Last night’s Cougar Town was a weird one. In a lot of ways, the episode felt poorly constructed and more random than the series usually is, particularly in the set-up of its main dramatic tension framework. The jokes weren’t too great either.
However, “Lost Children” continued to explore the series’ most central conceit: How awful are these people, will they ever change and does it matter if they do? Thus far this season, Cougar Town has tried to work these questions into a number of episodes, but usually they’re draped in really funny gags. Here, those concerns are front and center with not as much humor or general Cougar Town charm, which makes for an odd feeling episode, but an interesting one nonetheless.
We all know that Jules is kind of an awful person and everyone else feels the same way, but they love her anyway. It seems as if a lot of this stems from Jules’ power of personality and the bond that she has with Ellie, which connects all these people together even when the others’ faces make them want to take up boxing (best line of the night!). But here, Ellie and Jules have it out with one another and without her best friend’s usual support, Jules’ biggest faults and broadest qualities make their way to the surface and she becomes one of the worst versions of herself. The rest of the group quickly abandons her while she stomps around the neighborhood looking for answers to how they perceive her so that they can play Ellie’s weird, but hilarious sardine-in-a-can-like game.
Meanwhile, splitting up Jules and Ellie for an episode means interesting pairings that we don’t get to see all the time, including Grayson and Andy and Laurie and Bobby. It seems like we spend time with these specific duos all the time, but when I thought about it longer and looked at plot summaries from past reviews, we really don’t. Both stories are small, but effective, particularly the bits with Grayson and Andy. Andy’s distrust of attractive jock-looking dudes like Grayson is probably something the two of them should have spoken about a long time ago, but because this group is full of sort of-awful goofballs, they tend not to take the time to stop and see whether or not they’re really bothering the other. Plus, Grayson using Travis’ sweatshirt to tie Andy to a tree was just fantastic.
But apart from those high moments, I’m not totally sold on why any of this happened to begin with. Ellie randomly decided to buy herself a pickup truck and start dressing like a trucker, which did provide a funny sight gag but didn’t really make a whole lot of sense or feature a good pay-off. I’m not complaining about having all the cast members slowly pile into the back of the truck as a way to hide from Jules, but it seemed like the fissure between Ellie and Jules came out of nowhere and ended in a similar fashion. The series needs to explore the complications in their relationship and I thought last week’s look at the history of their friendship was a pretty good way to handle it, but I’m not exactly sure why we needed the truck and the outfits to discuss why they’re both hateful and lovable at the same time.
I know these aren’t people who are going to change very easily and I think that’s the point of both this episode and the series overall, but there was just simply something missing with the execution of this episode that kept it from being one of the better efforts of the season. “Lost Children” certainly isn’t bad, but the impact isn’t what it could have been because of some weird choices.