The tagline for this episode of Cougar Town was “Season five? Didn’t see that coming,” and I’m sure the show’s creators aren’t kidding. Yes, there’s the terrible name that always gets in the way of the show finding new viewers, but even for those of us who are fans I think there’s always been a bit of a nagging question as to what the show’s really about. After all, it’s yet another sitcom about wealthy white friends hanging around and quipping to each other—what makes this version of that formula special or in any way necessary?
I came into this episode asking that question because season four, while not a vast disappointment, felt at least somewhat more middling than what came before. Bill Lawrence stepped down as showrunner, and I’m sure some of Cougar Town’s bumpiness came from that transition, but I think just as much of that came from an identity issue. The show always had more ambition than an average sitcom, but as time grew on and the group really gelled, there was less tension. It could no longer be about the cul-de-sac coming together as a group, as they already were one.
With “All or Nothing,” though, I was reminded that the joys of Cougar Town aren’t really about high drama or vast changes in life. Instead, it’s always been about the day-to-day, with a gang of people injecting fun into their lives as they get older in any way they can find. There’s a reason that the show has shied further and further away from the work drama it featured commonly in the first two seasons, and that’s because these problems are antithetical to its focus. Cougar Town is a show about our leisure hours and how we entertain each other in order to get through life, and while that means it will never be particularly deep, that doesn’t keep it from being consistently creative or hilarious.
There’s almost a joy sometimes in the ridiculousness of Cougar Town’s storylines, all of which tend to be treated with the same level of seriousness despite wildly varying levels of real-world relevance. The main storyline here was Jules accepting the simultaneously sweet and kind of weird (creepy would be too far) relationship between her son and her good friend, which was also definitely the highlight of the episode simply because of how far the show was willing to go. Yup, she sure did grab his penis in the shower, and just…wow. Not only that, Cougar Town also played up the creepy relationship Jules has always had with Travis, so that none of the sweet moments that peppered its end could ever be truly satisfying. The stakes were high, but this wasn’t approached in a way as to make you feel that they were; rather it was just another slight adjustment needed for everyone to get along as happily as they were before.
The silliest bit of the show was Bobby earning a royalty check from Penny Can going international, and Grayson’s subsequent irritation that this causes him to in no way try to pay off his extravagant bar tab. Everything about Penny Can, aside perhaps from its occasional overuse, tends to be pretty wonderful because of how divorced from reality it all is. This was no exception, with the bonus of some great hot tub jokes and a series of frighteningly warm beers. There was also a lot of fun made with Stan’s nightmares (on Elm Street) and a series of Psycho homages that were goofy fun. In other words, business as usual, with the show getting into its groove immediately.
The only real disappointment from this premiere, which otherwise functioned as a pleasant reminder of what Cougar Town does so well, was that the show had no idea what to do with Tom, and his running from place to place wasn’t so much funny as it was irritating. I’d prefer it if he remained more of a background character like in the first few seasons, but oh well. Otherwise, an excellent start to the season and one that signals that the creators may have more of an idea about what they’re doing this time out of the gate.