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Cougar Town – The Complete First Season (A TV on DVD Review)

Cougar Town - The Complete First Season

Cougar Town – The Complete First Season

Cougar Town

The Complete First Season (Buena Vista Home Video-2010)

It is rare for a new TV series to be met with the kind of derision that Cougar Town faced upon its debut last fall.

It was somewhat surprising, too.  After all, it was created by Bill Lawrence, who previously had run the very funny series Spin City and Scrubs.  It stars the immensely likable former-Friend Courteney Cox.  It also has a strong supporting cast including Busy Philipps (Freaks and Geeks, Dawson’s Creek, ER), Josh Hopkins (Brothers and Sisters, Ally McBeal), Ian Gomez (Felicity, The Drew Carey Show) and Christa Miller (The Drew Carey Show, Scrubs and Mrs. Bill Lawrence.)

So was the hate-on for Cougar Town solely due to the unfortunate title?

Granted, it is a really bad title – and that is even giving the creators the benefit of the doubt that it is just accidental how much the show’s name parallels Tina Fey’s 30 Rock parody of cheesy network programming, MILF Island.  Oh, sure, the show makes a very half-hearted attempt to suggest the “Cougar” in the title refers to a local high school team rather than a sexually predatory older woman, but no one buys it at all.  Even creator Lawrence acknowledged as the season went on that if he could have done anything differently with the show he would have changed to title.  In fact, he intimated that if it could be changed for the second season he may just do that.

Then again, perhaps the mocking was due to the pilot episode, which was an absolute horror – unfunny, puerile, poorly written and embarrassing for all concerned.  Literally, it is amazing the series got green-lit on the strength of this episode.  Kudos to the ABC execs for seeing some potential for any type of quality in that train wreck of a half-hour.

A funny thing happened though, after that awful pilot the show sort of finds its footing.  I can never exactly say it becomes a really good show, but it does become a rather interesting and intermittently very funny one.

I know.  As one of the characters exclaims after Cox’s character tries lamely to give him a pep talk: “Worst buck-up speech ever!”

But Cougar Town doesn’t need my buck-up.  It turned out to be a pretty big hit and even turned around some of the critical brick-bats being tossed its way.  Besides, as Two and a Half Men has been proving for years, you don’t need critical backing to be extremely popular.  Granted, Cougar Town has a far way to go to be as funny as Two and a Half Men,but in certain ways the shows are quite similar – boundary-pushing looks at the sex lives of forty-somethings.

The cover of the DVD set has a still-gorgeous Courteney Cox in tight jeans and a “40 is the new 20” t-shirt – and from the picture we can totally buy it – which is why the fact that her character is supposed to be so insecure about her looks and age is a bit tough to swallow.  If anyone would rate as a flat-out knockout cougar, Cox would certainly apply.

Cox plays Jules, a gorgeous but totally neurotic 40-year-old returning to the dating world after getting a divorce.  In fact, Jules never really was in the dating world before – she was pregnant and married at nineteen – and her discomfort at the lifestyle is played for laughs.

As she explains in the pilot, “All of the single guys our age are either broken, gay or chasing younger girls….  It can get pretty lonely.”

Therefore she turns the tables by chasing younger men.  It’s feminism for a new millennium, I suppose.  The early weeks of the series show her going through a series of himbo young boys, as well as one older man and even one guy (played by Scott Foley) who was her own age!  However, even Jules realizes she is a hard sell for the long-term relationship she so desires: “A forty-year-old mom who needs lots of foreplay and is a mediocre cook.”

Of course, another reason that Jules may be having problems is that – despite the fact that she is very pretty and very outgoing, she’s a bit odd.  She is loud, occasionally obnoxious, usually annoyingly upbeat and rarely filters what she thinks before saying it.  As her best friend points out, “Sweetie, when you say peoples’ body parts are so adorable that you want to wear them, it makes you seem a little serial killer-y.”

However, as much as Jules obsesses about sex and relationships, even more vital to her is what she refers to as “The Cul-de-sac Crew.”  This is made up of her bitter best friend, Ellie (Miller), Ellie’s hen-pecked husband Andy (Gomez), Jules’ slutty co-worker Laurie (Philipps), the hunky divorcé next door (Hopkins), her redneck ex-husband Bobby (Brian Van Holt) and her slightly nerdy teenaged son (Dan Byrd).

