Nov 6, 2010

Don‘t You Like to Laugh? (Part 1)

Did I ever mention how much I like TV? I did? Well, I like all sorts of TV shows, but by far, the venerable Sit-Com is my favorite type of show. I grew up with some of the greatest, and I’ll write in depth about them another time.  Currently, there are a lot of really good sit-coms on the air, and quite a few stinkers, too (I’m looking at you, $#*! My Dad Says).  But I want to bring your attention to three really great ones that you’re probably not watching, but ought to give a try.  Today, I’ll post the first of a short series focusing on three shows that I enjoy a lot.

What’s in a Name?
Sometimes a show—Modern Family, for example—knows exactly what it wants to be from the first scene of the first episode. Other shows take a little time to figure out what they should be. Such is the case of the worst named sit-com on the air, Cougar Town. The original concept for this show was to follow Courteney Cox (
Friends, Scream) as the lead character Jules, a recently divorced 40-something realtor who married and had a kid while young, started to re-experience the dating life with younger men. This lasted about three episodes,watch-cougartown then her young buck of a boyfriend made like Chuck Cunningham and just disappeared. Over the rest of Season 1 and the beginning of Season 2, Cougar Town has evolved into a wonderful ensemble piece featuring Jules, her family and her red wine loving friends.

The show still centers on Cox, but gives equal time to her cast of cohorts who revel in their dysfunctional relationships:

  • Ex-Husband, man-child and golf pro Bobby may be the breakout star of the show. Bobby lives on a boat. In a parking lot. He drives a golf cart CougarTownSeaonOne_Photo_05everywhere, one assumes due to a revoked driver’s license. Bobby tried to be a good husband, but he’s a bit simple and likes to have fun even when fun isn’t appropriate. He the kind of guy that turns loose change and a rusty coffee can into a sport. PENNY CAN!  Brian Van Holt (S.W.A.T., Black Hawk Down) plays Bobby as a loving ex-husband and father who enjoys the hell out of every moment in life.
  • Jules’ son, Travis, plays a Michael Cera-ish teen who has been ustv_cougartown_travissmothered by his mother’s love for his whole life. Dan Byrd (Heroes, Entourage) plays him as self-aware and bemused, offering sly commentary on his mom‘s latest bad decision or her desire to keep her little baby bird in the nest.  Off to college this season, Travis still makes regular appearances.
  • The best friend and neighbor is the ever snarky and better-than-all-of-you-and-want-to-make-sure-you-know-it Ellie, played by Christa Miller (The Drew Carey Show, Scrubs). Ellie is one part mean girl, one part 52431794attention-craver, and one part old-guys-in-the-balcony. She loves her husband and child, but would never let them know that.
  • Ellie’s husband Andy gives hope to overweight balding men everywhere. He’s got a hot wife, a good job, good friends, and a man-crush on Bobby. As played by Ian Gomez (Felicity, The Drew Carey Show), Andy is wiser than he lets on, as indicated in a recent episode that equated him with Keyser Söze, but willing to play the hen-pecked clueless husband because he gets to go to bed with Ellie every night. He really loves her, and she him, despite outward appearances.
  • Across the street from Jules lives Grayson Ellis, another good-looking cougar-town34(even with tiny eyes) 40-something divorcee. At the beginning of the show, Grayson was the surly foil to Jules’ weekly dalliances, commenting from his driveway as she stumbled home in the morning. Played as smug and aloof by Josh Hopkins (Brothers & Sisters, Private Practice), the Grayson character grew nicely in depth. The show moved him and Jules quickly through a Sam and Diane phase and into a relationship, and also threw him unwillingly into a friendship with Bobby and Andy, where the Stockholm Syndrome seems to have taken hold.
  • Finally, rounding out their self-named Cul-de-Sac Crew, there is Laurie, played by the incomparable Busy Phillips (Freaks & Geeks, ER). Laurie BusyPhilipps01works for Jules, but is also her friend and mentee. She’s a frequent target for Ellie’s insults, an object of desire for Travis, a drinking buddy for Bobby and a romance advisor (and one-night-stand) for Grayson.  Laurie is curvaceous, a little bit trashy, and has very few filters. Her references to the events of her life are frequently hysterical, like the time she and Travis ended up hiding in her ex-boyfriends closet, and she found the snacks she left from the previous times she had hidden there. Laurie has many insights on relationships, including this gem: "Sorry, Jules, but you're not in a relationship yet. It has to last at least nine days before I consider it real. It's the same rule I have for hair extensions or foster parents."

The broad and rapid-fire humor in Cougar Town comes from the interplay of these great and unique characters, their inability to stop themselves from crossing certain lines, and their complete willingness to say exactly what they are thinking.  The comedy style is not based upon punch lines, it is based on funny people in funny situations saying funny things.  It occasionally strays towards trying to pull your heartstrings or to have a moral, but never to the “very special episode” level. Courteney Cox is playing the same basic character as she did with Monica Geller, but it works. Her comedic timing is spot on, and she brings a hyper but likable energy to the role. She has also been willing so far to call in favors from her Friends, with guest spots by Lisa Kudrow and Jennifer Aniston.  The rest of the cast is just as good as Cox. Each of them has already been able to establish layered characters, and each of them has a distinct way of dealing with each of the others.
cougar title

Trust me, there’s a lot to like here; you just have to get past the title of the show. This has been such an issue for them that the producers seriously considered renaming the show over the summer (rumored to be the favorite: Friends & Neighbors. Get it?) Instead, each week’s title sequence now includes a sly acknowledgement of the issue by adding a little something scrawled over the top of the title: (Still) Cougar Town, (Badly Named) Cougar Town, Cougar Town—That‘s Not What It‘s About. 

Cougar Town is a solid and entertaining ensemble comedy with engaging actors and excellent writing. Pour a glass of red wine and give it a try.

Cougar Town on ABC, Wednesdays 9:30|8:30c

More to Come.

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