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Saturday, April 5, 2014

COUGAR TOWN "Stand" Strong

Article first published as COUGAR TOWN "Stand" Strong on TheTVKing.

Cougar Town wrapped up its fifth season on the air last night on TBS with "We Stand a Chance." It may not be a big, dramatic finale, nor does it end with a cliffhanger, as renewal is uncertain, but it is still a terrific installment of the friends-as-family show. A piece of exciting news affects just about everyone in the group, though their lives continue normally, as this isn't the type of show that goes for the ridiculous stunt.

 The story begins when Jules (Courteney Cox) borrows Laurie's (Busy Philipps) pee, since Ellie (Christa Miller) drugs Jules shortly before a physical. What's amusing about "We Stand a Chance" is that Jules acts like a guilty criminal even when no one is suspicious of her or really cares if she's breaking the law. It takes a situation often depicted for more nefarious purposes, and it applies it to normal suburban life, making for a silly, light tone.

The doctor soon calls Jules, though, to tell her the pee test indicates she's pregnant. After Ellie points out to Jules that it isn't her pee that has been tested, Jules realizes that Laurie and her son, Travis (Dan Byrd), are now expectant parents. She wants to break the news to them in a positive way, unsure of how they will react, being young and unmarried, but a fight comes between them, making it hard for Jules to find a good time to bring it up.

I love how Jules's concern is only that Travis and Laurie will be happy. She doesn't obsess over being a grandma or fret over the sex her offspring and friend engage in. While Jules can be selfish, when there's something so important on the line, she cares as much as anyone else.

Cougar Town is about a family. Not necessarily a biological one, though some of the players are related, but one built by choice. It's a group of friends as close as any relations, and while that may not be a unique premise on television, the continued way in which it warmly executes this premise makes it feel different. There's a deeper level of emotion behind the situations, and when the entire gang is there at the time Laurie and Travis finally learn the news, offering their support, it's a terrific moment for the show.

On any other sitcom, Laurie and Travis would end the episode broken up or upset, but Cougar Town avoids the false, forced drama. They have a disagreement while helping out Andy (Ian Gomez) and it's a serious one, but after getting a little advice from Grandpa Chick (Ken Jenkins), Travis makes up with Laurie. Again, love is a primary theme, more than laughter for its own sake, and the pregnancy is greeted joyously by all.

The other two characters Laurie's pregnancy affects most, besides the soon-to-be parents and Jules, are new grandfather, Bobby (Brian Van Holt), and step-grandpa Grayson (Josh Hopkins) (though, to the show's credit, the word 'step' is never uttered). They may be Jules's husband and ex-husband, but they're also friends, and decide to compete with young punks in a break dancing competition to hang onto their youth.

Again, Bobby and Grayson are not taken over the top in acting their age, but rather, their attitude comes from an authentic place. They lose sorely to the teenagers, as anyone should realistically predict, but it doesn't kill their spirits. They know who they are and they like themselves, which is probably why fans of the show continue to root for them, too.

Tom (Bob Clendenin) is definitely a character worth keeping around. Upgraded to main cast this season, he gets both the beginning and ending gags of "We Stand a Chance." At the start, he wins a Cul-de-Sac Crew trivia game, thus earning the right to pick their vacation spot. Since he loves just being around everyone so much, he chooses to stay home, to everyone's chagrin. Then, later, he recaps the season with his dolls and model of the neighborhood, which is equal parts creepy and hilarious. Tom may be awkward, but he's our awkward, and like the characters on the series are, even if they may be reluctant to admit it, I am fond of his continued presence.

Looking over this review, a lot of it seems mushy and overly sentimental, but this is the type of feeling Cougar Town elicits from its audience. The structure is common but the depth is not, and that's why it's still must-see TV for me, even after being canceled and reborn on cable (without changing a thing). I sincerely hope TBS keeps this thing running for years to come. This episode, great in its own right, could adequately serve as a series finale, but I hope TBS gives the writers a chance to really wrap things up when that time comes so the last episode is more than just adequate.

Cougar Town's fifth season is complete, and now awaits its fate.

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