Cougar Town Season 5, Episode 6 “Learning to Fly”
Written by Michael Lisbe & Nate Reger
Directed by John Putch
Airs Tuesday nights at 10pm ET on TBS
Underneath the many gimmicks, recurring gags, and generic sitcom tropes of “Learning to Fly”, there are some interesting stories to be told: both Jules’ fear of things going too well in her life and the entirety of the Bobby/Travis plot are terrific avenues for character exploration. However, only the latter of these two really culminates in anything interesting – and being that it’s delegated to B/C plot territory for most of the episode, there’s only so much it can do to enhance what’s around it.
There’s certainly interesting ideas to parse out of the episode’s material (that is, save for the petty, predictable Ellie/Andy stuff), most of it symbolic: the death of Big Tippi isn’t really effective as a plot device for delivering bad karma to Jules (it’s been around for what, a half-dozen episodes), but as a representation of how sudden life can throw us a shitty hand (Big Tippi, for all intents and purposes, is a symbol of Chick’s fragile health). “Hard on Me” once again took a long, hard look at the inevitability of Chick’s death: in a way, “Learning to Fly” acts as foreshadowing, pointing out that no matter how many good or bad things we may do only a daily basis, life is a random, cruel thing that gives and takes without consideration.
Embedded in Jules’ journey to achieve spiritual harmony is the idea of fear: she’s acting so ‘good’ because she’s afraid of karma (no, not Karma Davis, the most fearsome female fighter in Tampa)… but “Learning to Fly” doesn’t address this until it’s wrapping things up, pausing for a moment to reflect where the rest of her well-worn plot ran on auto-pilot. For the first half of the episode, it appears Bobby’s story is heading down the same path of comedic triteness – until it’s revealed that him and Travis share the same fear of roller coasters, and Bobby’s fear is no longer played for comedy, but emotional resolution between father and son, an easy, but resonant little story about two generations of the Cobb family honoring their lineage by conquering their (supposed) genetic fear of corkscrews and rickety wooden structures.
In those few moments, “Learning to Fly” aspires to be something more than the broad comedy of “Force Ellie to act the opposite of normal” (which is becoming a bit repetitive, halfway through the fifth season) or “Jules does bad shit, so bad shit happens” – but its only for a few fleeting moments, when the entire Cul de Sac crew comes to support Travis and Bobby on their creaky, arguably unsafe journey to say farewell to Grandpappy Robbie Cobb (which raises the question: why isn’t Travis named Rob, Robert, Bob, or Roberto?). Cougar Town is always at its best when it keeps things simple: and had it spent the entire episode working towards the conclusion, what feels convenient neatly wrapped up, might have felt a little more organic – and thus, rewarding.
– Am I the only one who thinks Laurie would love yard sales????
– Andy’s best yard sale purchases: a stranger’s wedding video, a Shake Weight, and the pink, furry robe.
– Jules’ plot also relies another tired narrative stereotype: a ‘good’ person does not make a good salesperson.
– Setting the over/under on how many episodes until we see Charity Diaz at three, unless the season finale is packed with a dozen different dopplegangers.
– “Machine gun snarking” might be my new favorite thing.