They spend most of their time drinking wine, arguing amongst themselves, sitting on the ex’s run-down houseboat, making sexually inappropriate remarks, throwing pennies into cans, chasing balloons and embarrassing son Travis.

Travis seems a nice enough but completely insecure teen who is embarrassed on a near-constant basis by his hot-pants mama and his goofball dad, though he still loves both.  For example, when an overheated Jules is being carried upstairs by a boyfriend and explains to Travis that she saw a mouse, Travis ruefully tells her, “Thanks for still caring enough to lie.”

Ex-husband Bobby is the most clichéd character – an aging pretty boy golf pro whose great philosophies are “Man, I love drinking” and “I never went to college and just look at me.”  Bobby lives on a houseboat but can’t afford to put it on the water.  He takes pride in his redneck streak.  And he is still holding on to the hope that someday he will win Jules back.

Jules has been best friends with Ellie all her life and they now live next door to each other.  (How did that happen – was the neighborhood having a buy-one-get-one-free sale on houses?)  With Ellie, Christa Miller is just doing a variation on her Scrubs character of emasculating bitch with a heart of gold.  Ellie tries her best to be mistress of her own domain and have everything revolve around her – and yet she loves her husband and baby son much more than she would ever let on.  As her husband explains, “I like having a wife who rules the house.  That’s why I chose you.”

However, as much as Ellie tries to be a rock, she is insecure and somewhat angry.  “I had a bad father, too,” she explains.  “But I didn’t go slutty.  I just died inside.”

The hot divorced guy next door starts out as an unapologetic younger-girl hound – but you can tell by the charged dislike he and Jules exhibit that eventually the show will settle into the inevitable “will-they-or-won’t-they” mode as both realize they really like each other.  It takes him about seven episodes to pick up on this – her it takes about twelve – but neither of them will acknowledge it, even to themselves, until the long-expected hook up in episode twenty-one.

Of course, Jules originally sees him as a future possibility.  “In about ten years from now, when I’m done changing him,” she explains.  “The trick is to make him more emotionally accessible, while at the same time keeping him a little insecure so he continues all that work on his body.  It’s a tightrope.”

Beyond being Jules’ “someday guy,” all we really know about him is that he owns a bar, he resists befriending people, he is constantly writing and singing really bad songs (Laurie tells him, “You know, you are actually the only man who gets less sexy when he plays guitar”) and his wife left him devastated – causing him to overcompensate with shallow relationships with a parade of young bimbos and eventually an age-appropriate wine salesperson played by singer Sheryl Crow.

Jules’ young protégée is Laurie – a fifteen-year-younger white trash party girl and full-time tramp, who is sexually excited by REO Speedwagon and the smell of pine-scented air fresheners and regales her dates with nuggets like “I guess it’s nice to wake up with my panties on, I just don’t know what to make of it” or “That makes my lady parts beep!”

There is also a recurring role of a predatory cougar named Barb (Carolyn Hennessy) who is so single-mindedly slimy that she is rather disturbing.  I suppose they are trying to show that Jules is a lovable cougar compared to that.  However, if Barb is the curve that we are grading against, so is Madonna, Courtney Love or Dina Lohan.

The earlier episodes have a similarly surreal vibe to Scrubs – though that offbeat tone really works better in the workplace comedy milieu of the older show than the quirky relationships study exhibited here.  In later eps, the show abandons (somewhat) the anything-goes aesthetic and tries periodically to allow serious (occasionally sappy) emotions to shine through.

Still, Cougar Town has some nice quirky touches.  For example, every episode except the pilot is titled after a Tom Petty song, which is kind of cool, even though the only thing the singer has in common with the show is that it takes place in his home state of Florida.  (Of course, Petty grew up in the north central college-town Gainesville while the show takes place in the southwestern Gulf region of the state.)  Petty is also mentioned as part of a joke – apparently the rocker and chicken maven Col. Sanders were the only two celebs that Jules has met in real life.  (Though in a later episode they show a third celeb – a picture of Jules dancing on stage with Bruce Springsteen; a shot taken from Cox’s early job as the girl plucked from the audience in the Boss’ “Dancing in the Dark” video.)

Eventually Cougar Town is not as smart or funny as it thinks it is, but when it does connect it can be surprisingly humorous.  Just skip past the pilot episode and occasionally fast forward through the overly goofy and touchy-feely moments and this DVD box set does have some reasonable entertainment value.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2010  All rights reserved.  Posted: August 13, 2010.

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