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Cougar Town, Ep. 5.01, “All or Nothing”: a half hour about being scared

Cougar Town, Ep. 5.01, “All or Nothing”: a half hour about being scared

COUGAR TOWN

Cougar Town Season 5, Episode 1 “All or Nothing”
Written by Blake McCormick
Directed by Michael McDonald
Airs Tuesday nights at 10pm ET on TBS

As a teenager, I always assumed something like fear would stop being a factor in my life pretty early on. Jobs, families, a place to live… all of these things seemed inevitable – and once they were achieved, it was natural to assume I’d never be afraid of anything again. After all, Freddy Kreuger didn’t seem so scary to my parents, even though I lost sleep the first time I saw Johnny Deep pulled through his bed, only to re-emerge as a blood splatter. But even as adults, we’re all able to be shocked or scared – and in Cougar Town’s fifth season premiere “All or Nothing”, numerous members of the Cul de Sac Crew finds themselves facing the elephants in their respective rooms they’ve tried to ignore.

The idea is introduced through a couple simple background stories: both Stan’s fear of Freddy Krueger and Tom’s fear of being left behind by the group are two extremes of the “fear” spectrum, a child reacting to a horror film and a middle-aged man’s desperation to not end up alone. They’re mostly used for laughs, but in an episode that deals with some very serious internal issues with Jules and Grayson, the lighter, more superficial edge to their stories is almost needed. There are plenty of jokes to be found with Grayson and Jules’ individual stories, but underneath the beer towers and movie slutting are some very serious situations: a mother letting go of her son (and best friend), and a man expressing the importance of his bond with another man. Two very different stories, but two very serious personal issues – “All or Nothing” hides it well with Bobby jokes and Ellie’s usual attitude, but the somber underpinnings of last season’s final episodes are still very much apparent in season five.

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Of the two big stories, “All or Nothing” actually digs further into Grayson and Bobby’s relationship than it does with Jules and Laurie/Travis – what begins as a predictable “forgotten bar tab” trope (see: Cheers and Norm Peterson) turns into a touching little story about masculinity. It’s not a cliche that men struggle to communicate with each other (especially when they’re not related, despite what bro culture might suggest), and Grayson’s frustration over Bobby not paying his tab slowly reveals itself to be about Grayson being afraid of being unappreciated by someone he considers his friend – an insignificant drama, yes, but one that recalls a younger, single (and much lonelier) Grayson, whose only friends were the college girls he picked up at bars. Speaking both to the growth of his character over the years and his ever-existing fears of being unaccepted by his male brethren, “All or Nothing” allows Grayson to be truly vulnerable for a moment, something all too rare in comedic television for male characters – and in the process, reaches a hilarious conclusions as they share a hot beer in Bobby’s *used* hot tub (now parked in the Cobb-Ellis household).

With Jules, “All or Nothing” has to juggle both the short and long-term arcs of the fifth season, and leaves its conclusion feeling a bit under-cooked: there isn’t much input from Laurie or Travis as Jules works through her mixed feelings about their new relationship. There’s a lot more humor (and drama) to be found as Jules’ best friend begins pulling her only child away from her, as it’s obvious that “All or Nothing” can’t (and shouldn’t) reconcile in a tidy 20 minutes: Laurie and Travis dating is something we’re all going to have to get used to (at least for a little while), a significant change as Cougar Town has had to its core dynamics since Grayson and Jules got together. This won’t be the only time Jules gets weird and crazy about their relationship this season – and hopefully the show will dish that out in medium-sized doses throughout the season, as the loss of a best friend who is essentially “taking” her son away from her could lead into broader, repetitive “crazy Jules” stories I just don’t want to watch.

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For a season premiere, “All or Nothing” doesn’t get too heavy into the two biggest changes of the season (Bobby having an income, and Laurie/Travis getting naked, sexy, touchy, and grabby), instead using stories about other characters to introduce these new dynamics into the fold. When a comedy reaches a fifth season, there’s always fear that a comedy will either try to change itself too much or creatively stagnate – “All or Nothing” recognizes this fear in a meta-way, and a does a great job telling stories to assure us there’s nothing to be afraid of – at least not yet.

 

Other thoughts/observations:

– Grayson: “You started your second book today, because your first book of tabs is full.” Bobby: “I finished a book?”

– not only do they sneak in a very smartly shot “naughty shower” scene, but they also seize the opportunity to make a joke about an ‘erect penis’. Well done, Cougar Town.

– the opening title card read: “Season five? Didn’t see that coming.”

– Jules is now a self-proclaimed ‘movie slut’ after their trip to LA: “Hitchcock? That’s a dirty name!”

– Grayson: “I can’t hold my tongue anymore!” Bobby: “Did you burn it on a pizza?”

 

— Randy