The problem with “We Stand a Chance” was that it didn’t come much sooner. After a season where very little happened and Cougar Town’s creative well went from a bit dry to startlingly barren, this season—or perhaps series, as the show has still been neither canceled nor renewed—finale was a complete return to form and the best episode in a long time. All of the main problems that had slowly been creeping into the series were missing, and in their place we got a sweet yet powerful episode that took the show and its characters into new places yet always felt fundamentally like it was still Cougar Town.
The big story, the one that really has a palpable effect on the show if it isn’t canceled, is Laurie’s pregnancy. The machinations of letting Jules know about Laurie’s pregnancy first were zany in an enjoyably sitcom-y sort of way, which is to say ridiculous but consistently entertaining. But by creating some real stakes, something that has been missing from the show for a very long time, the many assumptions Cougar Town has been making were called into question. Do Travis and Laurie make sense as a couple? And even if they do, is the couple ready for a child? As the pair acts out a fake marriage and soon finds themselves squabbling about their future, it’s both entertaining and for once a bit difficult to watch. There’s real suspense here, in the classical Hitchcockian sense of the word, and as a result their fight really matters.
This also means that the resolution at the end of the episode, while perhaps easy to predict given the show, still felt meaningful in a way that so many of Cougar Town’s pat endings don’t. Travis and Laurie really had to work this out for themselves, particularly Travis, and because of what we’ve seen of him this season, it wasn’t exactly a given what he’d decide. The road that led them to staying together felt real, the only bad part being that we’ve seen relatively little of their relationship’s development before now. In and of itself, this story was excellent, but it also acted as a reminder of how much season five has been lacking in Travis/Laurie, as the strength of their relationship is something we mostly have to infer simply by how long they’ve been together.
The episode’s B and C stories orbited around this much bigger, more important development (I rather loved the moment when Grayson and Bobby come in to brag about their breakdancing competition only to be told about Laurie’s pregnancy and completely regain their sense of perspective), but they were fulfilling as well. The fact is, Cougar Town has always been about getting older; it’s just done a poor job with this theme of late. The breakdancing competition was a wonderful way of dramatizing this and a fun little story that left us room, emotional and otherwise, for the main course. Likewise, Andy’s fear of being fired was also interesting as it took the show to a place it rarely has, which is to say the real world of financial problems. His security there has always been assumed by the show, but putting that at risk helped the entire episode’s questioning of what will come next. By even questioning his future, it felt like the show’s safety nets had been removed.
The strength of all these stories helps illustrate the problem that had been creeping into Cougar Town for so long: a lack of reality. When the show began, this was actually one of its strengths. Cougar Town was insular and with this made its own rules about what was possible and what wasn’t. This, I suspect, is a lot of why Dan Harmon admired the show so much. Within its bubble, the world had real risks and emotions, though, so it didn’t matter how many in-jokes popped up. Even before Cougar Town moved to TBS, though, the risks had started disappearing, and problems that could puncture the cul-de-sac’s bubble became less and less frequent. In a way, I’d prefer it if this were the first episode of the season rather than the last, as then it would set the tone for what’s to come. With a new baby on the way, financial problems and constant battles with the effects of growing old, “We Stand a Chance” returned the cul-de-sac to Earth.
As mentioned earlier, Cougar Town is yet to be renewed. For most of this season, I’ve been feeling as if letting the show go wouldn’t be a bad thing, as while it was still perfectly enjoyable, it had lost its extra punch. This finale complicates things, though, because it was so vital in a way the rest of the season wasn’t. If this was a mark for the show’s new direction (the episode’s opening joke about not taking a trip anywhere was inspired, and to a large extent indicates this exactly), then I would love to have another season. However, aside from what we had here, there’s no particular reason to expect that a sixth season wouldn’t be a return to the doldrums. In any case, if this was the ending, it was a fine note for the show to go out on, one that did a great job summing up what Cougar Town was about without retreading old ground.