans don’t go much farther than trying to “Kickstart an app” and get his blog “linked on HuffPo.” (Jules: “All I heard was Po, Kick and App.”) It’s a reaction that makes sense for the character, who’s spent so much time playing the Sensitive Man support system and having to parent his screwball parental unit that it’s understandable he’d want to finally take some time for himself.
Of course, that screwball parental unit has had enough problems in their own early lives that they’re not keen to see their son repeat them. It’s always fun to see Bobby and Jules team up on a project, as while they can be the most determined members of the group they’re also the ones who most easily get caught up in bad ideas. First it turns into an effort to get Travis a job—complete with them spying on him behind absurdly large sunglasses—and then it turns into scare tactics that wind up being more hurtful to Bobby than they are helpful to Travis. And fittingly, Travis has to once again step in to play the more grown-up of the trio, reminding them that while they show their concern and affection for him in the stupidest of ways, he never misses the good intentions at the core of their efforts. The Cobb family dynamic is one of Cougar Town’s strongest units, with the equal mix of frustration and affection the three have for each other, and it’s rewarding to see those rough edges haven’t faded with time.
The reveal that Travis has accepted a job at Coffee Bucks essentially secures his adult position in the show, as now more than half the main cast works on the same street in locations the rest of the cast regularly walks in and out of. And while I always support when Cougar Town remembers that these people do need to work on occasion, I do worry that this career path runs the risk of turning into a dead end for Travis. If it’s sad that Bobby is still living on his boat and shows no signs of ever getting off it—even sadder given what Bill Lawrence said about that in the past—it’ll be far worse if Travis turns out to be still working there and living in Jules’ house three or four years down the road. Here’s hoping one of his ideas manages to catch fire in the same way Penny Can did.
While Jules is trying to make sure her son transitions into adulthood smoothly, Ellie’s trying to get Stan’s journey started off right by getting him into the highly competitive Gulfhaven Academy. (“They barely accept anyone! Like me, but like a school.”) Banishing Andy from the house for his overemotional responses, she’s forced to turn to Laurie as a babysitter during a meeting with the admissions counselor, who says they’re looking for families who come from diverse or alternative lifestyles. Laurie, without even missing a beat, moves over to Ellie, plants a full kiss on her lips, and admits that she just can’t resist her in that sweater. (If there’s a monument to sitcom facial expressions, the stunned look on Christa Miller’s face once this happens could make a strong case for admission.)
This plot is probably the most fun part of the episode, as while it’s a standard farcical plot it works because of the character pairing. If Jules and Bobby work well together for misadventures due to their similarities, Ellie and Laurie work well together for opposite reasons, Laurie’s outgoing vibe crashing against the glacier of misanthropy that is Ellie. The reactions from both women at the prospective parents’ picnic are delightful: Laurie’s entirely wrapped up in creating a backstory involving TAs and tequila to draw some affection out of her “partner,” whereas you can see parts of Ellie’s flinty black soul chip off and die the longer she has to keep up the ruse. And it adds a new dimension to their arguments, as being in a “relationship” lets them yell at each other with increased vitriol over their divergent approaches to life until Laurie storms of yelling about being the best lesbian she can.
Disappointingly, the plot peters out a bit at the end. Given the emotion both women express it in the fight it appears to be leading into part of Laurie’s charade—perhaps using a public fight to earn Ellie single parent points with admissions—but instead it’s a conflict after which Ellie takes full blame and decides she doesn’t want Stan in a school that pretentious after all. The shared apology between the two cuts things off too quickly, and is also heartfelt in a way that rings slightly false for these characters. As I mentioned back in “Like A Diamond,” I accept at this point that their continued verbal jousting is just the way they express their affection for each other, and spelling out how much they care about each other is a minor betrayal of that friction.
With these strong pairings, the rest of the cast is left to shamble around the bar for the day. Andy’s boredom and Grayson’s desire for the two to share a Bro Day (“Used to call it Dudes on the Down-Low, but it turns out that means something else”) leads them to get tied up in Tom’s desire to make a video with his cat Snowball, which quickly boils down into a feud over making Catsablanca vs. Cattail. There’s a halfhearted effort to tie the plot to Grayson’s desire to relive his youthful exploits and a handful of horrible cat puns from Andy and Tom, but aside from that the plot is about as substantial as the films they’re trying to create.
The end result makes for a fun tag. Once again, Cougar Town shows its love for genre parody by going with a film noir theme, one that’s shattered on multiple occasions given that the guys’ reach exceeds their grasp. (Literally, as the fake cat arms are terrible at grabbing martini shakers.) Not a sequence that’ll set the Internet on fire anytime soon, but maybe next time they’ll get Travis involved and it’ll turn into his next big thing. Maybe? Yeah, probably not.
- Title card: “If you’re not watching with a glass of wine in your hand, you’re sort of missing the point.” Happy National Drink Wine Day everyone!
- Things we learn about Bobby’s life this week: his pillow is a Costco bag of oyster crackers, he uses his towel to keep the snakes out, he steals his power from a gas station/sushi restaurant. (Also speaking of past Cougar Town plots, remember way back when he used to be a golf coach?)
- Callback alert #1: Laurie admits her affection for Ellie, “truth gun to my head.” Truth guns!
- Callback alert #2: Jules’ latent bisexuality comes up when she shows a little too much enthusiasm in Laurie’s scheme. “Look at us, best friends. Laughing, loving… kissing?” Ellie: “Not now, sweetie.”
- New accents for Grayson: film noir cat and scary prison inmate. Jules is disappointed he won’t bring the latter into the bedroom.
- Jules unsurprisingly plans everyone’s gifts far in advance. Grayson’s 2015 Christmas gift is a spray tan, which he’s unsurprisingly pleased about.
- Being a sucker for various programming about antiques and restorations, I would definitely watch Travis’s proposed reality show about old firehouses.
- I love the fact that Laurie, despite her anger at Ellie, still has the presence of mind to take her sandwich with her before storming off.
- “Should I be attacking the market?” “Yeah, go ahead.”
- “You didn’t even call me a name.” “There’s no time, Tramplestiltskin! Okay, maybe a little time.” (Also in nicknames: Hoobaskank, Jelly Clarkson.)
- “I know that voice. Either something’s going on with Travis or your Aunt Gracie died again.”
- “I thought I’d try something a little more adult.” “Oh man, am I about to get punched in the face?”
- “I’m sorry for being so… I’m tempted to say catty.” “Don’t.”