Cougar Town, Season 4, Episode 7: “Flirting With Time”
Directed by Courteney Cox
Written by Black McCormick
Airs Tuesdays at 10pm ET on TBS
Generally speaking, flashback episodes are a bad idea for sitcoms. It’s a very tough task to pull off a narrative that ties together back stories neatly (back stories that are largely being composed on the spot), without feeling like lazy convolution, or gimmick for the sake of gimmick. ‘Flirting With Time’ takes on the tall task of trying to connect the Cul de Sac Crew in the span of 22 minutes – and surprisingly pulls it off, bouncing back from last week’s episode by adding the heart ‘Restless’ was missing.
Some of the flashbacks parsed throughout ‘Flirting with Time’ are smartly constructed, but largely incidental: Laurie and Travis meeting is amusing, as are the origins of both Penny Can and Ellie’s first single ‘Look At My Ring’. Those are all amusing in a very self-referential way – which makes for a great laugh, but is easy humor for a well-developed show like Cougar Town.
But when they aren’t filling in the silly background jokes (like Bobby’s hair, or how he met Dog Travis), ‘Flirting With Time’ manages to weave every character’s “meet cute” story together in ingenious fashion. The majority of the flashbacks provide insightful glimpses into the foundation of the Sac that don’t feel cheap or contrived. King among these is how Jules impacted Ellie and Andy’s relationship – which in turn, provides some much-needed layers to the Ellie/Andy marriage, the show’s perception of an healthy marriage.
The first seven episodes of this season have sneakily dug into Ellie and Andy’s relationship a bit more and while it doesn’t make for the strongest material the show’s seen, episodes like ‘Flirting with Time’ have softened Ellie’s character a bit. It’s a subtle evolution that could feel more convenient than believable in earlier seasons at important moments. But if season four’s done one thing consistently well, it’s deepening Andy and Ellie’s relationship by melting the Ice Queen a bit. The show doesn’t quite get into Andy and his reservations about getting married much, but the deconstruction of lawyer Ellie and her long-standing confidence is a small stroke of genius by the writers.
I also enjoyed how the show ultimately handles the idea of the Pretty Woman ‘meet cute’ moment – when it’s introduced, it feels like it’s playing a little too heavy on the sentimental romanticism that can plague comedies at times. One of the great things about the evolution of Jules and Grayson’s relationship in the pilot is how naturally it came about, without having to linger on the “big moments” and ideas. Grayson’s proposal last season was a big moment, but one that came out of nowhere, without all the discussion and melodrama building up to it.
The closing scene of ‘Flirting With Time’ is one of the best of the season, but not because it has a cute little moment between Jules and Grayson sharing a look at the end. When Grayson gives Jules the bottle of wine and says it’s great for “making friends” it puts the final piece of the puzzle into place in a beautiful way; that bottle of wine began an important, lasting friendship, which itself is the catalyst for Ellie and Andy getting married.
Most shows have a ball setting up flashback dominoes with fun costumes and self-references, but many falter when trying to knock that contraption of creationism over. ‘Flirting with Time’ certainly handles everything quite neatly for the “continuity nerds”, but does so by making a meaningful emotional connection between its characters. Is this an episode Cougar Town needed to do? No, but they did a remarkable job executing it.
– we never get to hear the plunger story.
– I didn’t talk about Laurie at all above: she’s mostly separated from the group save for Andy, dealing with jumping into a serious relationship with Wade or not. I’m curious to see how this plays out, but I can’t help feeling like we’re entering Smith territory again.
– Bobby and Andy’s ‘meet cute’ is as adorable and weird as it should be.
– Andy has a wicked sunburn in this episode, but it never manifests into a joke. C’mon!
– Mullet Bobby’s analysis of Lawyer Ellie: Matlock with knockers.
– Even Travis’s square head gets an origin story in the episode – a physical feature that somehow comes in handy at parties, although I don’t think it would have that many benefits.