April 10, 2013



COUGAR TOWN survived its trip from ABC to the wilds of cable, as well as the day-to-day departure of series co-creator and original showrunner Bill Lawrence, with its charms mostly intact, even if the show is starting to feel a bit predictable around the edges.  While not a breakout performer for TBS (it didn’t quite equal the ratings of the Big Bang Theory reruns that surrounded it, although what could?), the show was successful enough to garner a 5th season renewal, and it remains a very pleasant half-hour of TV comedy.

Season 4 concluded with a genuine one-hour finale, as opposed to a pair of unrelated back-to-back episodes (first half written by Executive Story Editor Melody Derloshon and Supervising Producer Blake McCormick; second half written by Co-Producer Peter Saji and Producer Mary Fitzgerald; both halves directed by John Putch), structured loosely around Chick (Ken Jenkins), father of Jules (Courteney Cox), being diagnosed with the early stages of Alzheimer’s.  That may sound like a grim premise for a sitcom season finale, but the show dealt with it breezily, with only brief indications that Chick was even ill, and built to a second-half trip to Hollywood where the gang arranged his life-long dream of meeting Tippi Hedren.  It was all a nice showcase for the show’s trademark mix of off-center ensemble comedy, heartfelt romance, and a dollop of sentiment, even if the “trip to Hollywood” trope is one of the trade’s oldest.  (It was lucky the Cougar Townies didn’t run into the cast of Raising Hope on their recent visit there.)

The cable version of Cougar Town didn’t attempt any kind of major reinvention from its broadcast forebear.  This season’s only meaningful story arc was the continuing, if halting, move to acknowledge Jules’ son Travis (Dan Byrd) and her former employee, now storefront co-tenant–and veteran of many, many wild sexual flings–Laurie (Busy Phillips), as a romantic couple.  There seemed to be an unfortunate inverse relationship between the distance between these two and how much we wanted to see them together.  They’d been sweetly flirtatious for 3 seasons, but the more they assured each other that there’d be nothing icky about the two of them hooking up, the ickier it seemed to get.  However, whether one likes them as a couple (Traurie?  Lavis?) or not, they had their big first kiss at the end of the episode, so that relationship is likely to return in Season 5.

Apart from that, and one lovely episode that deftly set out the origin stories of how the whole gang had become friends, the show was more of the same.  There were a multitude of gags devoted to the way Jules and merrily snappish BFF Ellie (Christa Miller) established genial if illogical rule over anything in their path, including the English language (since a “slim chance” is something unlikely to happen, it must follow that a “fat chance” is extremely likely), as well as Ellie’s husband Andy (Ian Gomez) and his all-but-invisible Latino heritage, his bromance with Jules’ mellow ex-hubby Bobby (Brian Van Holt), and his habit of saying “C’mon!” (Andy was elected Mayor at one point, but his office seemed to vanish almost immediately), and also the vanity, male-model background, and as Ellie would note, the small eyes of Jules’ new husband Grayson (Josh Hopkins).   Much wine was drunk (another massive goblet bit the dust, and a new replacement was found), and poor Tom (Bob Clendenin), forever standing outside Jules’ window, inched closer to being a true member of the group.  There were easter eggs for the eagle-eyed and-eared (in tonight’s finale, a medical center directory showed a listing for “Dr Dorian,” aka JD from Bill Lawrence’s Scrubs), and a general tone of weightless good-fellowship.  (There were also some of the most obtrusive product placements to be found anywhere on scripted television, from an entire episode that featured a storyline set at Target, to an Auto-Trader sequence in tonight’s finale, to TBS’s own plug for the Conan O’Brien show via a prominently featured bus featuring his face.)

Cougar Town once seemed riskier than it does now; the fact that it reinvented itself while on the air away from its roots as a sex-comedy pilot (a fact still commemorated in the weekly title-card jokes) and shifted tones entirely seemed to suggest that anything could happen.  Now the show has found a perch midway between a traditional sitcom and more meta comedies like CommunityRaising Hope and Happy Endings, as well as a few degrees lighter than the half-hours that sometimes dig deep like New Girl or Parks & Recreation (or for that matter Scrubs).  It’s not an exciting show, but it’s a very likable one, and on basic cable, at least, that seems to be enough.

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."