Situations change, but people largely remain the same. That’s what last night’s prom-themed episode of Cougar Town was about, and it’s a fitting tone for a show that’s committed to both keeping its formula and acknowledging that its characters don’t leave static lives. An almost completely random trip down memory lane leads the cul-de-sac crew into being high school chaperones, which is the type of highly charged nostalgia space where everyone ends up lost in their memories.
The most important story here was Laurie and Jules’ attempt to live it up at prom. Jules in particular just wants to go out and party while Laurie, looking resplendent in what was apparently Busy Phillips’ own prom dress, isn’t really up for it. The thing is, she’s a mom now and getting drunk at a high school prom isn’t really a mom thing to do. Fair enough, but that’s not really what Cougar Town’s about, and while young Bobby is more prominent on the show than Stan ever was, he’s still not exactly a character. Laurie and Travis going out partying isn’t exactly realistic… or even realistic adjacent, but it’s an idealisation that’s pretty fulfilling onscreen. Oh, and on the side, Jules relives her fears of dance circles, which is a fear I can’t help but empathize with. Those things are terrible.
A lot of why Laurie’s struggle is so interesting is because it turns her wacky stories about her time growing up into something pretty tragic. There was a weird amount of pathos in “The Wild One, Forever,” which gave weight to some otherwise fluffy and ridiculous stories. For instance, Travis and Grayson spent the entire episode trying to decide which high school student should be “allowed” to date a girl (maybe she should be involved in this decision…?), projecting their own high school selves onto the two kids. It’s dumb, but you feel like the two of them are having a moment, and all of this was executed with enough self-awareness to sell what should’ve been a much weaker story.
My favorite part of the episode, though, was Andy and Ellie’s attempt to stop a de-pantsing at the prom. This story had the perfect level of pathos and stupidity, which is a combination Cougar Town seems to execute better than any other show. Ellie flirts with jerks to find out who’s going to do it, while Andy tries to get all the nerds out of the building before this can hit, hoping to prevent another disaster like the one that happened to his best friend in high school. Eventually, he jumps in the way of an oncoming de-pantsing and instead becomes de-pantsed himself. He’s heroic… even though, again, this is all gloriously stupid. Everything about this story, from the way Ellie was jumping at every “bad” guy she came across, to the kids playing with action figures at the prom, was over-the-top, but I mean that as high praise.
I’m going to assume that the representation of the prom itself was terrible (how would I have any idea what proms look like nowadays), but it was a television prom filled with television stories. Everything was exaggerated and strange, but also filled with strange amounts of affection and concern for the cast, which is what makes for the best episodes of Cougar Town. I also appreciate that the series continues dealing with its characters’ massive life changes, but keeps its identity. Cougar Town really returned to its earlier excellence this season, and having such a good execution of a pretty silly premise like this only serves to show just how much it knows what it’s doing.