Season premiere review: 'Cougar Town' - 'Ain't Love Strange': A perfectly predictable proposal?
"Cougar Town" is back for its third season. I offered a reminder yesterday that the show has nothing to do with its stupid title any more, and I have a review of the season premiere coming up just as soon as I throw my Too Creepy flag...
We're stuck with the title — and, thankfully, with the weekly jokes about it in the opening credits (this week: "Yeah, it's still called 'Cougar Town.' We're not happy about it either.") — but "Ain't Love Strange" worked not only as an ideal Valentine's Day episode(*) but as a perfect illustration of what the show has become. (And was, appropriately enough for a mission statement-y kind of episode, both written and directed by Bill Lawrence.)
(*) You know, for the romantically-inclined whose V-Day plans involved sitting in front of the TV with their sweethearts. Sigh...
On the comedy end of things, we had a variety of clever-bordering-on-surreal running gags, whether Jules buying the rest of the gang wine glass-holding necklaces, Travis and his new housemates building their own green screen (the comedy gift that kept on giving, particularly with Bobby and Travis acting out the end of every cheesey romantic comedy ever), Grayson's obsession with Jules' mouthguard (and one of the catchiest Grayson ditties ever in the slightly longer morning routine song) and, of course, everything to do with Dog Travis. Like "Happy Endings," or "30 Rock," or "Community," it just felt like the gags kept piling on top of each other, to the point where if you didn't find all of them successful (and I did, btw), odds are enough were going to hit your funnybone to work.
And yet even in the midst of all the absurdity, this was an episode that managed to be repeatedly, successfully sweet — and, at the end, incredibly romantic. There have been times on both this show and "Scrubs" where Lawrence has tried to force the Climactic Heartwarming Trifecta — when an episode's three storylines will converge on a common emotional theme, completely with uplifting guitar-driven pop song(*) to underline it — and it just feels like sentiment for the sake of sentiment (or formula). This was not that. Whether it was Laurie helping Ellie feel (mostly) better about Stan, Bobby admitting he just needed a favor from his son or, especially, Grayson giving Jules the exact proposal she wanted (albeit in a strange, twisted, "Cougar Town" fashion), the emotion felt natural to the story and made the comedy feel richer as a result.
(*) In this case, the song was "Fall" by Ed Sheehan.
Lawrence's shows have always had a good romantic streak — in terms of proposals alone, I always think about J.D. running around Turk and Carla while holding sparklers after she finally said yes — and the idea that Jules and Grayson would take things to the next level in a lawn draped in toilet paper, surrounded by all their friends (and Tom), with Grayson dressed as a cop and Jules rendered speechless for one of the few times in her life, was just lovely.(**)
(**) And the brief cut to Travis putting a reassuring arm around his dad in what had to be a very complicated moment for Bobby was a nice touch. So often, scenes on shows are only about what the central characters of that scene care about, and here the show paused for a moment to acknowledge that while Bobby is happy for his friends, this also pretty much ends whatever hope he still held of reconciling with Jules.
Excellent start to, based on what I've seen, is the strongest "Cougar Town" season to date.
What did everybody else think?