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October 13, 2015

'Cougar Town' Returns With Its Goofy Charm (and Secret Serious Side) Intact

by Maureen Ryan, posted Apr 18th 2011 3:15PM
'Cougar Town,' (9:30PM ET Monday, ABC) has a silly name, and its characters often do goofy, immature things (and just to be clear, the latter tendency is part of the show's quite considerable charm).

Still, the comedy, which slides back into its usual 9:30PM ET slot on Wednesday, is deceptive. The two episodes that air this week are solidly funny in typically 'Cougar'-ian ways: There are lots of games of Penny Can, gallons of wine are drunk and the sharp ensemble cast slings mildly barbed banter with ease (there's even an amusing appearance from Ellie and Andy's often-absent baby).

But this week's episodes, like the show as a whole, explore real questions that everyone has to grapple with at some point. When is it a good idea to accept who and what you are? How much should you try to change deeply ingrained habits and attitudes? When is a flaw not really a flaw at all?

Essentially, the question at the core of the show is, what qualities should you celebrate about yourself and others and what traits should you try to alter? For all their lackadaisical ways, the show's characters are often trying to improve some aspect of their lives. But 'Cougar Town's' greatest charm may lie in the fact that, at the end of the day, these people accept each other, warts and all.

Of course, if anyone in the Cul de Sac Crew developed an actual wart, Jules would obsess about it until the whole skin problem crisis was thoroughly dealt with. She's a bit overbearing that way, and usually her friends accept that about her, but in Monday's episode, her acerbic best pal Ellie (Christa Miller) finally tells Jules the truth regarding the way she's raising her son, Travis (Dan Byrd).

Jules is far too protective of her 19 year old, Ellie says, and she points out, quite rightly, that Travis will never really grow up if he doesn't learn about life by making his own mistakes. It pains Jules to heed Ellie's advice, but Jules knows her friends (all of whom agree with Ellie) are right.

Does Jules change much? No, not really, but it's those baby steps toward self-improvement that 'Cougar Town' explores with such a charming blend of camaraderie and compassion.

It can be equally winning when characters exhibit the kind of confidence that comes from self-acceptance (Laurie has a sweet showcase along those lines in Wednesday's episode). A good show keeps its audience guessing in one way or another, and 'Cougar Town' does that well. You never know, from week to week, what traits Bobby (Brian Van Holt), Laurie, Ellie, Andy (Ian Gomez) or Jules will decide to celebrate or simply ignore. In any event, these friends are all believably flawed, and by this point in the show's life, their friendships, nitpicks and small crises are entertaining on any number of levels.

Friends are the people we count on to like us for who we are and to point out when we've gone too far. As 'Cougar Town' so deftly demonstrates, if all that can be done over a drink, so much the better.

For a recent interview with 'Cougar Town' co-creator Bill Lawrence, in which he talks about a 'Scrubs' guest star's upcoming appearance, a special 'CT' phone number and other strategies he and the show's cast and producers are using to promote the show's return, go here.

Follow @MoRyan on Twitter.

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