‘Cougar Town’ – ‘A One Story Town’: The kiss the girl gambit

A review of tonight’s “Cougar Town” coming up just as soon as part of my fantasy involves bragging…

When “Cougar Town” traveled the country doing its fan screenings during the long hiatus, “A One Story Town” was always one of the episodes shown, and for good reason. Not only does it bring six former “Scrubs” co-stars together in the tag so that Ted can finally freak out over how many people in Jules’ life (Ellie, Chick, Angie, the J.D.-looking pizza guy and even, for some reason, The Todd) resemble people from Sacred Heart(*), but it’s just a splendid episode that serves as a strong reminder that “Cougar Town” isn’t just coasting on residual affection for Bill Lawrence’s previous show. More than any episode since the season premiere, it expertly combined the heartwarming and ridiculous sides of this show, pairing the romance with a series of terrific, escalating running gags.

(*) Though note that he’s never all that troubled by Jules herself, even though she was the chief of medicine for a handful of episodes towards the end.

The model for the story is “Gambit,” a ’60s caper movie starring Michael Caine at his suavest and Shirley MacLaine at her most limber(**), which Kevin Biegel has been obsessed with forever. The first 20 minutes of the movie shows Caine and MacLaine pull off the heist with precision timing, only to reveal that this was just Caine describing his plan to an accomplice. When they actually go to do it, the real world, and all the personalities involved, get in the way early and often.

(**) Seriously, there’s a move MacLaine does in the final heist scene that impressed me as much as the outtakes at the end of every Jackie Chan movie where you see how he actually did those stunts.
I’m glad I got to watch it before it disappeared off Netflix Instant along with the rest of the Starz library, but I highly recommend seeking out the DVD, anyway. Lots of fun.

You don’t have to know “Gambit” to appreciate any of this, though. (I wasn’t even aware of the homage until after I’d watched it, and then went looking for the movie.) The structure just serves the story, as we see Jules’ master plan to get Angie to kiss Bobby impeded by bees, Quebecois and manatees, among other obstacles. The worse the date became, the funnier the episode got, especially since we already knew how it was supposed to work in an ideal world. And along the way, we got to once again deal with Jules’ feelings about having such a self-involved best friend in “Sarge,” with Grayson’s neuroses about his abilities as a lover, with Bobby’s tendency to take his shirt off whenever possible (“Haven’t you ever seen ‘Roadhouse’?”), and with how Ted’s band inevitably provides the perfect soundtrack to any big moment. (Putting the Quebecois in town for a crab festival was a particularly clever touch, as it provided an excuse for someone to be dressed in a crab suit, Sebastian-style, while the band sang “Kiss the Girl” from “The Little Mermaid.”)

I also enjoyed Jules and Ellie recreating Tom Cruise’s karate-chopping running style (even though Jules’ movie knowledge waxes and wanes, even within this episode), Tom having a gift for scattering crowds, Bobby repeating the bread bowl mistake over and over, and Laurie being blinded with no one to help her but the “damn Quebec’ers.”

Just a terrific outing. “Cougar Town” firing on all thrusters. As the title card says, it’s “not just ‘Scrubs’ in Florida with wine,” even if Elliot, Jordan, Ted, Bob Kelso, J.D. and The Todd somehow all wound up in Jules’ living room at the same moment.

What did everybody else think?