In many ways Cougar Town appears to be Friends 20 or more years later. It’s not just the fact that the former Friends star Courtney Cox heads the call sheet on the new situation comedy. There are a ton of other elements that appear to tie the shows together. Like the old NBC show, the core of this show is a tight group of friends. They have a lot of the same kinds of adventures and conversations as the old gang used to have. The big difference here is that the adventures and the talk come from an older, if not more mature, perspective. They still talk a little too much about sex, except now the characters are in their 40’s, so the tone of that conversation has changed up a bit. Call it a 40’s version of Friends meets Sex And The City.
I actually hadn’t been familiar with the term Cougar until recently. I listen to Minnesota sports radio so that I can keep up with the Vikings even here in Tampa. One of the hosts a year or so ago got in trouble at a club event when he referred to the ladies in the audience as Cougars. He later did a show segment where he was trying to find out from listeners if the term was an insult or not. The audience was divided, so I still don’t know if most women in this position consider the term derogatory or not. It basically refers to a woman at least in her 40’s who dates men younger than herself. But there does appear to be some controversy over the show’s title. Apparently there was a rumor that the series was going to change its name for season 2. I’m not sure if the show’s runners had seriously considered the move, but that doesn’t stop them from having a blast with the idea. Each episode features a comic remark above the title. The remarks include: “It’s okay to watch a show called…” or “Titles are hard”.
Jules Cobb (Cox) is a recently divorced mother of an 18-year-old son, Travis (Byrd). She’s in her early 40’s and runs her own real estate company. While she’s been very successful in her career, she had not been quite ready to return to the world of dating. She finally hooks up with her neighbor and local bar owner Grayson (Hopkins) who used to be a man pretty much in her same situation, except for a double standard that doesn’t look quite so badly on the fact that he had an almost endless parade of very young women staying the night at his home. Now they’re a couple, and the parade has ended. Her closest friend is Laurie (Phillips) who is her young assistant and confidant. Laurie’s pretty much what we’d call a slut, but appears to have a heart of gold, likely bought on discount. She has all of the dumb-blonde trappings that you can cram into a single character. She is pretty stupid, self-centered, sleeps around, shops all the time, and wears inappropriate clothing. She’s loyal to Jules and is her cheerleader, for the most part, in getting her back into action. Ellie (Miller) is her married neighbor and also close friend. She tells Ellie everything, and the two have been friends for decades. Ellie likes to appear calm and collected and smarter than everyone else. Needless to say, Ellie and Laurie have a rather catty intolerance of each other. Ellie’s husband is Andy (Gomez), a balding Hispanic guy who still can’t believe he has a hot wife even though he has to negotiate in order to actually have sex with her. Somehow, the two have produced an infant son. There is this character called Barb (Hennesy), who is a much older character who appears to often pop up from nowhere to deliver some sarcastic remark. Finally, there is Bobby (Van Holt) who is Jules’ ex-husband. He’s a burned-out golf pro who acts pretty much like a hick. He lives on a small boat parked in a lot. They all like to drink a bit too much. They go by the name The Cul-de-sac Crewe, and creepy neighbor Tom (Clendenin) wants very much to be a part of the group.
What appears to make this show work is that the characters are much more likable than I ever found the cast of Friends. Perhaps the age issues here have brought it all down to earth more. I’m not sure. Cox is far less of a snitty you-know-what here. The character certainly isn’t going to win any awards for Mom of the Year, but she’s believable. I’m pretty impressed at how unattractive Cox allows herself to be here. Brian Van Holt literally steals the show with his redneck Bobby Cobb. Van Holt manages to do the hick humor without ever overselling the routine. He’s the kind of guy you’d love to hang out with, as long as you never had to depend on him for anything important. Christa Miller is the biggest surprise here. She doesn’t look anything like she did as Kate on The Drew Carey Show. Of course, neither does the newly-slimmed-down Carey. But Miller has learned to act far more subtly, making this a very compelling character and performance for a situation comedy. Who knew that a woman could look and act better in her 40’s? It doesn’t hurt her that she’s married to show co-creator Bill Lawrence.
The relationship scene isn’t the only change for the show. Travis is going to college now, but in spite of the Mommy drama episode, the school is only 20 minutes away, so he’s still in just about every episode. Now he has a buddy named Kevin played by LaMarcus Tinker. He’s a huge black kid who doesn’t say much but is a very refreshing character. Travis also bags a girl for much of the season in the older Kirsten (Wolfe). Bobby attempts a return to the pro golf game with predictable results. He does manage to get off the boat finally when he sells Penny Can, the coin-tossing game he invented and plays with the gang. The season ends with a special two-part episode that brings the whole gang to Hawaii to rescue a distraught Travis.
Each episode is presented in an impressive 1.78:1 widescreen format. This looks great. Colors are dynamic, and black levels are pretty solid. The show is quite bright, reflecting the Florida atmosphere. I wish that studios would cut down on the number of episodes per disc. There is some mild compression artifact.
Even though the Dolby Digital 5.1 track is not ambitious or aggressive at all, it is more than enough to appreciate the show. Dialog pretty much dominates this mix, meaning it all lives in the center speaker with the rest in your front mains.
Andy’s Dreams: A series of webisodes where we go inside Andy’s siesta dreams. Most are spoofs of movies or television shows like Miami Vice.
Still Called Cougar Town: (8:36) Cast and crew take us behind the scenes.
Deleted Scenes From Select Episodes
The show has settled down quite a bit from the first season. I can see why they might have considered a name change. At first the show was indeed about the 40’s Cox dating much younger guys. All of that has changed, and there is very little about dating on the show anymore. Now it’s more like a mature version of Seinfeld than Friends. It has become a show about nothing. But that’s a good thing here, and it’s far more entertaining in this format. Whatever it’s name or form, there are still a few laughs to be had here, and it looks like it isn’t stopping soon. “You can’t get off the crazy train. It doesn’t stop. That’s what makes it crazy.”