Cougar Town has been a bubble show, on the verge of cancellation, for so long that, since Season Two, all of its season finales have been set up as possible series finales. There have been finales with big trips, sudden pregnancy, a wedding, and the cast starting to date each other, all of which are the sorts of major milestones that shows tend to bring out for these things. They’ve also all been from very good-to-fantastic. Last week’s episode even took the big musical gala approach that so many shows like to use. What was left to do besides either dissolving the show’s premise entirely or creating a perfectly archetypal episode of Cougar Town? Somehow, “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” took both of these approaches and blended them together to create something… weirdly unfulfilling but still pretty damn funny.
It’s Jules’ birthday, and fulfilling her wishes is something the cul-de-sac crew always has trouble with. One of the things she mentions, though, is that she could be there at her own funeral so she could hear what her friends would say about her. This rather hokey premise informs the rest of the episode, which focuses on every one of her friends moving away from her for one reason or another. All of this is so sudden, in fact, that Ellie and Andy are literally moving out later that night. There’s a different excuse for everyone but Grayson, and even he heads back to work for the evening when it becomes clear that the night is a bust. This all turns out to be an elaborate ruse that I’m going to assume most viewers could spot from a mile away. Not that other shows haven’t done this type of thing legitimately on their last episodes, but as Cougar Town continues stressing the fact that every one of those changes must happen today, and each cast member says their own weird, creepy monologue to Jules (for an in-episode flashback, ugh), it’s pretty obvious what’s happening long before the end.
I hated the premise, not just because it seemed forced and required a lot of really awkward dialogue, but also because it made Cougar Town about Jules in the end. Yes, Courteney Cox was always the show’s lead, but it took only took a handful of episodes before the show became an ensemble. While that ensemble was at its weakest this season, missing that extra Bobby Cobb spark, it was still just as much about any other member of the cast, and in fact this season has spent less time on Jules than probably anyone else. She may be the glue that holds the Cougar Town together, but the weird solipsistic celebration of her going on here clashed with the show’s actual identity.
That being said, the episode was extremely funny. Virtual Bobby Cobb, in all his confused glory, was a reminder of just how much the show has missed him. The “what?” runner became glorious by the end of the episode, and in every other aspect “Last Dance” was hitting more consistently than the show has in seasons. The humor was also darker and stranger than normal. Incest and death jokes aren’t usually Cougar Town’s thing, but here they were popping up all over the place, giving the episode a little edge. There were a bevy of longtime runners, with strange word changes, miming, and red wine being drunk and dropped by the gallon, to the point that, were the premise not quite so dumb, it would’ve been a perfect distillation of what made Cougar Town work for all these years. The cast’s chemistry was the tightest it’s ever been, and it was a joy just to watch everyone interact.
So that truly stupid premise couldn’t ruin everything. I wish the show could’ve ended on a high note, offering another fun adventure for its odd cast, but maybe this is more fitting, at least of Cougar Town’s latter years. The show hadn’t been truly great in a long time, but was remarkably consistent in finding ways to be good enough to stay enjoyable week after week. And that’s true of the finale, too, an episode that did its job without being particularly memorable.