Because Cougar Town recalibrated in the middle of its first season, it’s in a weird position here early in season two. The writers seem interested in going back to certain stories from the early- to mid-part of the series as some weird way of going forward the character development, but by doing so, they’re overtly acknowledging the obvious changes in the series and that’s kind of tricky approach.
There are surely people who liked both versions of the series, those who came in for the pilot and have generally stuck around throughout, and maybe for those people, the last two episodes have been particularly great. But for people like me, who tuned out somewhere around episode four or five and then only occasionally checked in later in the season when I heard things had improved, building plots around past issues from the dark period of Cougar Town is not always appealing. Last week’s examination of the Grayson-Laurie hook-up didn’t particularly hook me, but because the lingering feelings of responsibility and resentment between Jules and Bobby felt more organic within the context of the series’ current equilibrium, I find myself much more satisfied with “Keeping Me Alive.”
What’s so appealing (for me at least) is how well the characters of Cougar Town get along and fit together as an ensemble, both inside and outside the series. But what’s interesting about doing an episode like “Keeping Me Alive” is that it slightly upsets or challenges that dynamic and takes the series in a more emotional and realistic direction, but one that doesn’t necessarily click with other, goofier episodes. So although having Jules and Bobby discuss the dissolution of the marriage and how she still feels like he needs her but she doesn’t need him is a good move on a character level, it also runs the risk of reminding people what kind of series this used to be and what it could be if it steps outside the comfort zone of the cul-de-sac.
And I guess I don’t particularly have a problem with dipping into the past — especially when it is a more distant past that existed before the series even began — because at some point, Cougar Town probably has to do a little more than having these burgeoning alcoholics sit around during sunny evenings drinking and playing goofy (read: freaking awesome) games like Truth or Penny Can. But again, it’s yet another balance the series is going to have to strike if it wants to move forward.
Thus, one could make the argument that Cougar Town has a few issues related to its identity that it will have to address at some point. Will it completely ignore its past or continue to embrace it through conflict? Will it be willing to upset the chill, hilarious dynamic between these people to actually explore some issues that could their lives? I’m not sure, but if it continues to deliver episodes like “Keeping Me Alive,” it doesn’t really matter yet. Yet.