After being set aside in favor of Dancing With the Stars for the past two weeks, Cougar Town returned last night with a bang. Well, not a bang. It was more a snap. Like a very quiet snap made by the fingers of someone who is terminally ill and trying to retain her zest for life but finding it more difficult than she imagined it would be.
Newly acquired baby Tampa’s presence in this episode was an earthquake so small you would’ve missed it if it weren’t for the aftershocks in the form of baby-proofed cabinets around Jules’s home. Aside from revealing that her middle/preferred name is Jill, this is all the show has for its newest character this week. By giving her an outsider mom, Cougar Town gave itself a convenient way to leave Tampa out of the picture when it wants to, but it might also be robbing itself of the newest, most promising chance it has to bring some real feeling back into this show.
As it stands, the main emotional tension going on around here is, “Should Jules’s son take her wedding pictures, or shouldn’t he?” Jules didn’t get a storybook wedding the first time around — she and Bobby drove down the aisle on an ATV — and so she wants to make extra sure that wedding No. 2 is memorialized appropriately. Travis wants the gig, but like every sheltered rich kid in his first photography class before him, his portfolio is primarily made up of severed body parts and decaying animals. (What if the second half of this season is about Travis’s secret identity as a serial killer? The word Town on the title card could be crossed out in blood, and scratched over it is the word KILLER.” I mean … where IS Barb??) Though undoubtedly suspicious on the inside, Jules hangs the toe photo in her hall — it’s important to support your kids, even when they are murderers. When Travis asks her for the job, she can’t say no, which is really her main problem, when you think about it.
Because Grayson baby-proofed her kitchen and ended up breaking into one of her long-stuck cabinets as a result, Jules finds a treasure trove of early nineties memorabilia — cassette tapes, a belly chain, a pair of Zubaz, and the electronic game Simon. All of which she was keeping in one drawer, in her kitchen?? What are the chances! Mostly these artifacts give Bobby an excuse to dress even more ridiculously than he usually does, and Ellie an excuse to be even more of a heinous asshole than she usually is.
That’s the other thing I mean when I say that the feeling is leaking out of this show with a slow, boozy hiss. Ellie is horrible, you guys. I know she always was, and it used to be that I kind of liked it. Ellie’s hostility is funniest when it has a nobler purpose, like when she’s sticking up for her best friend Jules. But more and more these days, it just feels grating and meaningless. Laurie is not the new untested kid on the block anymore! Calling her “Jelly Bean” was cuter when I didn’t know where the nickname came from (from Ellie thinking Laurie was dumb enough to be paid in jelly beans?). Laurie is bad at Simon, which thrills Ellie to no end. Then, when Laurie has the nerve to stick up for herself, Ellie takes her to the bar, gives her a math problem that she solves easily, and tells her: “Everyone has something that makes them feel dumb.” Except, Laurie’s thing that makes her feel dumb isn’t Simon, it’s ELLIE. Because she says Laurie’s dumb, all of the time. So okay, Ellie: What else do you got?
Things aren’t going so hot for Bobby and Angie, which is incredible, because a slow walk toward your love interest from across a room before a kiss is usually good for at least a five-episode arc. Of primary concern to Bobby is the fact that Angie is hooking up with other, less-hot dudes. Red flag No. 1! She didn’t think that she and Bobby were exclusive, but Bobby did. Bobby breaks up with Angie and she doesn’t argue. Red flag No. 2! Later, Angie breaks into Bobby’s trailer, hides naked in his bed for what could honestly have been days for all we know, and avoids conversation by pointing out said nakedness. Red flag No. 3! Though he is almost run off course by her showing up in seduction Zubaz, Bobby decides that what he’s really interested in is something real. In doing so, he cements his unexpected status as Leading Source of Emotional Complexity on the show.
So, back to those wedding photos. Jules, having verified Travis’s photography talents with his bat-shit unstable professor but having also somehow just learned that photography is not exactly a golden path to riches, revokes her non-no to Travis’s request to shoot the wedding. She feels bad for hurting him, but she feels worse that he’ll never become a scientist who provides her with immortality. It’s not until seeing the picture Travis took of her and Grayson cuddling on the couch (Grayson being the little spoon) that she realizes he really IS talented, and that she can’t control his career aspirations just because she’s worried. After just a little therapeutic green-screen shark punching, she gives Travis his gig back.
Then there was that moment when Jules found pictures (badly Photoshopped pictures, but still pictures) of Grayson with his ex-wife still hanging in his apartment, and didn’t get mad at all. All she did was take them down. I’m not asking for heated pre-marital battles. I’m not asking for tragedy or trauma. But if Jules can realize that her new fiancé has a daughter AND framed pictures of his ex-wife still hanging and not care, then why should we?