Last week’s episode felt like a turning point in the second season of Cougar Town. The first batch of episodes, while overwhelmingly fun, were sometimes clunky, scattered in interested in too many things at once to really get a good grip on what the season was going to be moving forward aside from people playing kooky games while drunk. And while I don’t think those things are leaving anytime soon because they’re inherently woven into the fabric of the series, last week suggested that Cougar Town could focus on the relationships of these crazy mofos a little more in a way that gives the series more substance.
Although “Fooled Again (I Don’t Like It)” isn’t as strong with that approach as last week’s Halloween effort, it continues on the same path. Moreover, I always find additional value in a sitcom that can put any of its characters together and the relationships still work, if only in slightly different ways, and this effort’s focus on the little-seen Jules-Andy pairing makes for a strong and often funny episode. Sometimes Cougar Town can be too “out there,” but the exploration of Jules and Andy’s relationship is played fairly straight-forward on an emotional level. Are Jules and Andy really friends? Are they just friends because Andy’s married to Ellie, Jules’ best friend? These are the questions this episode attempts to answer.
And ultimately, the answers are the expected ones: Yes, they are really friends, mostly because Andy is married to Jules, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t friends, if that makes sense. Sure, Jules doesn’t know anything of substance about Andy, but they share a real connection that neither of them really wants to break.
However, that doesn’t mean the story is played completely straight, as Andy’s disappointment turns into a surprisingly effective riff on “The Usual Suspects” where Ellie lets Jules know that he tends to manipulate people by pretending to be hurt (both emotionally and hilariously, physically) and so they scheme a little bit to get him to tell the truth. In the end, Andy admits his lying ways, but gets what he wants anyway: a dirty dance with Jules.
Combine the “Suspects” references and the glorious truth guns that are deployed (I’m totally going to start using them), this episode fell into the Community zone where the references and goofiness are used to tell a compelling story about the characters and perhaps that’s why I enjoyed it so well. I don’t think Cougar Town can be Community and I don’t think it’s really interested in doing so, but the fact that it seems to have this kind of episode in its repertoire is a promising fact for the rest of the season.
“Fooled Again” also succeeds because it seems fairly focused on the Andy-Jules plot, even if there are certainly other things happening. It isn’t as directed as last week’s effort, but it also isn’t as cluttered as some of the season’s earlier episodes. The other two stories here, where Ellie, Laurie and Grayson compete to get Jules the best gift and Bobby fights the eternal struggle against a Neti Pot, aren’t especially amazing, but each has enough moments — Ellie getting Grayson the perfect gift as a flexing of her powers, Bobby dripping every time he leans over — that they work as supporting stories to the A plot.
Because the series air back-to-back, folks like to compare Modern Family and Cougar Town — I do it most weeks — and critics of Town seem to suggest it is less of a success because the characters are so wacky. While I think the Modern Family gang is initially easier to get along with and enjoy the company of, the people of Cougar Town certainly reveal themselves more as the series progresses.
On Modern Family, all the characters are basically the same people they were in the pilot. With Cougar Town, episodes like this one add complicated shadings to the people who while not groundbreaking, still feel substantive. Perhaps it’s because the MF folks came more fully formed and now CT is just catching up, but there’s definitely more progression, or at least the sense of progression with the latter than the former.