A review of last night's "Cougar Town" coming up just as soon as I put a mannequin in a dog cage...

Because "Cougar Town" was pre-empted a couple of weeks ago by the Tucson memorial, it was the only one of ABC's Wednesday comedies with an original episode last night. You can look at that as a situation where the show would stand out more as the only non-repeat, or one where nobody pays attention because the series is largely living on overflow from "Modern Family." (I'm awfully curious to see the ratings in a couple of hours.)

Regardless of how "Lost Children" did in the Nielsens, it wasn't one of the season's stronger episodes. There's a messy, unfinished quality to even the best "Cougar Town"s, but this one felt even more ragged than usual, in part because it was trying to confront one of the series' bigger questions: are the members of the Cul-de-Sac Crew in general, and Jules in particular, really just awful people?

I have no problem watching a show about selfish, venal, stupid people (I'd still be watching "Arrested Development" if it were on), so I'm usually not too troubled by Jules and company's weaker moments. But to do an episode largely about that issue requires some tighter construction than "Lost Children" was willing to offer. I'm still not clear on why Ellie suddenly entered a tomboy trucker phase, which was kind of important given that the whole Ellie/Jules feud spun out of Jules' refusal to play along with it. And then for Ellie to at the end wave the whole thing away felt cheap, like the writers only wanted to go so far in discussing this. The show at this point depends so much on the gang being selfish and judgmental while at the same time seeming likable, so if you start tugging on that thread too much, the whole thing comes apart. We saw in this year's Halloween episode with Jules' dad, or in some of last season's Jules/Travis or Jules/Bobby stories that the show has no problem taking its characters' emotions seriously. I don't need them to do that every week, or maybe any week, but once you start to head in that direction, don't flinch.

As for the comedy end of things, I enjoyed Bobby's ongoing attempt to frame "Waiting for Superman" in actual Superman terms, Andy's excitement at seeing his wife dressed in Bobby's clothes, and the image of Andy tied to the tree by his own hoodie made me laugh every time I saw it. And I smiled at the various in-jokes, like Jules and Barb's argument about how Jules isn't a cougar anymore, or even Laurie referencing Butt Numb-A-Thon, the film festival hosted by Harry Knowles from Ain't It Cool News, where Kevin Biegel used to be a contributor. But for the most part I found the jokes as unfinished as the character stuff. The ongoing gag about Tom trying to get into the group has always played out more awkwardly than I think is intended, and Bobby's new girlfriend came and went so quickly that she barely had time to register as the subject of jokes.

Next week's episode is the last one to air before the show takes a break for Matthew Perry's "Mr. Sunshine," and it will again be the only non-repeat ABC comedy that night. I'm hoping we head into the mini-hiatus on a stronger note.

What did everybody else think?