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October 13, 2015

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love 'Cougar Town'

by Patricia Chui, posted Mar 10th 2010 12:30PM
Cougar TownConfession: There is a half-hour ABC comedy, airing on Wednesdays, that I look forward to watching all week. It's smart, funny, quirky, one of the happy surprises of this past season -- and it isn't 'Modern Family.'

Well, all right, it is 'Modern Family.' But there's a second comedy in that same neck of the woods, sharing the 9PM hour like some overeager neighbor or a puppy begging you to pick it up. And though I gave it the brush-off at first, I am now, somewhat to my chagrin, forced to admit it. I caved. Yes, I love [whisper] 'Cougar Town.'

When the show debuted to great fanfare last September, I had no intention of ever watching it. Not that I'm about to tell the Interwebs how old I am, but let's just say I've finally reached the age where I don't like to say it out loud -- which means I'm supposed to be the audience for this show, featuring a single woman roughly around my age.

Yet if the network was trying to target me, it was doing piss-poor job of it. Who among us actually likes the term "cougar"? (If you raised your hand, sorry, but you're probably a man. Or 22.) Cougars, in their natural state, are predators; labeling a woman a cougar implies that she's a thrill-seeking Mrs. Robinson, chasing down and capturing some poor, young, defenseless victim. Conversely, an older man dating a younger woman is called a stud. Maybe I'm taking it too personally, but I don't think I'm alone in cringing every time the word "cougar" is thrown around. It ain't a compliment.

So the title was a turn-off right off the bat. Then there was the premise: Courteney Cox as newly divorced single mom Jules, suddenly dating again, and hubba hubba, look at those cute boys! She's a cougar! Roawr! Now, don't get me wrong, I see nothing wrong with dating younger men -- but I don't want to watch an entire show about it. Those early episodes felt overly bright, manic, trying too hard to charm ... and yes, desperate.

(Side note: Another thing you need to understand about my knee-jerk aversion to this show is that it stars Courteney Cox. I do like her, but years ago, when some co-workers and I were playing the "if they made a movie about our office" game, TWO people, independently of each other, suggested that I might be played by Cox. When I pointed out that she looked nothing like me, and that therefore they must be comparing me to her character Monica on 'Friends' -- who was, by the way, completely neurotic -- they just nodded, saying, "Mm-hmm." Thanks, guys.)

At any rate, I successfully avoided the show despite a few people starting to venture that it actually wasn't all that bad. No way was I going to watch a show called 'Cougar Town'! No way! Yet it was on after 'Modern Family,' and one thing led to another (maybe wine was involved) ... and after a couple of my co-workers raved about it to a degree I found unnatural, I gave it a shot.

Cougar Town castWhat I discovered was a show that was nothing like its original incarnation, or rather, what I'd believed that original incarnation to be. 'Cougar Town' isn't about an older woman dating younger men -- or at least it isn't anymore. What it's become lately is an ensemble comedy, one of the best on TV, about a community of neighbors: Jules, her teenage son Travis (Dan Byrd); her best friends, the slightly slutty Laurie (the excellent Busy Philipps) and perpetually cranky Ellie (the equally excellent Christa Miller); Ellie's sweet loser of a husband Andy (Ian Gomez); Jules's goofy ex-husband Bobby (Brian Van Holt); and Jules's "someday guy," guitar-playing bartender Grayson (Josh Hopkins).

Gone is the twentysomething rebound Jules was seeing at the start of the show, and gone is most of the focus on Jules's dating life. Instead, what we get are countless priceless comic moments of these friends (and frenemies) interacting with each other, from Grayson and Ellie trying to one-up each other (a feud that ends with him decking her house out entirely in Christmas lights ... on Valentine's Day), to Andy discovering that Laurie is the foot model on a sex site he's been frequenting for years ("That was YOU?" "YOU'RE Honeytoes?!"), to the guys hanging out and inventing a game called "Penny Can," which picks up a new rule every time they play it.

And then there's the ridiculously awesome "Confidence Dance," which Bobby invents and then teaches to Andy and Jules. How can you not love a show that has a Confidence Dance?

Bobby, Andy and Jules Do the Confidence Dance

Making your show all about the eccentricities of your characters can be a risky business, and in many ways, the new 'Cougar Town' feels a lot like 'Scrubs' -- with good reason. Producer Bill Lawrence was also the producer of that long-running show; his wife Christa Miller, who's Ellie on 'Cougar Town,' played Dr. Perry Cox's wife Jordan. But 'Cougar Town' retains everything that was great and fun about 'Scrubs' while ditching the silly fantasy sequences and unending JD-ness that eventually made that show insufferable and annoying.

There's bromance on 'Cougar Town,' to be sure, but it never overruns the storyline, and it never feels cutesy or coy. This show is less about quirk for quirk's sake, and more about the relationships that form among people who just happen to work together or live next door -- who may even hate each other, but will always have each other's backs.

But here's the problem: I've found a favorite new show, yet I've had zero luck getting anyone to watch it. I'm embarrassed to try, in fact. "You know what show's actually pretty good?" I say. "'Cougar Town'!" My friends (especially the guys) laugh, mock me, immediately change the subject. And I know what they're thinking, because I once thought it, too: No chance am I watching a show that's all about a middle-aged woman chasing after men half her age. If only they knew how much more there is to the show than that dumb title, which may have served its purpose once as a publicity-grabbing stunt, but now hurts the show far more than it's helping.

And so I propose to the producers of 'Cougar Town' this: I love your show, but you've got to change the name. Anything without the word "cougar" in it. Maybe ... 'Friends'?

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