Cougar Town Season 5, Episode 5 “Hard On Me”
Written by Mary Fitzgerald
Directed by John Putch
Airs Tuesday nights at 10pm ET on TBS
There aren’t many recurring characters who bring as much gravitas to a comedy as Ken Jenkins does on Cougar Town. Anytime Chick shows up in town, Cougar Town morphs from a slapstick comedy about 40-somethings into something more existential, using the established father/daughter relationship to explore some of the more difficult, unanswered questions we face as we head into the middle portion of our lives. “Hard On Me” is no exception: even when it’s not focused on Chick and his Alzheimer’s, death (in the form of an infected Ellie) hangs over the entire episode, a symbolic reminder of life’s cruelest inevitability whenever Chick isn’t on-screen.
As expected, Chick’s presence yanks the attention away from anything else going on this season, and puts it squarely on him and his daughter as they attempt to turn back the clock to try and pull Chick out of the funk he’s in (the guy’s sitting around, watching home repair shows: he needs some help). Of course, both of them overcompensate – who wouldn’t desperately try and pull a family member away from death’s grip? As humans, depression and fear often cause us to regress, falling back into old, comfortable routines and easy ways to distract ourselves from the hardest truth in life: everyone dies at some point, and the only time guaranteed to us is the present (remember what Master Oogway says about that word in Kung-Fu Panda).
In a deft little move, it’s actually Grayson’s silly little adventure into acting that best personifies this idea: Grayson himself is facing the death of his never-really-alive acting career, causing him to fall into a vapid little spiral of insecurity, more like the recently-divorced man we met back in the show’s early episodes, than a functioning adult (one who calls his midsection The Truth, that is). Like Jules’s 5K, Grayson’s audition represents characters distracting themselves from imminent truths, by trying to recapture old feelings and experiences: they’re both afraid to let go and enter the unknown, a world where Grayson doesn’t imagine himself starring in Top Gun 2 (as I like to think he does), and Jules doesn’t wake up worried about what’s going to happen with her father.
The combination of those two stories really give “Hard On Me” the kind of emotional backbone we expect from Chick appearances on Cougar Town – and despite the show over-explaining its resolutions (especially when Chick and Jules are sitting on the children’s playground), it makes “Hard On Me” one of the strongest entries of the season. It finds a mix of humor and emotional levity other episodes haven’t been able to capture: instead of spreading the broad humor around to everyone, most of the lighter humor is kept to Ellie “helping” everyone escape the crazy grip of Coach Chick and his insane workouts – and even there, the theme of death isn’t completely lost, as she turns each of Jules’s friends and family members into “ghosts” who can’t help her hide from her true anxieties about her father’s imminent passing. It’s not something the show can (or even should) try to do every week, but for a couple episodes a year, the presence of Ken Jenkins always elevates Cougar Town into a more thoughtful, reflective show – and in the process, a more emotionally affecting one.
– Bobby: “I WANT THAT PRODUCT.”
– Tom, to Ellie: “Take me inside you.”
– the growing friendship between Grayson and Bobby over the past season and a half has been terrific to watch, as seen in their shared bar scene in this episode.
– if that final scene doesn’t pull at your heart strings, you must be a freakin’ robot.
– aww, Bobby wants to get married again. I’m so glad Cougar Town is getting back to Bobby growing up – it’s one of the show’s most fertile and potentially rewarding story threads.