Sometimes the high-concept part of a television episode gets in the way of the main story, taking it over and making everything else seem irrelevant. That’s not always a bad thing, though, and in “Hard on Me” it’s the goofy gimmicks that gave an otherwise somewhat disappointing episode its great moments. No one is going to remember much about how Jules’ dad was in a funk and needed to get out of it, but the weird sick-vampire cabal that results from Ellie’s flu? That, on the other hand, was just the right amount of strange to make for compelling television.
All of this is to say that “Hard on Me” was far from a great episode of television, but it had some punctuated moments that made watching it all the way through still pretty delightful. Cougar Town has had trouble making Jules’ dad interesting in the past, and here he’s even less compelling than usual. Jules wants him to help everyone train for a 5k run, but he’s unwilling to do so in any mode less than turbo, i.e. nasty. All of this makes the “heartwarming” ending of this story between him and Jules feel particularly forced and grating.
But without this so-so part of the episode, we wouldn’t have a reason for everyone else in the cul-de-sac crew to get sick and join Ellie’s evil cabal (not, I suppose, that they’re necessarily evil, but they do dress in a lot of black). I won’t claim that this was particularly smart humor, but it was exactly the amount of wackiness that Cougar Town needs to stay interesting. By taking this idea to its utter extreme, the show did something unique with it, and seeing the gang go around the city in their inexplicable black hoods was wonderful, as were the certain-to-be-disgusting wine/medicine popsicles. Eww.
The episode’s b-story was even better, at least in its conclusion. Grayson nails an audition for a commercial, meaning that he’s able to live out some of his longtime, semi-abandoned dream. The only problem is that it’s for a testosterone supplement, so he’s not certain he wants to do it. Ultimately, though, he realizes that it’s still a version of his dream, albeit a disappointing one, and Grayson goes all out for the commercial. The commercial airs in its entirety during the credits and, suffice to say, it couldn’t have been better.
You could tell that “Hard on Me” was written around these high-concept goals, that they weren’t something that came naturally out of the script, but that didn’t really matter. They were strong enough to warrant the slightly loopy plotting, and while that didn’t make for the best episode overall, it led to some extremely memorable moments.The thing is, I’d rather have a Cougar Town that embraces this sort of goofiness than another bland sitcom about a group of white friends hanging around together. It’s these strange ideas that make the show enjoyable and unique—and the great thing about Cougar Town is that the show’s cast and crew know it, too, and are more than willing to devote entire episodes to making more of these moments of sublime stupidity happen.