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Cougar Town Recap: The Meanest of Them All

COUGAR TOWN - "Ways to Be Wicked" - No one believes Ellie when she tries to convince them that her seemingly lovely mom, Betsy (guest star Susan Blakely), is actually a sociopath; Grayson decides to help Laurie with her dream of opening a cake business, but her reaction isn't what he expected; and Bobby and Chick (Ken Jenkins) help Travis and his buddies in their plan to steal the campus cougar statue, on "Cougar Town," TUESDAY, APRIL 17 (8:31-9:00 p.m., ET) on ABC.(ABC/ERIC MCCANDLESS)
JOSH HOPKINS, IAN GOMEZ, BUSY PHILIPPS

This week’s episode of Cougar Town was a welcome rallying cry — there were group high jinks, family feuds, and the warm, funny best friend banter between Jules and Ellie that I so crave. It’s hard to know if the show can bounce back from its low ratings and terrible time slot, but if it does, I’d like to think that it’s because of episodes like these.

It turns out that Ellie is the Snow White to her mom Betsy’s Evil Queen, only it’s more about who can be the meanest than who can be the fairest. It’s not a close contest; Betsy is so cruel she makes Ellie look like a cartoon woodland creature in comparison. She makes a good outward impression (baking delicious blueberry muffins for everyone), but when nobody else is around, Betsy calls Ellie “lesbian legs” and Jules her “white trash sidekick.” Everyone else knows that when Ellie calls her mom evil, you agree, but Grayson tells Ellie that Betsy seems sweet. He is subsequently shunned.

On the other end of town where he allegedly goes to college, Travis is scheming to make his house the party house — he wants “chicks” to come over. When I was in college, boys weren’t calling girls chicks anymore! Maybe it is cyclical. Regardless, the important thing is that Kevin is back. Travis invites Bobby over to help him, Kevin, and Sig get ladies, which they plan to do by stealing the school’s pointless cougar statue (“This school has nothing to do with cougars,” says Sig. Bashing the title: never gets old). Again, not how girls were won over when I was in college! Still, I cannot complain: It’s no coincidence that my last favorite episode was the premiere, in which a tree was T.P.’d. I like when these people get into trouble together. Especially funny is when Chick shows up and smashes the campus vending machine to prove his worth to the group.

Ellie, in her mission to reveal her mother’s sinister nature to the world, invites Jules over for a drink and forces her to hide behind the counter when Betsy walks in with a gift for her. Betsy calls the presumed-gone Jules an “ungrateful bitch” who would “look like Alice Cooper” if she cried. (She DOES!) Once Jules knows the truth, Ellie asks her if she’ll approve Ellie’s desire to kick her mom out of her life. Andy thinks Ellie’s asking him, but it’s her moral compass (her BFF) that she needs. Ellie asks Jules to get Betsy to say something nice about her, just so she knows it’s worth it to keep trying. I love this! This is Ellie at her best: hostile, ruthless, but human. She’s vulnerable, which clearly pisses her off, but it makes it so much easier to want to be on her side.

Laurie spends this episode wearing improbably adorable ponytails on top of her head (as she is wont to do) and baking cakes. It turns out that cake baking is her lifelong dream, and it is so exciting to see her care about something like this. I feel like I’m gushing! But I just think positive reinforcement is important. So Laurie bakes Grayson a cake to congratulate him on his new daughter (whose brief appearance in this episode is in a pen behind the bar, which seems safe and appropriate). When Grayson realizes how much this hobby of Laurie’s could benefit him, he goes ahead and buys an oven, adds her to his menu, and generously offers her half of her own profits. It is not his most sincere or thought-out plan, so it isn’t surprising when Laurie turns him down. Yes, she wants to bake cakes, but she’s always thought of it as her “one day” plan, and she’s touchingly afraid of failure. It doesn’t seem like she should be — as long as she doesn’t really call her cakes “Krazy Kakes.” Yes, that’s very Laurie, but changing Cs to Ks has never been a really solid business plan.

In her attempt to win over Betsy, Jules invites her over and launches into a tirade about Grayson and his tiny, beady eyes. Betsy takes the bait and complains about her first ex-husband, Ellie’s father. She insinuates that she doesn’t feel like she has a connection to Ellie, and won’t say anything nice about her. It’s surprisingly sad. It made me want to hug Ellie, which is something that I’ve never wanted and that Ellie would surely reject. When Ellie asks Jules what Betsy said, Jules lies, telling her Betsy said she was “a good mom.” Come on, Jules. Nobody’s buying that, least of all Ellie.

Because she seems to have an internal GPS for family, Jules somehow locates her father on Travis’s campus, to seek out his advice. First, obviously, she helps the guys with the Great Cougar Caper. They get busted hiding in a reenactment of a Civil War statue, but it turns out campus cops at Travis’s school can be bought for $20, and also like to smoke weed. What the boys will do with the cougar now that they’ve got it remains to be seen, but you do what you gotta do after you’ve walked around campus wearing a helmet for weeks on end.

Chick tells Jules that family members don’t get a free pass into a person’s trusted inner circle — loyalty is earned. Jules takes that sentiment back home with her, hands Ellie Big Carl, and goes about showing her that even if her own mom won’t be there for her, Jules will. They hug, which made my roommate climb into my lap and hug me, too, so again: This episode did something right. Jules even makes the crew say nice things about Ellie before she’ll give them wine. Laurie bails, and Grayson and Andy can’t seem to come up with much, but Ellie has Jules, and that’s all she ever really needed.

Photo: Eric McCandless/© 2011 American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. All rights reserved.