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Cougar Town Recap: Giving Thanks

COUGAR TOWN - "It'll All Work Out" - When Jules realizes that the cul-de-sac crew didn't celebrate Thanksgiving together, she decides to celebrate the holiday, even though it's spring. But the family spirit is shattered, in more ways than one, when Little Stan gets his hands on Big Carl and Jules questions Ellie's parenting skills. Meanwhile, Travis struggles to write Jules' wedding vows and asks Bobby and Laurie for help, and Grayson helps a nervous Andy practice for the annual pizza toss for candidates running for mayor, on "Cougar Town," TUESDAY, MAY 15 (8:30-9:00 p.m., ET) on the ABC Television Network. (ABC/PETER "HOPPER" STONE)
BRIAN VAN HOLT, CHRISTA MILLER, IAN GOMEZ, COURTENEY COX, JOSH HOPKINS, BUSY PHILIPPS

It’s hard to know for sure if last night’s double dose of Cougar Town felt extra-sweet just because the episodes themselves were written that way, or because we now know that the Cul-de-Sac Crew is safe and sound, having found a new home for next season’s episodes on TBS. It’s probably a bit of both. The second episode’s opening scene — which featured a tongue-in-cheek reference to the fact that the group “missed” Thanksgiving this year and weren’t sure whether or not they were sticking around — certainly felt like a knowing nod of relief shared between the writers, the cast, and the audience. I know the normal saying is “sigh of relief,” but I don’t like that version as much, so I’m changing it.

The central arcs of these episodes brought us, and the couple themselves, closer to the wedding of Jules and Grayson, who moved in together and (sort of) began work on writing their vows. Their wedding is just four TV months off, and though they have proved their effectiveness as teammates, Jules and Grayson have work to do to prove (mostly to themselves, but also to us) that they can be partners. Yes, it took a weirdly and improbably selective hurricane destroying Grayson’s house to get him to move in with Jules. Yes, the question of how best to raise Tampa is more complex than anything solved last night. But considering the number of diversions one is likely to encounter in Gulfhaven on any given day, and the pressure to keep one’s white shirt clean while doing so, Jules and Grayson are making progress at a pretty reasonable rate.

When Jules takes Grayson to her therapist to discuss the stress of his moving in, she warns the couple that, despite having gone through marriage once already, they aren’t likely to find round No. 2 any easier. She tells them they’re likely to project their exes’ flaws onto each other — a warning they laugh off and promptly fulfill. Grayson overreacts to Jules’s white lie about being an environmentalist (she really just forgot to flush) because his ex-wife hid her true personality until after the wedding day. Jules lets Grayson’s tardiness to dinner convince her that he’ll start withdrawing from the relationship, just like Bobby did. Like these characters so often do, they try to avoid talking through their problems at first; this time, though, they take introspective laps around the house to both settle down and think about what they really want to say to each other. It’s a very adult thing to do, even for people who are already in their mid-forties, and especially for Jules and Grayson.

It is the simplistic, Winnie the Pooh–like wisdom of Bobby, though, that ultimately makes Jules realize that she’s doing just what the therapist said she would. After she fights with Grayson about his lateness, she asks Bobby what about her drove him away. Her fears about getting into this situation all over again (and about what would happen to her if it fails all over again) are touchingly honest. The characters on this show don’t often let on that they have feelings, which can make the moments in which they do all the more powerful. Bobby tells J-Bird that their breakup was on him, and that she shouldn’t worry about Grayson being like him, or her being like Vivian. So Jules stops treating Grayson like Bobby — she lifts the couch wine ban she’d inflicted on them both, only to have him spill a glass all over her white blouse. Of course, massive wine spills were always, presumably, going to be a part of that marriage.

The subplots of both episodes reflected this theme of overcoming insecurities, too, which is another reason why ending the night on a fake Thanksgiving dinner felt so rightfully triumphant. First Laurie and Ellie try to out-sexy one another, hilariously (and so, so inappropriately) enlisting the help of Travis. According to the ladies’ shared hookup Vinny, Ellie is sexier, but it’s a short-lived sense of victory. Ellie overhears Andy tell Bobby that he wishes Ellie approached their love life as spontaneously as she used to, and she’s so crushed that she hugs (HUGS!) Travis. Laurie and Ellie feel down, so much so that they can’t even rib each other, but Travis encourages them (again, so hilariously, so inappropriately) to feel better about something in themselves we never even knew they doubted. 

And in the second episode, when Jules lets her anger over a broken Big Carl (may he rest in peace) get to her, and she tells Ellie that she’s a bad mother to Stan, Ellie voices fears about her child that we never knew she had. She asked Jules if Stan could be her ring bearer, but given the recent escalation in his bad behavior (he’s gotten into graffiti), she knows she’s asking a lot. Ellie doesn’t want to admit that her kid is kind of a troublemaker, because it’s hard to admit that there are things she can’t control. So Jules offers to help her by disciplining Stan, because she will always be there for Ellie, even when Ellie’s kid kills one of her best friends (Big Carl). The moral support is there among the guys, too — when Andy has to toss a pizza to make a good showing in the mayoral election, Grayson is there for him. Stan carries out a “Fakesgiving” Turkey without ruining anything, because Jules helped. Andy tosses a CGI pizza crust beautifully, because Grayson helped. Yes, some of the personal growth moments in the cul-de-sac seem sillier than others. But these are people who will be there for each other through them all, the type of people who understand the meaningfulness of a loss like Big Carl, and a new beginning like Big Lou.

So the crew gets together and has a fake Thanksgiving dinner, because that’s what Jules wants and they all love her. As promised, Jules reads her alleged wedding vows to Grayson, starting with the Big Carl–based notes Travis and Laurie wrote for her (“I love that I can put an entire bottle of wine in you and carry you around”), but ending from the heart. It will be a while before she can get her real vows together. She might even need more help from her friends. The good news is that they will all be around to give it.

Photo: Peter "Hopper" Stone/ABC