Cougar Town is basically a live-action cartoon, perhaps more so than any other comedy on television. There’s probably a nice debate to be had between this series and 30 Rock for which one is more cartoonish. And for the most part, that’s not really a bad thing. I think most people can agree that this version of Cougar Town is better than the weird, kind-of creepy version that we saw at the beginning of season one, particularly because it stops people from now saying that Courtney Cox is going to “Do the real life Cougar Town” since she’s separated from her husband. Well, it deters them a little bit more. Maybe.
Anyway, as a live-action cartoon, Cougar Town is mostly interested in having its characters do lots of zany things, drink a lot of alcohol and not be generally concerned with real-deal emotions or plot development outside of the occasional beat here or there (see the glorious Halloween episode). I think I’m okay with that, even if my favorite episodes of the season are more character-heavy than the rest of the lot, because the goofiness is often so infectious it is hard to complain. That’s the way I feel about last night’s episode, “Little Girl Blues,” which is particularly broad and zany and features another “Jules is an awful person” story, but still features enough laughs and running gags to keep things above water for the 22-minute running time.
The positive side to this sort of formula is that an episode like “Little Girl” succeeds solely on running gags and throwaway moments that add up to a nice package. Bobby hanging from his hammock by a personally installed seat belt is ridiculous, as is Andy feeling Grayson’s butt after he gives a heartfelt admission about how it gets cold right before sex. Ditto for Ellie’s cookie sheet/flickering lights thunderstorm presentation and another awkward Laurie history lesson about doing things with her foster(?) brother. All those things are fairly stupid-funny and broad individually, but because each character gets a moment or three like that in this episode — and usually each week — it makes for a better overall flow.
However, where the series is running into some slight problems, which could become much more prominent in the future, is how Jules acts, particularly in reference to Travis. “Little Girl” is another instance where Jules is completely overprotective in some really awful ways that are supposed to be funny — and usually are — but are just as uncomfortable as they are funny. And I don’t think the series really wants to be uncomfortable.
I understand that part of the series’ formula is that Jules is kind of an awful person, but one who is usually aware of her awfulness, so it’s something that’s on the surface forgivable. Thus, in an episode like the one from just a few weeks back where she makes getting her a birthday gift a major competition can work because she outwardly admits her behavior and more importantly, because this group of people is so tight-nit that they are willing to work with and around her terrible behavior. It’s a real obvious personality quirk (or defect, however you want to define it) and Ellie, Laurie, Grayson, Andy, Travis and Bobby have figured out how to deal with it (mostly).
But where the series is going to run into problems is in cases like the one here, where Jules’ terrible behavior affects someone outside of the group. In this case, she’s awful to Travis’ new girlfriend Kirsten (Collette Wolfe), and I mean awful. Sure, it’s funny and sure, the episode tries to pull it all together with a warm understanding between Jules and Kirsten at the end of the episode, but that’s more of a sitcom-y conclusion than real character development. We know Jules is going to continue to act this way and I’m not sure how long or how many new people the series can have her treat like crap before it becomes glaringly obvious that she is not likable whatsoever. The quirks and defects can become constant reminders of suck, and that’s when things stop being funny. And I don’t want Cougar Town to stop being funny.
For now, it’s okay, but it will be important to see what happens moving forward.