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Cougar Town: Cougar Town: "Pilot"

Illustration for article titled Cougar Town: Cougar Town: "Pilot"
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Cougar Town premieres tonight on ABC, 9:30pm/8:30pm Central

Let's get one thing out there right away: The title of ABC's new comedy Cougar Town is terrible. But I'm willing to bet creator Bill Lawrence wasn't responsible for that one—or, at the very least, I'm sure he had plenty of other ideas he'd have gone with first. Because much like Scrubs, his other gem, used the hospital backdrop to flesh out drama and tension for its key characters, so to does Cougar Town leverage the cougar phenomenon only as far as it affects the show's protagonist. In perhaps the smartest move Lawrence made—followed closely by some keen casting choices—the show doesn't try to explain what a cougar is or the lifestyle's appeal; it assumes we and the characters know what's up, and are probably a little sick of it too.

So don't avoid Cougar Town because you think the title's stupid, or because the cougar phenomenon is done to death. Give the show a shot. It's not perfect, but there's a lot here to celebrate.

For one, as I mentioned before, the show smartly assumes we all know what cougars are, and forges ahead. Courteney Cox, who served a stint on Scrubs as the new chief of medicine, plays the lead Jules—a recently divorced 40 year old woman who looks around and realizes things are a little off. Other people her age are going out with people half their age, and feeling zero shame; this includes her slimy male neighbor and even random ladies at football games. Meanwhile, she's sitting at home with two glasses of wine while her best friend neighbor (Christa Miller, from Scrubs, and also Lawrence's real-life wife) spends time with a husband, and her son Travis, Dan Byrd of Aliens In America fame, heads out to avoid the mom everyone at school wants to bone. Meanwhile, friend and coworker Laurie—Freaks And Geeks' Busy Phillips—begs Jules to go out for once. She does, and winds up at a bar where young guys go exclusively to pick up older women, and vice versa. And though that's been happening all around her, this is the first time she begins to see the freewheelin' cougar lifestyle as a viable option, and decides to have at it.

Lawrence once again proves he has a knack for casting. Cox plays essentially a grown-up Elliot Reid from Scrubs: she's cartoonishly self-serious and has a propensity to say whatever it is she's thinking. (This latter quirk could be grating, if not for the pretty darn hilarious things she blurts out, like telling the bouncer at a club, "Wow, you are really black! It's so handsome on you.") Everything she does, however ridiculous—like flashing some random kid biking by—is treated like it's clearly the next logical thing that needed to be done, and consequently not that big a deal. And Cox is perfectly suited for that role; she's got an ease about her that softens any tension that might brew as a result of her character's actions. Christa Miller as the best friend balances Jules' silliness with grounded, deadpan humor. Busy Phillips brings a firecrackerness to her character, combined with a genuine warmth towards Jules, that provides the catalyst for most of the episode's proceedings—the scene where she goes to Jules' house to drop off the man she'd been scoping out at the bar reminded me of the goodhearted brashness of Kim Kelly. And I'm thrilled Dan Byrd transitioned seamlessly from Aliens In America (minus his regrettable turn in Heroes, but that's hardly his fault); he played the hilariously put-upon baby of the family in that show, and this one continues the trend.

Outside of the core cast, though, Cougar Town suffers. Brian Van Holt as the father of the broken family is meant to be the really absentminded one (he's completely unaware of the fact that mowing lawns shirtless at his son's school would be a source of embarrassment), but right now he's playing the character far too dead-eyed to be seen as anything but just "some other character in the show." And for the sake of future episodes, I sure hope Jules preys on other men, because the one she brings home in the pilot, twice, is predictably nothing more than a good looking guy with blocking. Plot-wise, I'm thankful Cougar Town gets a lot of the cougar tropes out of the way in the pilot; everything else, including Jules' job with the real estate office, feels too removed to contribute much more than the side plot surrounding the boy stealing the provocative company ads. Then there's what I feel might be the biggest concern: Where does Cougar Town go from here? The pilot was enjoyable, but ends with nary a tease to how things are going to change for Jules (other than, simply, more sex with twentysomethings). But given Lawrence's track record—Scrubs is one of my favorite shows ever—I'm willing to find out.

Grade: B-

Stray observations:

  • On someone who's at a Jonas Brothers concert with collagen lips: "Are you making fun of my mother?"
  • "Our baby could have been named Spencer if my husband's dad hadn't died a week ago." "Yeah. Still a little fresh."
  • "Samurai."