There are few stock TV plots I dislike more than the, "Why won't my boyfriend and/or girlfriend say, 'I love you' to me?" plot. I usually want to wander onscreen, throttle the characters, and say, "THEY'RE JUST WORDS! ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER THAN THEM ANYWAY!" And yet the words are supposed to mean so, so much, are supposed to be the big step between dating and moving in, the moment when you make it "official," I guess. I'm all in favor of everyone having as much sex as possible, but since the act became divorced from intimacy, fiction has had a very hard time coming up with a rough equivalent to what sex (or "marriage," I guess) used to be. Most TV shows go to "I love you," but that doesn't seem all that equivalent. Anybody can say "I love you." Anybody can make it seem like it means something. Call me a cynic or a Thanksgiving crasher or an "I love you" whore (I can't think of a relationship where I didn't say it at least once, and I sometimes didn't mean it, INCLUDING TO MY WIFE), but I have trouble getting invested in this particular device.
Which is why it's such a disappointment to see that this episode of Cougar Town revolved largely around whether or not Grayson would return Jules' offhand "I love you," rather than the tossed-off "Thank you" he offered instead. Last year's Thanksgiving episode was a part of the show's radical reinvention of itself, undertaken on the fly and completed by the time early 2010 rolled around. It was one of the episodes that made me think the show was finally finding its voice. Now that the show has found its voice, it goes to a pretty stock plot and doesn't do a whole to differentiate itself until the final act (though, admittedly, that final act was pretty great). And the problems with the plot start right from the beginning.
Jules and Grayson are Thanksgiving shopping at the supermarket when they just happen to run into Grayson's ex-wife, Vivian. Small talk is exchanged, Grayson and Jules get to show off their coupledom status, and Vivian is properly chagrined. Last year, Grayson ran into Vivian around this time and saw her with her new husband and kid, and she gave him a look of pity. Now, he finally has some happiness to show off, and he gives Jules an incredible, heartfelt speech that largely boils down to the fact that she makes him happier than he's ever been. It is, for all intents and purposes, an "I love you," and it clearly takes a lot out of him to tell her this. Then she says she loves him, he thanks her, and we're off to the races. Granted, the supermarket scene does a lot of necessary storytelling heavy-lifting (such as introducing Grayson's oyster allergy), but that conclusion is just nuts.
Alan Sepinwall was talking last week about how the show has been making Jules progressively more and more unlikable and how that might eventually make the show too hard to watch. Thus, he was hoping there'd be an episode that reminded us of just why these people are friends with her, outside of her nice house and wine-serving abilities. I'd say that this one more or less works as that kind of an episode, as it reminds us that Jules can be patient, from time to time, and gives us a really nice scene where she tells all of her friends what they mean to her (at the final dinner). On that score, I'd say the episode worked. In particular, the scene where Andy shared his theory of life with Jules and got her to not screw up her relationship was good, changing the normal way this story would play out. On most shows, Jules WOULD go over to Grayson's house to chew him out, and there'd be an argument, and no one would have a fun Thanksgiving. Instead, we mostly get some sweetness, and Grayson apologizes for how it's hard for him to say emotional stuff, and it's all OK. This is fine. It all works. But the plot that built up to it is so old and hoary at this point that it should probably be retired.
Oh well. The other two plots were terrific, and the main plot had some funny stuff around the edges (like the idea of the most romantic Thanksgiving ever or Travis dancing). In particular, I'm impressed by Brian Van Holt's abilities to come up with a weird sort of Southern scat that no one can recognize, even Bobby himself (when shown a video of him talking). Having he and Kevin both have trouble being understood was a nice way to end the story, and the scene where he just made up some gibberish was very funny. Similarly, I liked the adventures of Andy, the super optimist who counts on everything to just work out. (This is largely my life philosophy, and I'm not even kidding. It's served me well.) Ellie and Laurie trying to steal his wedding ring was rather silly (despite how little time it took up), but any plot that gives Ian Gomez a chance to act endearing and goofy is usually all right, and this was no exception.
In the end, though, Cougar Town lives and dies by the stuff going on on the sidelines, and, as it has been all season, the side gags were funny. Zach Braff's voice cameo as the voice of the App App, for instance, or Laurie's long string of outfits (I think she was wearing a new one in every scene). I wasn't wild about some parts of this episode, but it was nice to spend the holiday with the gang anyway. Maybe it wasn't as significant to the show as last season's Thanksgiving episode, but not every episode can be like that. Now if the show can just avoid an episode where Jules gets thrown in jail for some ridiculous reason on Christmas Eve, we'll be free and clear.
- I missed having Kirsten around. Also, the neighbor guy should have come to Thanksgiving. Where else does he have to go?
- Really, the fact that Grayson didn't make a bigger deal out of Jules forgetting he was allergic to oysters should have been just as much of a sign that he was in love with Jules as anything else. I would have made SO MUCH out of that. I'm an awful person, though, so that may be skewing my view on things.
- And, yeah, I'm on Modern Family duty this evening. I'll have that up soon enough.
- "Big Maria, and Little Maria and Wheelchair Maria all say hi."
- "You always did like to watch her jog." "That is the sweetest thing anybody's ever said to me."
- "Nope! Just happened!"
- "We still gotta get some yams, right?"
- "Regretfully, we give you Cougar Town."
- "We understand big chunks of you."
- "I married a Care Bear."
- "Look at your hands! They're purple. That's good, right?"
- "When you are this optimistic, it is hard not to punch you."
- "He's raised by a mumbler." "A bumblebee?"
- "What I was going to say before you poisoned me …"