On TV: Cougar Town


Don't buy into the critics' fuss over the title of Bill Lawrence's latest ABC sitcom. The only show with a well thought-out title in history was Cheers; it was the name of the bar but it also indicated the jovial nature of the show and implied a level of camaraderie directly related to sharing a drink with your fellow man. Most programs rely on the main character's name (Will and Grace, The Simpsons), jokey wordplay (Accidentally On Purpose, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Gary Unmarried) or are too simple for analysis (Friends, ER). At some point, Bill Lawrence had a whiteboard full of titles that would have evoked less critical debates about the word "cougar," but he opted for the most sensational name. Let's get past it and look at the actual program.

Courteney Cox plays a freshly divorced forty-something named Jules Cobb. With an all-too wise high school-aged son (Dan Byrd) and a friendly but alimony-hungry ex-husband (Brian Van Holt) in tow, Cobb laments that all of the men her age are married, gay or dating barely legal women, before turning her sights on the throngs of young, chiseled men that seem to crowd her fictional Florida town. Flanked by her younger co-worker (Busy Phillips), she re-enters the dating scene only to let her unfiltered mouth ("You're hot as balls!") and sensitivity to a club goer's derisive (but highly unlikely) comment about Cox's looks get the best of her.

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Cougar Town is the first female-centered series to be developed by Bill Lawrence, the creator of Scrubs and Spin City. The show runner admitted during this summer's Television Critics Association Cougar Town panel that coming up with an estrogen-centric program was more difficult than he had imagined and required a few re-shoots and script revisions to avoid the caricaturish qualities of a Saturday Night Live skit. There is a bumpy aspect of the pilot that is hard to miss but hopefully Bill Lawrence fans will recognize his voice and keep tuning in as the season works out its kinks.

Unlike Scrubs, Cougar Town offers no fantasy sequences, musical numbers or stuffed dogs (yet) but there are the quirky character mannerisms (Cox's character names her body pillow Jonathan) and the protagonist's tendency to overshare (Cox's character remarks that her body pillow is named Jonathan). Yes, let's ignore the fact that the pilot relies on Cox's barely clothed body for four scenes (eating up almost a third of the 22 minutes): the infamous bathroom scene where she pulls and pokes at her "fleshy" arms and stomach (that is actually Courteney Cox!), a friendly neighbor-flashing, a prolonged cleavage gag, and the lingerie bedroom scene. But this is just the set-up!

Courteney Cox has always relied on her reactionary lines as the basis for her sitcom humor, whether they come from cutting down Chandler on Friends or remarking on Alex P. Keaton's Reagan-loving conservatism in Family Ties. It will be interesting to see if Cox can shed the flesh crutches, begin to own Lawrence's dialogue and carry her first program, without a little help from her Friends.

Cougar Town will run during ABC's Wednesday night line-up, the network's attempt at a block of racier sitcoms. But beware, Cougar Town, Eastwick and Modern Family are not any more risque than a bawdy episode of Everybody Loves Raymond. There are just only so many male objectification jokes that you can make while shamelessly highlighting your star's banging forties-something bod on network television.



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