Sigmund Freud would have loved Cougar Town.
The comedy series has boasted some seriously creepy themes since the beginning, introducing them subtly and then gradually building up to an all-out psychological minefield in its latest TBS-backed season. When we met Jules Cobb (Courteney Cox) in the regrettable first chapter of the program, she was a 40-year-old mook devoted to the pursuit of much younger romantic partners. Since abandoning this cringe-inducing premise, Cougar Town has become something a ton more watchable: now, instead of fawning over 20-something males, Jules spends her time drinking wine with her best friends, torturing and teasing her husband Grayson (Josh Hopkins), and fawning over her son, Travis (Dan Byrd). In kind of an odd way.
The show has made some eye-wideningly blunt allusions to Jules' bizarre love for her son. Cougar Town frequently jokes about how her obsession with Travis teeters the lines of propriety, and how her feelings for him sometimes manifest in complicated, pseudo-romantic/sexual ways. It's all played for laughs, all acknowledged as jarring and disturbing in-universe. As such, nobody really ever calls much attention to it as a problem. What people do seem bothered by, instead, is the romance of Travis and Laurie (Busy Phillips), which culminates in a kiss in the Cougar Town season finale.
After years of pining after Laurie, his mother's former employee and close friend, Travis earned her affections this season, sealing their romantic relationship with the labored-over "perfect kiss" in Tuesday night's season finale. While those submitting wholly to the constructs of romantic love will find some fondness for the union, many will find fault with this pair. "She's his mom's best friend!" they'll say. "It's creepy!"
Yes, maybe. But you're judging it based on the standards of our universe, not Cougar Town's. Things are weird in this reality: Travis spends all of his time hanging out with his mother and father (who, by the way, are divorced, after the latter's string of infidelities... yet, somehow, they remain best friends), their neighbors (who operate in an ostensibly loveless marriage and neglect their young son, who might well be a sociopath), her mother's new husband (who is mean, vain, and whose homophobia was excused earlier this season), and the lonely voyeur who peers in from outside the kitchen window. If you look at all that madness, you'll concede that Travis and Laurie getting together is one of the least creepy things going on on Cougar Town.
It's a show founded on skewing from the confines of society's limitations, although not in any rebellious or meritorious way. Simply, in the name of lazy hedonism. Why do we give a free pass to Jules for skipping work, drinking all, and nearly lusting after her son, to Grayson for basking in his heated intolerance, to Bobby Cobb (Brian Van Holt) for cheating on his ex-wife for years, not to mention all of the other nonsense that goes on in this cul-de-sac, then why are we so troubled by Travis and Laurie?
All things considered, the two of them getting together is just about the most acceptable turn of events this show has taken. Bravo, young love. Bravo.
Follow Michael Arbeiter on Twitter @MichaelArbeiter
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Television's depiction of marriage has changed significantly since The Dick Van Dyke Show's Rob and Laura Petrie ruled the small screen. Since you're reading this article, I'll assume your life is as encompassed by television as mine is, so I won't bother explaining what they were like. But in brief, they got along swimmingly. However, today's TV shows don't exactly afford the same luxuries to their wedded couples. Perhaps it's allegorical. Maybe it's a heightened sophistication of art. It could be that we're all just really bitter now. But TV marriages are a lot rockier these days. As such, we've got a few shining (embittered) examples.
The Couple in Question: Walt & Skylar
Relationship Status: Separated
What Went Wrong: I may be just grasping at straws here, but I'd say it was the meth. Beyond that, though, Walter White's Achilles heel is his pride. It's what it's what ruined his friendship with his college roommate Elliot; it's what ate him from the inside out when he had to accept a job at a car wash in order to support his family financially; and it's what kept him from telling anyone about his disease or from pursuing treatment. Further than that, it's what is getting him into a deeper hole with his newest employer. But back to his marriage: Walt seems to place his own self-image above even his love for his family. He refused to accept handouts from in-laws Marie and Hank when they would have been a far saner choice to dealing meth, but he needed to be the man. This has kept him at a distance from Skylar since before the events of the series began. However, it was ultimately his involvement in the drug trade (not to mention his countless lies about it) that broke up his marriage. Although, I'd be remiss if I didn't say how much I truly, adamantly and whole-heartedly hate Skylar.
The Couple in Question: Hank and Marie
Relationship Status: Strained
What Is Going Wrong: Ever since Hank was shot (you can also chalk that one up to Walt), things have turned sour in regard to his relationship with Marie. The recuperating Hank is extremely impatient with his wife's attentive nature, her inability to refer to his prized minerals as such ("Ordering another rock?"), and her zealous encouragement. Marie, at last, seems to be allowing Hank to break her—the final moments of "Thirty-Eight Snub," which aired this past Sunday, showed that her patience with the growling, unkind man her husband has been this season is slipping. I can't predict just yet that their marriage will necessarily face any major catastrophes...but it's not as if Vince Gilligan offers us much in the vein of "light drama."
Curb Your Enthusiasm
The Couple in Question: Larry & Cheryl
Relationship Status: Divorced
What Went Wrong: Cheryl David played the impossibly patient Job figure to her husband's endless antics. Devoted boundlessly to their marriage, she even agreed to let Larry have an affair on their tenth wedding anniversary in order to convince him to marry her. So why, after over fifteen years, does their marriage fail? Simply, the same reason it’s difficult to watch more than two episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm in one sitting. From a distance, and in small doses, Larry David is a phenomenon of entertainment. He could even be described as poignant and philosophic. But being married to this individual (and I’m only talking about the character—I reserve none of these presumptions about the man himself, whom I’ve heard is actually quite the gentleman) for fifteen-plus years, as Cheryl was, would be akin to eating sandpaper with every meal.
