January 9, 2013

THE SKED SEASON (and New Network) PREMIERE REVIEW: “Cougar Town”


The cul de sac has moved south along the dial, but aside from that, there’s nothing very different about the TBS version of COUGAR TOWN, transported last night pretty much intact from its prior home on ABC.  (It’s possible that later episodes could show more of a shift, since although series co-creator and original showrunner Bill Lawrence has relinquished his duties in favor of Ric Swartzlander, he wrote tonight’s season premiere himself, with Courtney Cox serving as director.)  The wine still copiously pours, the self-referential gags continue–the usual jokey title card asked if the show could curse now that it’s on cable, although the best bit was the fake “this season on Cougar Town” at the end, featuring a cameo by real-life Busy Phillips BFF Michelle Williams as herself–and the cast still clicked smoothly into place.

At this point, anyone who cares about Cougar Town knows that notwithstanding its title, it has nothing to do with cougars of either the two-legged or four-legged variety, and is instead a breezy comedy about a handful of mostly middle-aged friends whose lives tend to rotate around control freak Jules (Cox).  As usual, the premiere’s plot was nonsensical and just a bit emotionally valid.  In the universe of the show, only a week has passed since the wedding of Jules and Grayson (Josh Hopkins) that concluded the last ABC season, and they’re settling down to married life together, mindful that everything they do or don’t may set precedents with one another that will last forever.  (Fetching coffee for Jules two days in a row makes Grayson her “Coffee Bitch,” a fact helpfully underscored by TBS’s suggested Twitter hashtag at the bottom of the screen.)  When Jules feels mistreated by Grayson in a dream and he refuses to apologize in real life for his avatar’s behavior, she sinks into a funk, which overtakes the rest of the crew, even ever-ebullient Andy (Ian Gomez) and first husband Bobby (Brian Van Holt).  All is well, though, once Ellie (Christa Miller) instructs Grayson that crazy as it may be, he needs to beg forgiveness for what he didn’t do.  Meanwhile, after spending most of the episode chiding his father for (literally) running away from conflict, Travis (Dan Byrd) finds he’s not so brave when it comes to facing his confessed feelings for Laurie (Phillips).

No one would ever accuse Cougar Town of being consequential in any way, and in its 4th season, the general tenor of the jokes has become somewhat predictable, but its ensemble is about as pleasant to spend a half-hour with as any on television.  Lawrence and the writing staff have found just the right tone for the show, almost but not quite surreal–Tom (Robert Clendenin) still hangs around hopefully in his semi-stalkerish way, waiting to be summoned–and bonded by a convincing set of friendships among the characters.

Cougar Town was never particularly well-treated by ABC, pushed from one slot to another.  Happily, the bar is lower at TBS (Big Bang Theory reruns are the network’s stock in trade, and they score in the mid-1s), so with a little luck, the show’s quirky hijinks can find a stable, happy home.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."