A review of the one-hour "Cougar Town" finale coming up just as soon as I'm not Coolio...
When the "Scrubs" gang went to the Bahamas in the final full season of the regular show, it was done in part so that Bill Lawrence could win a debate with his mentor Gary David Goldberg about whether it was possible to make a funny sitcom vacation episode filmed on location. Lawrence easily won the argument with that "Scrubs" two-parter, and with "Something Good Coming" - which has an extended cameo from "Scrubs" alum Sam Lloyd, playing his "Scrubs" character of singin' lawyer Ted Buckland - he's proved that "My Soul On Fire" was no fluke. He and his people can actually take their show on the road and have it still be their show.
So even as the gang was enjoying the amenities and scenery of Hollywood's favorite Hawaiian resort (which was the chief location of both "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" and FOX's "North Shore," among many, many others), we still got vintage "Cougar Town" running gags, like Andy and Bobby's communication through the door, or the guy's use of the '80s shades, or Jules turning the candle holder from her room into Big Kimo, or Grayson becoming so obsessed with the morning routine song that he has to buy a ukelele to adapt it.
And yet within the comedy was one of the show's more emotionally rich, effectively sweet episodes to date. Travis' identity crisis was obviously the reason for the trip, and Laurie taking advantage of Travis' crush on her to splash some metaphorical cold water on his face was an unexpected way to resolve things there. Bobby's loneliness at taking the first big vacation of his life without a romantic partner was one of those occasionally necessary moments where Bobby's something other than a hillbilly clown, and very well played by Brian Van Holt.
To me, though, the best of those more serious stories involved Jules and Grayson. It's a tricky problem that both they and the show have to solve - particularly since Lawrence told me a while back that he doesn't see a point to introducing yet another baby that will almost never appear on camera - but I like it when the characters on this largely cartoonish show from time to time have to deal with real, complicated emotional issues. Grayson's love of kids gives Josh Hopkins' performance a really winning vulnerability (loved him popping out to complete the "Elmo's World" theme after Ellie's prompting), and he and Courteney Cox were very good in that final scene where they tried to figure out what kind of adventure to go on next.
That's two pretty terrific examples of "Cougar Town" to end the season: a standard Florida-locked show last week, and the gorgeous and funny Hawaiian getaway tonight. We're going to have to wait a little longer than normal for season 3, but these people know what they're doing with the show, and I expect the wait to be worth it.
Some other thoughts:
• I checked with "Cougar Town" co-creator Kevin Biegel - who had a cameo himself as Seinfeld Guy - about what Ted's appearance means for cross-series continuity, given the presence of Christa Miller as Ellie and occasional appearances by Ken Jenkins as Jules' dad. According to Biegel, one draft of the script had a gag where Ted sees a picture of Jules' dad and freaks out because he looks just like Kelso. (Though given that Cox herself briefly played Sacred Heart's chief of medicine, there was certainly opportunity to just deal with it when Jules and Ted met.) The idea is that Chick and Ellie look a lot like Kelso and Jordan but aren't the same person. Also, he says the existence of Coffee Bucks already put the shows in the same universe, and (here's where it gets slightly headache-inducing) that even though there have been Zach Braff references on the show, John Dorian somehow exists as well. Quoth Biegel: "They made fun of Zach Braff on 'Cougar Town,' but Braff is not JD in this universe. Braff just looks like the guy who is JD, just as Kelso looks like Chick and Seinfeld Guy looks like Brad Pitt. (Please quote me!)" So make of that what you will, continuity nerds.
• Also, on the subject of "Scrubs" continuity, how did we not see the whole Hooch/Gooch thing coming? (Hooch is, after all, crazy.) Poor, poor Ted, though I'm always grateful to hear Sam Lloyd reinterpret popular songs in his own depressing but brilliant way. (If you haven't seen it in a while, here's Ted doing the Obadiah Parker version of "Hey Ya" from the aforementioned "Scrubs" vacation episode.)
• Ted got more screen time, but the episode featured another cameo we've been waiting a while for, as Danny Pudi pops up in the background of the early Laurie/Travis scene, closing the loop that "Community" established in the episode where Abed told Jeff the story about being a "Cougar Town" extra. Interesting that the "Community" and "Cougar Town" writing staffs coordinated to a point but only to a point. Abed's a background extra, and he's both too excited to be there and thinking deep thoughts that are clearly about his alter ego as Chad, as he described in "Critical Film Studies." But in that episode, he said the scene involved Courteney Cox, and also that he messed his pants after the take, not in the middle of it.
• Is this the first episode of the series to actually feature the Tom Petty song that provided its title?
• Was surprised/pleased by the title card gag, with the map racing all the way across the continental US, through the Pacific and over to Hawaii for an aloha message.
• Though I'm with Lawrence that adding a second rarely-glimpsed baby is probably an unwise idea - it's something the show can get away with easier when it involves the main character's best friend than it could involving Jules herself - the writers do tend to make Stan's brief appearances count. Baby wrestler with six-pac abs? Awesome!
What did everybody else think?
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