Since its third season, Cougar Town’s main problem has been that the friction of its early episodes was gone. The cul-de-sac gang became friendly with each other, and while there have been intermittent problems since then, the show has been about enjoying the middle of your life, rather than dealing with crises. That can cause episodes to become kind of same-y, because without real stakes, there isn’t any real reason to watch. Its humor has had highs and lows, but the overarching storylines have often just slumped away, hoping to be carried through by clever in-jokes and an excellent cast.
With its final season, though, Cougar Town seems determined not to fall into that trap once again. Yes, the introduction of a baby is a cheap narrative trick, a cliché, but that’s because it’s such an integral part of real life. Instead of feel hackneyed, in Cougar Town it’s acting as a lifesaver. This was the best part of “To Find a Friend,” even though the story is nothing we haven’t seen before plenty of times on other shows, because Cougar Town isn’t content to just give us a realist version of family drama. Laurie and Travis are going to be alone with baby Bobby for the first time ever for an entire weekend. We know things are going to be terrible, but it’s a question of execution: exactly how are they bad? Well, Travis and Laurie begin hallucinating, and the show enters into their sleep-deprived minds, as they try to cope with having no idea whatsoever what they’re doing. There are a few pop culture references (Laurie as Wonderwoman was pretty great), but mostly it’s just a legitimately new and weird way of explaining the strange state of new parents. By the end of the episode, their apartment is trashed, but Bobby is doing fine, and that’s all that really matters. Here’s hoping that the show doesn’t forget about him the way it does other family relationships, because watching Laurie and Travis cope with becoming new parents is the most compelling thing the show’s doing right now.
It’s not the only thing Cougar Town’s trying, though, and the final season also seems to attempt new character pairings, or at least something in relationships that wasn’t there before. Grayson helps Andy search for a new best friend now that Bobby (adult Bobby, that is—I have a certain fondness for doubling him, as well as Travis on the show) has left for the strange world of Atlanta. To be honest, the search is disappointing, even including a weird racist joke of which you can tell the show is completely unaware (and the show’s unawareness when it comes to race and ethnicity has always been one of the worst parts of Cougar Town). But ultimately the ending still worked, because Grayson and Andy do in fact have good chemistry together. I wish the rest of this storyline weren’t so half-assed, but few episodes of Cougar Town in the past couple years haven’t had at least one part that feels lazy, so it didn’t come as much as a surprise.
The last story consisted of Jules and Ellie taking over Grayson’s bar for a weekend in order to prove how easy the job is. Instead, they leave the place unlocked overnight and it gets robbed, so they spend the rest of the episode scrounging up money so as to never admit to Grayson what happened. Eventually, this culminates in them stripping and flirting for tips, raising the prices of everything on the menu and putting on a wonderfully sad coyote ugly show during the credits for their husbands. It was a throwaway story, but unlike Andy’s, it was funny and felt right for Cougar Town. A small, almost forgettable story, but well-executed.
This was the type of mid-season episode that Cougar Town has had a lot of problems with since moving to TBS, but overall it was still enjoyable. I wish Andy’s storyline had gone through some pretty thorough, heavy rewrites, but the cast’s commitment to everything still kept the episode from completely divebombing. The show doesn’t feel like it’s all there )nor has it for a long time except for premieres and finales), but it hasn’t completely given up yet either. That being said, I do wonder what will drive it for the rest of the season, given that its biggest dramatic moments have arrived so early.