Thursday, June 2, 2011

TV Review: Cougar Town Season One [2009]

I confess that I watched Cougar Town entirely because Tara and Joe wouldn't stop talking about it on the Extra Hot Great podcast. If anyone said to me that Cougar Town has television's worst show name, I would agree emphatically. Not only is it based on an offensive stereotype about older women of voracious sexual appetites who "chase" younger men, it doesn't actually have a lot to do with the show at this point, so it's both lame and irrelevant. Instead of judging the show by its title, which is admittedly difficult, it's key to understand that it was created by Bill Lawrence, the creative mind behind Scrubs. If you liked Scrubs, the chances are good that you're also going to enjoy Cougar Town. I've only watched about five Friends episodes from start to finish, so I'm not a huge Courteney Cox fan, but I did watch and enjoy Scrubs for several years before I got tired of it retreading the same territory. I enjoyed watching Cougar Town for many of the same reasons: it features quirky characters, absurd humor, and surprising heart. 

Cougar Town is a half-hour comedy on ABC set in southern Florida. Jules Cobb, the main character, is a recently-divorced realtor played by Courteney Cox. After splitting with her cheating ex-husband, Bobby, Jules tries partying and no-strings-attached dating as a way to make up for the seventeen years she spent working and raising their son. And yes, some of her early dates are significantly younger men. Jules's two best friends are her next door neighbor, Ellie Torres (played by Christa Miller, aka Jordan on Scrubs), and her younger employee, Laurie Keller (the hilarious Busy Phillips). Ellie and Laurie have nothing in common aside from their relationship with Jules, who functions as the show's neurotic, interfering caretaker.

On the male side of the equation are redneck Bobby, who lives on a boat stranded in a parking lot, his slavishly devoted best friend Andy Torres (married to Ellie), and Grayson Ellis, a recently divorced man in his 40s who lives across the street from Jules and is often seen bringing home college-aged women for one-night stands. Jules and Bobby's son, Travis, also appears in most episodes; he and Jules have a relationship that pushes the boundary of too close, something that is true of many of the pairings on Cougar Town. From week to week, the show shuffles its seven main characters in different combinations around a loose theme. The best moments come from unexpected pairings and the surprising sweetness they can generate, as well as from the accumulated small, comfortable moments around things like Penny Can (a game featured in several episodes) or the gang's fondness for wine.

Let's not pretend in any way that Cougar Town is a hugely groundbreaking show. It's a formulaic sitcom. The worst things about it are its lack of diversity (both racial and sexual, although I suppose Andy counts as a token); the fact that most of its female characters--especially Jules--have issues with food; and its tendency to essentialize men and women and their interactions with each other as if they could be universally applied. Despite its flaws, however, Cougar Town ends up on the "charming" side of the scale, rising above these issues by virtue of its quirky tone.

There are several things that Cougar Town gets right, although it took some time for it to find its footing in the first season. I appreciated that by the end of the season, the show had moved far from "cougar" territory to portraying Jules in a healthy relationship with someone her age and transferred the entirety of the Predatory Woman stereotype to bit character Barb. Barb makes me giggle every time she shows up, especially at Travis's graduation, where she explains that she's there to preview talent for the fantasy draft of younger men that will soon be on the market. I think the showrunners made another smart move by making the show more about the "Cul-de-Sac Crew" as a group than about Jules and her struggle to re-enter the single life.

Grade: B-

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