TBS established itself as cable-channel-as-lifeboat when it offered Conan O’Brien safe harbor in their lineup after what I’ll call “The Jay Leno Incident.” Its latest revived series is ABC’s discarded /Courteney-Cox‘s-Cleavage-
The other question of course is whether ABC was right to cancel it in the first place. After three seasons, does the show still have life? How long can we go on watching six alcoholics sit around and change the use of common phrases (“I’m going to use ‘junk in the trunk’ to mean emotional baggage.” “Approved!”) and play Penny Can? The answer lies behind the jump, with my full preview of the upcoming season.
I was a latecomer to Cougar Town, being turned off (like most everyone) by its title (which its creators are well aware of). For those who have never seen the show, let me assure you that there’s no cougaring going on. At all. While Jules (Courteney Cox and her magnificent chest. My God, look at it! Seriously you have to, it’s on display at all times) may technically be slightly older than new husband Grayson (Josh Hopkins), that’s about as cougarish as things get. The rest of the gang consists of her long-married neighbors, the caustic Ellie (Christa Miller) and lovable Andy (Ian Gomez) — with their barely-seen devil child — while Jules’ ex-husband, the affable Bobby (Brian Van Holt), and air-headed friend Laurie (Busy Phillips) round out the group. It’s just a bunch of folks hanging around, making your head spin with the speed of their jokes.
The speed of the comedy is something that has been commented on negatively in the past, because each episode is so jammed packed with one-liners that the actors barely act — they’re clearly too busy memorizing and spitting out the jokes to ever really slow down and establish themselves. But that snappy dialogue is a hallmark of Bill Lawrence‘s other comedies (like Scrubs), and has always fit the show’s airy personally particularly well.
Speaking of which, the jokes are just as good and sharp as ever, and just as borderline (“He’s so black I feel like I’m in a sensory deprivation chamber when he’s on top of me” Laurie says dreamily at one point about her boyfriend Wade). And while, admittedly, not every episode is a winner (anything that deals too much with the Travis and Laurie will-they-won’t-they drags things down), the show is still as consistently entertaining and worth watching as it ever was. And unlike other snappy shows full of super fast dialogue (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia or Don’t Trust the B– In Apartment 23), Cougar Town also has a wee bit of heart to make you invested in the characters, leaving us rooting for them to be rewarded for just being who they are.
Still, some of that tired American need for characters to learn lessons over the course of an episode (something that It’s Always Sunny has never done, to much relief) can sometimes border on the unnecessarily sappy. But Cougar Town always grounds things in the absurd, and soon things are right as they should be, like Bobby giving son Travis (Dan Byrd) the fatherly advice of “to drive a woman wild, kiss her everywhere except for the fun bits. I call it: none-a-lingis.”
TBS did well by picking up the quirky comedy (and kicks things off in the new season exactly where they left off in the old), and one hopes that they may become a safe haven for other under-appreciated network comedies (like Happy Endings or Don’t Trust the B–, which ABC looks to be hiding and burning off much as it did Cougar Town). Imagine it: a network made just for the viewers whose excellent shows are shafted by the Nielsen Ratings because everyone is watching American Idol or Two and A Half Men … utopia!
Back to Cougar Town, I can absolutely confirm what everyone already knows: it’s still great fun. Entrenched fans won’t be disappointed (and will get a few fun bits this season, including the origin stories of the friendships within the group). But even if you haven’t watched, it’s easy to pick up. Here are some hints: They like to drink wine. The sexuality among the group makes sense only within the group (the women kiss, the men coddle each other, but the couples all still have sex — and a generously noted amount of it). Courteney Cox’s breasts defy gravity. They are in Florida. And … go! The wine is flowing and everyone is back in form. A toast of thanks to TBS. Anybody up for some Penny Can?
Cougar Town begins its new season Tuesday, January 8th at 10pm on TBS.