TV Talk: Cougar Town
Starring: Courteney Cox, Christa Miller, Busy Philipps, Brian Van Holt, Dan Byrd, Ian Gomez, Josh Hopkins
Series Creator: Bill Lawrence and Kevin Biegel
When it was first announced that ABC was airing a show called Cougar Town starring Courteney Cox, I rolled my eyes and decided then and there that it was a show I’d never watch. Learning that it was Bill Lawrence‘s new show didn’t sway me, even though I loved the first few seasons of Scrubs, and enjoyed what should have been its last season (before Lawrence decided to bring it back for a failed spinoff-but-not season). Even when it started to get decent reviews, I resisted, comfortable in the decision to avoid a show called Cougar Town.
The whole idea of centring a show around the beyond tired concept of older ladies who bang younger dudes was a non-starter for me. I wasn’t so much offended as I was sure that it would be comedy death. Cougar jokes stopped being funny about five minutes after they first started cropping up (and I should know, since I believe the term originated here in Canada), so I wasn’t all that interested in inviting them into my home for 22 minutes a week.
But as the show continued, I kept reading more and more good things about the show. First it was strictly from a business perspective, that Cougar Town was a solid performer amongst ABC’s surprising block of Wednesday night rookie sitcoms (along with Modern Family and The Middle, but not so much with the quickly-forgotten Kelsey Grammar vehicle Hank). Then semi-positive reviews popped up suggesting the show was a lot better than its title or its premise. This was enough to grab my attention (when people who like the things I tend to like endorse something, I generally pay attention), but not enough to sway me past my initial dismissal. It wasn’t until the season was ending and reports that the series was considering changing its albatross of a name that I decided to put it on my list of shows to catch up on.
I’m glad I did. They dropped the Courteney Cox-banging-young-dudes conceit completely after six episodes, but even in those first six, they never fully committed to it. They never come right out and use the term “cougar”, and Cox’s character is mostly embarrassed by being on the prowl. More of the humour is centred around her being newly single after a divorce than it is about her going after younger men. And I’ll admit, some of the cougar-esque humour is actually funny. So it’s not a case where you have to gut through the first six episodes until the show discovers what works: the laughs come early enough that it was fun to watch the show as it improved.
So if it isn’t about a town of cougars, what is it about? Basically, as the show found its way, it became a wonderful comedic ensemble of characters who simply enjoy each other’s company and do funny things with each other. There really isn’t much more of a hook than that: watch this show because it will make you laugh and you will enjoy spending time with its characters as they mostly just hang out. It’s interesting to wonder if the show had been originally pitched that way, would Courteney Cox (who serves as co-executive producer with Lawrence and her husband David Arquette) have signed on to play mother hen to a group of six friends, who all live within close proximity of one another besides the flighty blonde?
So, yes, Cougar Town has basically settled into becoming yet another new Friends, this time with the middle-aged who hang around drinking wine instead of twenty-somethings sipping coffee. The rest of the cast aren’t simply Friends archetypes (thankfully, there is no Ross and Rachel), but it’s not a hard stretch to think of Cox’s Jules Cobb as a grown up Monica Gellar who made different life choices (the biggest of which is the presence of her 18 year-old son Travis, played by Dan Byrd late of the cancelled-too-soon Aliens in America, and possibly my favourite character on the show). I guess Cox has a very specific skill set, the hyper-active type A woman, and puts that skill set to good use here.
As the season went on, it first became my favourite comedy-that-should-be-bad-but-isn’t (surpassing The Big Bang Theory for that honour), and by the time it ended, may well have unseated How I Met Your Mother for the title of comedy-ensemble-I-most-enjoy-hanging-out-with (in part due to Cougar Town‘s successes, in part due to HIMYM‘s disappointing recent season). The humour is reminiscent of what Lawrence delivered with the early seasons of Scrubs, minus the voiceover, fantasy sequences, sentimentality, or Zach Braff (all of which became the worst elements of the show when it began to decline).
So whatever they end up calling the show next season (I think they should incorporate either the 40-something theme, the fact that they live on a cul de sac, or maybe the adult character’s rampant alcoholism), I highly recommend you find it on your schedule. Even if they stick with its current horrible, horrible name, you should still check it out, even if you were like me, and never thought you’d watch a show called Cougar Town.