The big problem Cougar Town has been continually trying to overcome since moving to TBS concerns not having much more for its characters to do or say. Narrative is about conflict, and like many sitcoms Cougar Town thrives on having its characters more or less on very agreeable terms with each other. Conflict is, in fact, barely part of its DNA, as it’s always been largely a show about people getting older, drinking, and figuring out what to do with the second half of their lives. You give those storylines too much drama, and things become depressing—and Cougar Town is more about running gags and goofy pantomimes than it is about serious discussions of death and mortality.
So the show’s conflicts tend to be minor, but last season, for instance, they were small to the point of insignificance. In “Waiting for Tonight,” though, Cougar Town did a much better job of drawing out the drama of life’s little irritations. These are always the things the show has excelled at, and in this episode two of the main problems just involve couples looking for more time together. For Jules and Grayson, it’s the search for a night, or even a few minutes, of alone time without friends or family, while for Laurie and Travis it’s for enough time alone to have their first sex since Laurie gave birth.
The stronger of these two stories was Jules and Grayson’s, which goes through a whole rigmarole of sneaking around to avoid friends and family in order to have a secretive night out at a fancy tapas restaurant. Eventually “they” hit one of their neighbors in the cul-de-sac, ruining their plans, and keeping them in. More sit-com shenanigans ensue and they end up alone at Grayson’s bar, with a happy ending. But what made all of this so affecting was the openness. They solved this problem for an evening, but the characters know it’s not going away soon. The ephemerality of this moment away from everyone was what made it sweet, a nice conclusion to the strange journey over there. There’s an acknowledgment of a problem here without trying to offer an easy solution, which made for a weirdly mature end to a Cougar Town episode.
Laurie and Travis’ storyline isn’t nearly so grand. They pretty much just arrange to have babysitters, and it’s pretty much destined to work out from the beginning of “Waiting for Tonight.” But all of this was cleverly done—this story is simply existing in the background of everything else, without calling too much attention to itself. We never even necessarily saw what happened when they were alone, just Ellie’s version of things, which was a clever touch.
Speaking of which, there were two more stories, one of which was just goofy filler. Ellie wants to prove to Laurie that she can run Laurie’s Twitter feed, so Ellie spends the episode impersonating Laurie until she goes, as they say, completely Daniel Day-Lewis and can’t snap out of it. This is one of those throwaway stories that’s pretty much forgettable, but it was still good for plenty of laughs. Similar to Laurie and Travis’ story, it was mostly interwoven with what we saw elsewhere, a small addition that added jokes, without getting too much in the way. That’s another smart thing the show has done this season, keeping its disposable storylines off to the side, so that they don’t bog episodes down. No one will remember this part a month from now, but it did in fact add to the episode as a whole.
As far as the last bit of narrative (wow, there sure was a lot for a show in which typically not much happens), Andy gets stuck in a Buzz Lightyear costume and needs to get out of it before a meeting with his firm’s new clients. When it comes to work problems, Cougar Town almost always falls flat or, at the very least, feels shallow, and this is no exception. He shows up late and in the costume and gets fired, and that’s where things end. But this is a show in which work has always been peripheral, and this weird dose of seriousness feels strange. The Buzz Lightyear story didn’t really feel like part of the same episode even in its setup, so creating this dramatic problem for the rest of the season to deal with is already a bit of a mess.
That being said, it was the only part of the episode that didn’t work well, and it was small. “Waiting for Tonight” was frantic and madcap, with more jokes than most episodes these days, and a pacing closer to something like 30 Rock than a normal episode of Cougar Town. All of this worked in its favor, and though Andy’s story bodes poorly for what happens next, this season remains on pretty sure footing.