The Couple in Question: Celia & Dean
Relationship Status: Loveless
What Went Wrong: What went right? It is tradition in comedy to have a secondary married couple that can never stop bickering: Fred and Ethyl Mertz (I Love Lucy), Gladys and Abner Kravitz (Green Acres), Stanley and Helen Roper (Three's Company), Frank and Marie Barone (Everybody Loves Raymond); something common among all of these pairs is that it is made evident that, despite their hostility, they truly do love one another. Celia and Dean, it seems, do not. They're vindictive, manipulative, spiteful, unfaithful... The reasons they got married in the first place are hardly decipherable, beyond the assumption of entirely superficial reasons: presumably, Celia married Dean for the financial luxury, and Dean married Celia for the sexual luxury.
The Walking Dead
The Couple in Question: Rick & Lori
Relationship Status: In trouble (although Rick may not know it yet)
What Is Going Wrong: Although the Grimes' marriage is not over yet (and doesn't necessarily promise to ever be), the trouble began when Lori assumed Rick was dead. She fell into the arms of Rick's best friend Shane for comfort, and the two became romantically entangled. Once Rick shows up, however, Lori cut things off with Shane. But clearly, as of the Season One finale, this whole matter is far from put to bed. Shane is not okay with this new situation, and it's clear that Lori might not be entirely happy with it either.
The Couple in Question: Louie & Louie's unseen ex-wife
Relationship Status: Divorced
What Went Wrong: It is never made clear; so little do we know about Louie's life that we cannot be sure whether his insuperably negative attitude contributed to his divorce, or if it the ex inspired said bitterness. But we know that Louie is not on particularly good terms with her; we know that Louie's sister Gretchen despised her; and we know—because she told us, and him—that Louie's younger daughter prefers her.
The Big C
The Couple in Question: Cathy and Paul
Relationship Status: All patched up
What Went Wrong: After being diagnosed with cancer, Cathy went nuts. She threw Paul out of the house and started burning furniture. Paul, having no idea why his wife was acting this way, took the opportunity to cheat on her with the Rugby Slut (a former schoolmate who likes to sleep with amateur rugby players: a category into which Paul just makes it). Cathy has her own affair with an alluring-accented painter in the form of Idris Elba. Their affairs and separation don't last a second longer than Cathy's secrecy about her disease, however. Once she reveals that she has cancer, Paul immediately forgives her and vows to make up his own misdeeds to her. Since then, he has been obsessively devoted to Cathy, their marriage, and her illness. So, this is one story that actually ends happily! ...Except for the melanoma.
Parks and Recreation
The Couples in Question: Ron & Tammies
Relationship Status: Divorced, three times total (once from Tammy 1, twice from Tammy 2)
What Went Wrong: Ron Swanson has two ex-wives, which, straight from the moustachioed horse's mouth, are "both named Tammy, both bitches." Ron Swanson enjoys a "strong, salt-of-the-earth, self-possessed woman at the top of her field." One could see how this led him to fall for Tammy 2, who is nothing if not empowered. However, she's also a psychopath. She manipulates Ron even after their marriage...although, it seems as though Ron's second divorce with Tammy 2 (after a week-long, if it even reached that, explosion of passion that involved a wedding ceremony, breaking-and-entering, and a vicious affront to Ron's Swanson Pyramid of Greatness-approved haircut) might have cemented the idea in his head that she is unadulterated evil. She does, after all, work for the library. Tammy 1 is an even scarier situation: we have yet to meet her, but the mere mention that she was in the building sent the seemingly fearless sociopath Tammy 2 running for her life. So what went wrong? Ron married the devil incarnate. Three times.
The Couples in Question: Shirley, Chang, Pierce (sevenfold), and the parents of Jeff, Abed, Annie and possibly Troy
Relationship Statuses: All divorced, though Shirley and her husband have rekindled
What Went Wrong: Either Dan Harmon harbors some kind of resentment towards the institution of marriage, or this is some kind of carefully woven and ingenious interconnecting story point that will eventually encompass each of the characters (I assume the latter, as Community always impresses me beyond my wildest expectations). In any event, here are the specifics:
Shirley's ex-ex was unfaithful, so she left him. However, Christians forgive.Chang was unfaithful to his wife (with Shirley...see? Already there's interconnectivity!); the two were already having problems due to a diminished frequency of salsa dancing.Pierce is a bigoted, narcissistic buffoon (who I really hope rejoins the study group in Season 3 after an immaculately ironic coming-of-age arc).Now for the parents...Jeff's dad was a physical an emotionally abusive "two-bit conman" who ran out on the family when Jeff was still young.Abed's father "has an angry energy, but not like angry at America—just angry at [Abed's] mom for leaving him, although she did leave because he was angry, and he is angry because she's American."It's unknown what caused the divorce between Annie's parents. However, from her anecdotal interjections, one can surmise that neither one was a particularly supportive parent, and therefore they were probably both pretty crappy spouses, too.What happened with Troy's parents is ambiguous. He has never explicitly made mention of a divorce, even when Abed and Annie were sharing stories of their own parents splitting in Abed's Uncontrollable Christmas, but he has spoken about his dad having a girlfriend in the present. Tragically, this could mean that his mother has passed, but Troy does sporadically refer to his mother with a tone suggesting that she is still alive. Let's stay optimistic.
These are just scraping the surface; for better or worse, there are plenty of other examples on TV today. Let's hear what you can come up with, so we can all lament and wallow together.