You know that old saying, “don’t judge a television show by its title?” No? OK, so maybe it’s not as popular as the real saying about book covers, but it’s a valid point. With the multitude of fantastic series floating around the TV world these days, it can be difficult to pick and choose what we want to tune into every week, and it’s tempting to sort, select and reject based on the surface-level details: the cast, the promos, the premise and the title. This tendency has made it difficult for me to recommend the show “Cougar Town” without being met with doubtful grimaces and judgmental badger faces.
Yes, I agree, “Cougar Town” is probably the stupidest title of any show currently on air, rivaled only by “The Vampire Diaries.” But just like the supernatural CW drama, the title isn’t only dumb, it’s entirely misleading (I promise you, the vampires stop writing in their diaries circa the 5th episode of the series). Though the first few episodes of “Cougar Town” center around recently divorced Jules Cobb (Courteney Cox, “Friends”) and her various attempts at dating younger men, the show has since morphed into something entirely different, making a lot of viewers wonder why the title made it to the page. The cast even put forth suggestions for alternative names.
“Cougar Town” isn’t about Courteney Cox vying for studly 20-somethings. It’s about a close-knit group of adult friends — dubbed the “Cul-de-Sac Crew” — who have a lot of fun and drink a lot of wine.
It sounds simple, because it is. Most of the comedy comes directly from the interactions among different combinations of the Cul-de-Sac Crew. Putting any two of these characters in even the simplest of situations leads to hilarity. Jules’s two best friends — the feisty, speed-talking Laurie (Busy Philipps, “Freaks and Geeks”) and the ever-crabby and judgmental Ellie (Christa Miller, “Scrubs”) — hate each other and engage in daily insult battles. Ellie’s husband Andy (Ian Gomez, “Royal Pains”) has an over-the-top friend-crush on Jules’s ex-husband Bobby (Brian Van Holt, “Entourage”), who lives on a boat and has a golf cart in lieu of a car. The cynical bartender Grayson (Josh Hopkins, “Private Practice”) often acts like he wants nothing to do with Jules and her crazy friends, but he quickly converts into a full-fledged member of the gang — watching “American Idol,” chugging wine and writing songs, (his top hits include “Confident in My Sexuality” and “It’s Part of Being a Couple — Remix”). Jules’s pragmatic teenage son Travis (Dan Byrd, “Heroes”) serves as the straight man most of the time, calmly explaining to the adults in his life that “morning drinking” probably isn’t the best idea.
An ensemble show like “Cougar Town” is nothing without a well-meshed cast, and comedy veteran Courteney Cox hardly outshines her co-stars. Philipps brings vibrant energy to her delivery of all of Laurie’s wild stories, ramblings and words of wisdom (“I have a rule that every kiss should last three seconds — it’s what the Obamas do”).
Speaking of “Scrubs,” even though this show has a different premise and formula from Bill Lawrence’s past work, the dialogue, tone and jokes of “Cougar Town” are distinctly Lawrence-esque, reminiscent of this comedy master’s beloved medical sitcom. The Cul-de-Sac Crew isn’t all that different from the Sacred Heart bunch in the ways they interact and develop recurring inside jokes. The characters of “Cougar Town” make up the game “Penny Can” — literally consisting of throwing pennies into cans — which reminds me of all the absurd games J.D. and Turk used to play, such as “Find the Saltine” and “Toe or Finger.” On Valentine’s Day, Ellie and Grayson engage in a Janitor vs. J.D.-like prank battle, ending with Grayson littering Ellie’s whole house and front yard with obnoxious Christmas decorations. If you liked the pacing and character arcs of “Scrubs,” you’re sure to find a familiar home in “Cougar Town.”
When Bill Lawrence alluded to the possibility of “Cougar Town” changing its name, I was torn. On the one hand, the show has been in constant danger of cancellation and returns next week after a long hiatus filled with uncertainty for fans. Lawrence noted on his Twitter that the title is certainly a contributing factor to the show’s low ratings. The term “cougar” is also offensive and problematic, and have I mentioned has nothing to do with the show? But I’ve become attached to the ridiculous name. I no longer whisper “I love ‘Cougar Town’ ” out of shame, because you know what? It’s a downright hilarious and heartwarming show about family and friendship that frequently outshines “Modern Family” in its ability to take simple stories and charge them with smart, feel-good comedy.
Yes, the titles “Friends With Beverages” and “Wine Town” are far more accurate, and if a name change means the show gets to stick around a little longer, I’m all for it. I guess I just wish people could look past the name and see the show for what it is — a cougar-free, wine-infused (penny) can full of laughs.