Cougar Town Season 5, Episode 7 “Time to Move On”
Written by Brad Morris & Emily Wilson
Directed by Sam Jones
Airs Tuesday nights at 10pm ET on TBS
Cougar Town‘s recent existential streak may not have solved some of the fifth season’s struggles with intriguing storytelling, but it established themes for the season as a whole that the first five or six episodes largely lacked. Like “Hard on Me”, “Time to Move On” is about looking forward, trying to provide an avenue for the next generation, free of the trappings and mistakes these characters made for themselves the first time around. Ok, Laurie and Ellie’s lesbian adventures in the world of private school picnics doesn’t get quite this deep, but the framework is there: as the focal points of the episode, Jules and Ellie draw neat parallels between each other as women trying to protect the future of their children – and eventually, realizing (as I’m sure Chick has about his impending dementia) that there’s really no way to protect anyone from the unknown: the only thing we can do is embrace the present and hope it works out.
There are definitely some structural problems with these two plots: Travis’s sudden, off-screen recognition of his own immaturity leads to a convenient resolution, albeit one that marks an important moment in a young man’s life. Isolated from the rest of the episode, the moment between him and his parents works really well, a grounded moment amongst the farcical behavior of Laurie and the Cul de Sac bros – but any potential emotional effect it could have is dulled by obvious “wrap it up” nature of it all, a quick and easy ‘fix’ that doesn’t really solve any of Trav’s problems (he’s working at a coffee shop; good luck supporting your life off that), but catalyzes the series of formulaic, Hug It Out Resolutions that Cougar Town‘s been too quick to embrace at the end of every episode this season.
It happens with Ellie and Laurie, too: “Time to Move On” is far too willing to indulge in Loud Laurie the Lesbian, reducing Ellie to a series of catty responses (pun very much intended, Andy) and bitchy faces, not allowing her to express her insecurities about failing Stan as a parent by providing him with a subpar education. Don’t get me wrong: the Laurie/Ellie material is funny in doses, but it doesn’t build to anything but surface conflict, a “big” fight between Ellie and Laurie that allow them to express their true, non-sexual feelings for each other. Again, the ideas are there, but whatever intriguing material to be gleaned from it is reduced to a sentence of dialogue, less of a true expression of character than a rushed resolution designed to give shape to the “wacky” comedy that preceded it (Laurie only acted so intense because she wanted Stan to get into the school… and while I believe Laurie’s passion, I don’t think she’d assume causing a scene at a picnic would solve the problem).
In the end, the most satisfying story of the episode is the emptiest: the Cat Noir scene during the credits sequence is by far the most rewarding, ending a pointless, often unfunny Mid-Life Boredom story with a hilarious genre parody, complete with crappy fake cat mitts and a hilarious Josh Hopkins-as-Christopher Walken impersonation. But again, surface comedy trumps emotional poignancy: Bobby’s depressing life is played for laughs, rather than a sad exploration of what could happen if Travis lets go of his ambition and work ethic (if he actually has one), just as Andy’s complete lack of caring for his son’s education focuses on what he’s doing, not what he isn’t doing to better the future of his son.
I’m not saying Cougar Town is a show that needs to be more serious: when the show’s at its best, it’s using its comedy to catalyze important reconciliations, or explore ideas about mid-life boredom and self-definition in ways that feel earned. And that’s the problem with “Time to Move On”: everything is so slight and slapstick-y, any potential impact Travis’s career choices or Ellie’s desperate behavior to “save” Stan could have are lost in a series of repetitive, predictable resolutions that have their heart in the right place, but are in no way organic resolutions to the conflicts presented. The best parts of “Time to Move On” are the most incidental (like Noir Cat!): when the episode tries to dig into any of its headier ideas, it falls back on the comfortable cushion of comedy, utilizing it for nothing but narrative filler.
– Noir Cat > Cat-tail (which would star Tomcat Cruise, amirite?)
– Bobby: “I always thought I’d make a magnificent gay man; I’m a tender, open-minded free spirit… and I got a quality unit.”
– “I don’t think this is a healthy cat-mosphere.”
– Travis: “I decided to take a more… adult approach.” Bobby: “Oh man… am I going to get punched in the face?”