Saturday, April 13, 2013

Cougar Town Sweet and Funny In Its Old Age

Article first published as Cougar Town Sweet and Funny In Its Old Age on TheTVKing.

Cougar Town, having successfully relocated from ABC to TBS this year, wraps up their fourth season with the two parter "Don't Fade On Me; Have Love Will Travel." The Cul-de-Sac gang plans a trip to the Bahamas, but when Jules (Courteney Cox) learns that her father, Chick (Ken Jenkins), has Alzheimers, she convinces her friends to give him the dream trip he has always wanted to Los Angeles.

Surely, it saves quite a bit on budget to film a "location" shoot in the same city the rest of the series is taped in, even though the show is set in Florida. And it does feel a little surreal to watch actors who live in Hollywood walking the streets and commenting on what a weird town LA is. Yet, like most of Cougar Town, it strangely, inexplicably works in a very delightful way.

Except for the shot we get of Tom (Bob Clendenin) actually in the Bahamas. That looked super fake, definitely filmed on the green screen in Travis's apartment. In real life, not in the story. I do believe Tom actually went there, for the sake of the plot.

"Don't Fade On Me" and "Have Love Will Travel" are incredibly moving episodes. Cougar Town is funny, but it also has always handled the emotional side of itself well, not just in "special" episodes or as it ages, as some sitcoms do. Seeing Jules worry about, and take care of, her ailing father it a wonderful thing, forcing her to deal with emotions that she would rather avoid. The way her friends rally around her is awesome.

That's what Cougar Town is about: friends that are like a family. These people love one another and support each other through everything. They are always around, and willing to help. Some of them may say things don't sound that nice, but there's genuine affection behind the front, and they all understand that. So if there's anyone left out there that still thinks the series centers around older women chasing younger man, get over it, please.

The unfortunate thing about this arc would be if Cougar Town chooses to kill off Chick. While not a main character, he pops in on a decently regular basis, and is an important figure in Jules's life. I love Jenkins, and don't wish to see him depart the series, but I also don't think we need that level of grief anytime soon. Eventually, everyone loses their daddy. However, it would be heartbreaking for Jules to do so now. Maybe in the final season, but please, not before.

I love that Cougar Town gets Tippi Hedren (The Birds) to cameo as herself, giving Chick his dream date. It's an unexpected star to bring in, but with recent Alfred Hitchcock film projects, she should be back in the public consciousness, so she's not too far out of mind. Very nice.

Aging has been a theme this season, not just in an episode or two, with an older lady, Anne (Shirley Jones, The Music Man), and her husband moving to the cul-de-sac and joining the show on a recurring basis, the main characters embracing the good parts of getting older, and now Chick showing us the bad. It is an interesting direction for the show to head in, and not an entirely expected one, as most television doesn't illustrate this particular aspect of the human experience very often. But Cougar Town has never been most television, so it's terrific that they've found yet another way to be different.

 The first few seasons of Cougar Town do let Jules have a dating life, but she's married off now, so it's up to other characters to carry the romantic element of the show. Finally, in a move that fans have long been waiting for, but had to wait until Travis aged a bit, Travis (Dan Byrd) and Laurie (Busy Philipps) are together.

This two-parter sees them on a rocky start, not able to find a moment to share their first kiss, and stressing out about it. It seems like fate is against them, and they do soon break up, which is what many a show would do to draw out such a plot. But unlike its peers, Cougar Town finds a way to bring them back together, totally naturally, in a very romantic moment.

I don't know if they will be together for the rest of the show or not; that's impossible to predict. But they are together for now, circumstances be damned. Their issues can be tacked up to their worrying and stress, rather than an actual message that they shouldn't be together, and it just feels right. Laurie provides a logical reason for Travis to stay part of the group, so he's not just the creepy kid hanging out with his mom, and Travis lets Laurie grow as a human being with actual depth. It's a wonderful coupling, and it's oh so satisfying to see it come together.

Bobby (Brian Van Holt) also has a gal, Riggs (Maria Thayer), who unfortunately doesn't go on the trip, though I guess everyone can't be included. He has long been the single one, the constantly lonely man. I do think it's time for him to find happiness, though. If not with Riggs, who I see as a perfectly acceptable candidate, than with someone else. Cougar Town doesn't need to have anyone dating; it's good enough just to focus on hanging out. Thus, hopefully everyone finds love and settles in for another several seasons.

I guess a theme of this article is that Cougar Town does it differently than most comedies, and I can't stress enough that it really does. It has a certain tone and way about itself that sets it apart. The characters and writers are completely comfortable in this direction, and don't seem to second-guess what "sells" on television, which is refreshing. They also do it really well, which allows them to depart from convention without being crucified for it. The television landscape would be much poorer without it, which is why I'm very happy to see that TBS has renewed it for a fifth season.

I've been concentrating on the mushy stuff, but there are also a lot of funny moments in these episodes. Grayson (Josh Hopkins) is stuck on his past, remembering his days as a model in LA. The doctors' office that Jules takes Chick to has many of the Scrubs, another series by the same creator, Bill Lawrence, doctors listed on the sign. Poor Tom is still dumped on, but at least he's finally included. Andy (Ian Gomez) tries to make everyone admit he's Latino, even though he never acts like he is.

In short, Cougar Town continues to be a humorous and heart-warming story of a group of best friends who drink a lot of wine. Exactly what its fans want it to be.

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