Our long national nightmare is over folks, Cougar Town is back! ABC took the series off the air to try to jump-start Matthew Perry’s career (which I don’t think worked), but for all our waiting, the network has done the nice thing and given the series a twofer week, starting with last night’s “Walls” and continuing with another episode in the regular timeslot tomorrow. This is even more odd because “Walls” was apparently supposed to be the last episode before said extended break, but the STUPID PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES just had to have his State of the Union address. What a buzzkill that guy is. I bet he sucks at Penny Can.
Anyway, Cougar Town‘s return is very good news and even though “Walls” isn’t one of my favorite episodes of the series, it’s still a nice reintroduction to the characters and the inside jokes for those of us who forgot and those of us watching for the first time because it’s on after Dancing With The Stars. It’s really hard to say negative things about an episode thought brought us the return of Penny Can and Ellie’s invisible hat tip gag because those running bits are so awesome. And ultimately, this is still a good episode of Cougar Town in that basically every episode of season two has been good.
However, the primary storyline in this episode brings back one of my least favorite things about the series: creepy, overbearing Jules. I know that this is the character’s primary trait and the series has slowly tried to wain her off that kind of behavior as the season has progressed (like it does here), but man, it’s just…odd. This is a wacky series with a lot of broad jokes and zany humor, but for whatever reason, the way Jules acts around her son often stops being funny and becomes something else entirely — which is usually just creepy. I love that Courteney Cox goes all out in the role but she’s almost too good at being the overbearing, inappropriate mother. This episode is at least interesting because it presents the possibility that Jules’ behavior might finally go away, but I feel like we’ve already been done that road before. I’m much like Grayson in this instance, I never see her changing.
But when Travis realizes that if his girlfriend Kirsten takes this awesome new job offer she has, she’ll be gone from his life forever, it’s time to make a rash decision: propose! If you’ve ever seen this series before, you can imagine how Cox’s Jules reacted to this possibility. Logically, Jules is actually right. Travis is a 19-year old college freshman, he probably is too young to propose to an older woman who he hasn’t been dating for too long. It’s a risk and probably a stupid one. Any mother would most likely want to keep their son from doing something like this, but Jules isn’t any mother, she’s an insane person. But while I was very convinced the episode was going to have Jules make a horrible decision that scarred Travis for life, “Walls” takes an interesting swerve in the final act by having Ellie put her foot day and actually show Jules the impact of an overbearing mother by using her relationship with her mother as an example. Of course, Ellie never actually calls her mother like she says, but the moment and the point still matter. At a certain point, Jules’ claustrophobic ways become less charming and more creepy and I think Ellie’s found that point. It’s time for Jules to step back, and it was kind of nice to actually see her try to do that. It wasn’t easy and it will never be, but “Walls” presents a substantial change for both Jules and Travis and so it makes sense why this would have been the final episode before the break.
In other Cougar Town shenanigans, things are much less “heavy” and a hell of a lot more fun. Bobby needs some money for his golf return and so he and Laurie come up with a great business plan: selling Penny Can cans! Of course this is completely ridiculous and dumb since they’re just empty paint cans and no one else outside of the group actually knows what Penny Can is, but anytime the series puts Laurie and Bobby together, it’s comedy gold. They are the two wackiest and broadest characters and I guess there’s always a danger that pairing them up might make the series go too far into cartoon-y territory, but Busy Phillips and Brian Van Holt always make it work. The new Sharpie mustache rules for in-and-out shots was fantastic, as was the reading of all the other rules (no underhand shots, no nickles).
I’ve read a few pieces and talked to a couple of people about whether or not the series’ reliance on running gags and gimmicks is too much of a crutch, but I don’t really think it is. At this point, the audience is probably the audience and so why not reward their consistent viewing with some running bits? And even if the series does use those sorts of gimmicks on a regular basis, it’s not as if they’re particularly difficult to follow. I imagine that the people watching this episode after Dancing With The Stars were only moderately confused about Penny Can, and probably only at first. These aren’t hard things to pick up on.
Finally, the runner about Grayson’s cool, logical mind was also fairly well-executed. He is the clear rational center of the group, but sometimes knowing that and relying on it so much makes him an ass. It was fun to have Andy point that out, you know, while they avoided a giant man trying to kill them in the bar parking lot. It wasn’t a very developed thread, but it was good enough for a C-story.
Like I said, this isn’t the funniest or most heartfelt episode of Cougar Town from this season. However, it does provide a number of great laughs and suggests at some actual development for Jules and her relationship with Travis, which is a welcome change. And most importantly, the series is back until the end of the season! PENNY CAN!