‘Cougar Town’ – ‘Down South’: The okay storm

Senior Television Writer
05.09.12 17 Comments


A review of last night’s “Cougar Town” coming up just as soon as I kill you with mustache clues…

This is a dangerous time of year to be a TV reporter or fan. With the network upfronts only days away, the rumors about cancellation and renewal keep piling up, and it’s impossible to tell which are real, which are smokescreens, and which are just wishing and hoping. That said, the various reports that “Cougar Town” is going to move to TBS because ABC won’t be picking it up feels more like solid ground than quicksand. It’s entirely possible that the TBS talks could fall apart, or even that ABC might reconsider cancellation(*), but based on my limited ability to read the tea leaves, the TBS move seems more probable than a lot of other reports floating around this week.

(*) Though, as Dan pointed out on our podcast this week, “Cougar Town” going to TBS is a win-win for ABC as a company, as it keeps one of the studio’s shows in production while freeing the network of a commitment to one of its lowest-rated shows.

But until we know that for sure, we have to board up the windows (or get our equivalent of Tom to do it) and prepare ourselves for the possibility of a storm that sweeps “Cougar Town” off of television altogether. And it feels like a lot of this season has been written with the belief that the show’s future was shaky, and that it was time to stop stalling on certain storylines, just in case. So Jules and Grayson are going to get married, and now we’re genuinely engaging with the idea of a Travis/Laurie relationship.

We’re not there yet on the latter, obviously. In an episode about characters having to face uncomfortable truths about themselves – that Grayson’s a tired middle-aged man and not cool catchphrase guy, that the best thing Jules can do for her son may be to let him date her white trash former assistant – the most important, and moving, involved Travis recognizing that if he wants to be the right guy for Laurie in the long-term, he unfortunately has to do something that will keep him from being the guy for Laurie right now. It’s not exactly running a long con, and it’s entirely possible that she’ll fall deeper and deeper for Wade, but Travis’ appeal for Laurie is as The Good Guy, and The Good Guy doesn’t sabotage her current relationship for a chance to slide into first position.

I wasn’t entirely prepared for the emotional kick of those final scenes. To that point, “Down South” had been a perfectly amiable episode of “Cougar Town,” with the hurricane inspiring various amusing distractions for the crew (a “Perfect Storm” re-enactment akin to Andy living out his “Shawshank” fantasies in season 1, playing Penny Can to decide what game to play to decide if Travis can date Laurie, the guys being entranced by a trio of wet younger women), and I didn’t expect Travis and Laurie to wind up together by episode’s end. Travis suffering for his Good Guy-ness is a pretty familiar trope, after all. But Travis having to act as Wade’s body with the iPad duct-taped to his face was a perfect, unexpected mix of whimsy and heartache, and the reason I’m okay with Bill Lawrence shows going for emotional climaxes even when they don’t work, because you need enough swings at bat to hit the odd home runs like this.

Outstanding work by Dan Byrd, and it adds an extra layer of intrigue to the final episodes of the season (and hopefully not the series).

A few other thoughts:

* Speaking of first position, I’m told that the actors’ contracts are tied to the show staying in production, and not to it staying on ABC. So if TBS does pick it up, the pilots that Dan Byrd and Josh Hopkins are in would have to replace them if they’re picked up.

* Once again, I feel like there needs to be a continuity person assigned solely to the question of how much Jules does and doesn’t know about movies. The “Perfect Storm” gag and Jules’ horribleness at Celebrity were individually very good jokes, but put together, and combined with her movie obliviousness from early in the season, and I have no idea if she’s supposed to have ever stepped into a theater or not.

* Best main title sequence tagline so far: “I didn’t know it was back on, either. – Abed”

* Josh Hopkins doing all of Michael Jackson’s moves from the “Black or White” video (particularly from the 7 minute point on) = win.

* I am both intrigued and terrified to learn more about Buttball.

What did everybody else think?

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