Five seasons in, “Cougar Town” has officially settled into its formulaic groove — for better or worse.
During its Season 5 premiere on Tuesday (Jan. 7), its second season on new network TBS, fans of the Cul-de-Sac Crew got exactly what they’ve come to expect: A goofy mixture of jokes of the long-running inside and meta varieties, with a final act that exhibits some actual emotion and sentiment. And while that formula has proven a winning one for the last four seasons, it all feels a little hollow here.
The A-story, which follows Courteney Cox‘s Jules as she struggles to accept Travis (Dan Byrd) and Laurie’s (Busy Philipps) new relationship, goes through the usual motions. There’s the requisite creepy comments from Jules regarding, oh you know, her son, which goes so far as to actually have her (accidentally) touch a part of his body that kicks that Oedipal thing into hyperdrive. But the denouement fails to resonate.
Perhaps it’s because the existence of Laurie and Trav as an official thing will be the season’s central story, but that final scene between Jules and the couple just felt a tad lacking when compared to what fans are used to.
Then there’s the Bobby Cobb B-story. Bobby (Brian Van Holt) strikes it (sort-of) rich after Penny Can goes global, which leads to a sticky situation with Grayson (Josh Hopkins), who wants Bobby to pay off his giant bar tab. It plays on the familiar trope of: When will Bobby better his life? But in the end, Grayson lets him off the hook and Bobby shows no growth. While sitcom characters, by definition, never change much, the show was doing so much work with this character, highlighting his desire to better his life and grow. This felt a betrayal of all that hard work.
Could part of this be because this is the first season without the involvement of both Bill Lawrence and Kevin Biegel? Possibly. While it’s not as dire a situation as that Dan Harmon-less season of “Community,” this premiere seems to fall victim to a problem of that sort. This episode of “Cougar Town” feels all right on the surface, but there doesn’t seem to be much beyond that. It’s as if the heart is missing from the body.
This isn’t to say it’s a horrible episode. Far from it. “Cougar Town” will always be entertaining; a warm 30 minutes of charming laughs. But might this be its first season of decline? Let’s hope not.
– “I mean it’s really weird seeing them together, but after such a long build up, I guess we gotta let them play it out for a while.” – Grayson, on Trav and Laurie. Pretty spot-on indictment of how I felt watching that relationship exist tonight. Was the build up to this couple better than the reality of it could ever be?
– Tom’s (Bob Clendenin) commentary on the gang’s formula was funny, but it felt a little bit like the show was hoping to let itself off the hook for becoming so formulaic.
– The gang’s preferences in bed:
Ellie (Christa Miller): “I like to be the dominant one.”
Grayson: “I like to watch myself in the mirror.”
Tom: “There’s an Inuit position called ‘the bear claw.'”
Jules: “I like to get my hair pulled. Hard.”
– How long until “Naked Sexy Touchy Grabby” is a thing?
– That’s totally a new Stan, right? Hi, New Stan. Welcome to the fray.
– “I finished a book?” Bobby, upon receiving the two notebooks that are his bar tab.