A new era is underway for Cougar Town, cut loose by ABC after three skimpily rated seasons and now a key part of TBS’s attempt to build a stable of offbeat original comedies. A new era is underway as well for the denizens of Cougar Town—the Cul de Sac Crew, as the show’s central characters are affectionately known. Jules and Grayson are newlyweds, the final nail in the coffin of the show’s long-defunct “older-woman-chases-younger-men” premise (and of which the consciously ridiculous title is a vestige). Travis’s feelings for Laurie are out in the open. Bobby... well, okay, Bobby Cobb still lives in a boat in a parking lot, doing his Bobby Cobb things. Plus ça change.
That sense of transition was present in “Blue Sunday,” tonight's Season 4 premiere, but true to Cougar Town’s easygoing style, it didn’t animate a whole lot of plot development. For a premiere, it was a conspicuously uneventful episode, more concerned with reestablishing the show’s signature comic beats and character dynamics. Even the inciting incident was something that didn’t actually happen.
Picking up a week after the nuptials that ended Season 3, Jules and Grayson were busy establishing the rhythms that will shape their day-to-day as husband and wife. Wedded bliss was interrupted when Jules had a dream in which Grayson played the faithful spouse one minute and turned horndog behind her back the next. It triggered a round of her “blues,” a periodic depression that she wanted to keep hidden from Grayson, lest it set a sour tone for their marriage.
As Ellie explained, Jules’ funks tend to infect the group, which was dealing with a few other rough patches. Laurie was longing for her boyfriend, who’s stationed in Afghanistan. Travis was trying to recover in the aftermath of his drunken confession of love, and finding little solace in his father’s advice to just run away from his problems.
In many ways the episode amounted to a Cougar Town template, tidily introducing the show’s essentials to new audiences while welcoming existing fans back into the fold. Core relationships (Jules and Grayson, Jules and Ellie, Ellie and Andy, Laurie and Travis) were each brought to the forefront. Running gags cropped up, like Jules assigning new definitions to common turns of phrase (“junk in the trunk” now means “emotional baggage”). Nuggets of the Tao of Bobby Cobb were espoused. Wine was consumed with near-religious fervor. And of course we were reminded that the Cul de Sac Crew largely functions as a single organism, with Jules as its effusive, tumultuous heart.
And while it wasn’t Cougar Town’s funniest half-hour, "Blue Sunday" was one of its most honest: This is us, this is our show. These are our gags, both highbrow (“Most of my current feelings about fatherhood come from The Road by Cormac McCarthy”) and lowbrow (“Never pooed in my own home”). These are our characters, a group so co-dependent they make the kids who combine into Voltron look like stone-cold Randians. This is what we are, take us or leave us.
A moment toward the episode’s end symbolized these dynamics cleverly, when Ellie surrendered her role as Jules’s emotional guardian to Grayson. She pantomimed passing a torch to him, and as he brazenly “wielded” it back and forth across the bar, Andy and Bobby repeatedly ducked out of its way with a mix of fear and reverence on their faces that was 100 percent genuine. They weren’t just committing to a bit; in their eyes, those flames were as real as the stools they were sitting on. Like Jules’ dream, in a group this tightly knit, the product of one member’s imagination is more tangible and more potent than any external stimulus could ever be.
– Title Card Gag: “Thanks, TBS. Can we curse on TV now?” (Psst! If you're interested, there's a gallery of all of Cougar Town's past title card gags on the show's Facebook page.)
– I like how quickly the episode shifted the focus of Jules’ freakout from the irrational spark (dream infidelity) to the honest root fear (shielding Grayson from her “blues” to avoid a bad precedent). The show has sometimes struggled to achieve that balance, but found it here.
– Like last season’s premiere, the cold open was one big meta-joke in which everyone talked about the show’s lengthy hiatus and the fear of cancellation. No one alluded to the new network, surprisingly, though I suspect that trend won’t last long.
– “Do I want to know why my neck is so sore?” “No. Not ever.”
– “In high school, I once had a back-seat quickie with a guy just because his name was Marvin Gardens.”
– “None-ilingus” is absolutely a joke the writers have been sitting on for a while but could never slip past ABC’s standards & practices. Welcome to cable, Cougar Town writers!
– “Wine Guy and Coffee Bitch.” “The world’s two worst superheroes.”
– “Yes, sometimes we look at each other’s hoos. Move on!”
– “And by having sex with you, would I be saving the world?”
– Cheers to the return of Nicole Sullivan as Jules’ therapist, Lynn. And double cheers to her slot machine payout impression.
– “You still make a lot of life decisions based on what Tom Cruise would do.” “More than I’d like.”
– “He’s so black I feel like I’m in a sensory deprivation tank when he’s on top of me.”
– “Ando?” “I’m trying it out.” A friend tried calling me “Ando” in high school for a couple of weeks. Thankfully it didn’t stick.
– “I’m only taking this torch because I love mime.”