When ABC shelved Cougar Town’s third season debut to February, this mid-season shuffle sounded like the death knell for a sitcom that had found a loyal, if limited, fan base, not unlike show co-creator Bill Lawrence’s Scrubs. Lawrence and his cast didn’t take the move sitting down, however; they hunted down as many print and social media outlets as they could to keep the show in viewers’ minds.
And you know what? It worked. Having until February instead of September gave me enough time and breathing room to catch up on the series’ entire first two seasons in time for the much-anticipated season premiere last week, and it was time well spent. I am now an unabashed fan of the show.
I’m not a total stranger to Cougar Town, in truth. I did watch the pilot in 2009, and found its premise – Courteney Cox plays a newly-divorced 40-year-old on the Gulf Coast of Florida getting to sow her long-gestating wild oats with younger men – limited, and its tone abrasive. I never watched again, though various TV articles kept me abreast of developments within (Cox’s character, Jules, eventually settled into a relationship with neighbor Grayson, played by Josh Hopkins, an actor long overdue for a breakout role) and outside the world of the show (Lawrence and fellow show helmer Kevin Biegel admitted that the show’s title was erroneous and, since they cannot change it, openly mock it at every opportunity).
But boy am I glad I caught up. Cougar Town has morphed from a Cox vehicle into an ensemble show, giving equal time to the septet of characters that include Jules; Grayson; Jules’ lovable doofus of an ex, Bobby (Brian Van Holt); her real estate colleague, Laurie (Busy Phillips); son Travis (the arch Dan Byrd, a major star in the making), neighbor and best friend Ellie (Christa Miller, replicating the acid tongue she used on husband Lawrence’s Scrubs) and Ellie’s hubby (Emmy-worthy MVP Ian Gomez). Meanwhile, the conceit of mature woman chasing after younger men has been demoted to the occasional bon mot delivered by Barb, a recurring character with an insatiable appetite played by the divine Carolyn Hennesy. This kind of sweeping change is not unprecedented – it took Frasier a full first season to find its footing.
It’s too easy to compare the de facto family formed by this group of friend and neighbors to Friends just because of Cox’s presence in both. In truth, Cougar Town inherits the DNA of such sitcoms as Barney Miller, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and Murphy Brown – and if the gals of 227 had sat on the stoop drinking gratuitous amounts of red wine, that would have provided the complete template. You see, Friends featured a gang during an early chapter of their lives before they went on to the next. They knew exciting changes were in store. Though they are pretty people with a ridiculously minimal amount of fat, wrinkles and body hair, the cul-de-sac crew on Cougar Town actually lead fairly sad lives with a limited worldview. Laurie grew up with a revolving door of stepparents who left her with little self-esteem. Grayson may have just proposed to Jules and own a swanky bar, but he longs to be a musician and father a child of his own. Travis is in college but only lives twenty minutes away and seems to come home every weekend, and over the course of two seasons, the only friend we ever saw was largely unresponsive roommate. Even Jules herself got pregnant and married Bobby at some point during college.
Cougar Town obviously doesn’t dwell on the heavy stuff, but it does manage to blend it into the show’s episodes with finesse, just as Scrubs did. These characters – wonderfully acted by all – could be losers, but together in each other’s company, they become winners. Visiting Cougar Town reminds me of Celeste Talbert, the Sally Field character in Soap Dish who would run to see unsuspecting fans at the Paramus mall when in need of a pick-me-up. Cougar Town has the same effect on me. Watching the show just makes me happy, and if ABC hadn’t made the show a mid-season replacement, I’m not sure I would have discovered that.
So Biegel, Lawrence and the gang can call the show whatever they want. I’m indifferent to the title myself. I simply think of it as my Paramus.
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