January 8, 2014

THE SKED Season Premiere Review: “Cougar Town”


COUGAR TOWN:  Tuesday 10PM on TBS

To quote the eternal wisdom of the COUGAR TOWN opening title card, “Season Five?  Didn’t see that coming.”  The survival of Cougar Town isn’t quite as remarkable as Community‘s–it does, after all, star sitcom royalty Courteney Cox–but the show has had to reinvent itself twice to make it this far, first conceptually and then territorially, as it made the move from ABC to TBS, where it’s had moderate success as a cable original.  In what is indeed its fifth season, Cougar Town has settled into a comfortable if unthrilling groove.

The series has never been heavily plotted, and the major event of Season 4 was the long-time-coming romantic entanglement of Travis (Dan Byrd), college-age son of Jules (Cox), with Jules’s buddy Laurie (Busy Philipps), who’s younger than Jules but still more MILFy than a contemporary for Travis.  The Season 5 premiere, written by Executive Producer Blake McCormick and directed by Michael McDonald, devoted its main storyline to the fallout from that coupling.  And “coupling” is indeed the word, because although what was fun about Travis and Laurie was their flirtatious rapport, the episode was all about the two of them having sex–and, more specifically, about Jules repeatedly walking in on them in the act.  This stuff wasn’t exactly Lubitsch-grade comedy, what with our being told that upon encountering them in a shower, Jules grabbed onto her son’s erect penis in order (unsuccessfully) to keep her balance.  Now that Cougar Town has finally gotten Travis and Laurie together, the show doesn’t seem to know what to do with them (in a trademark meta-joke, a character notes that the relationship will just have to play itself out), so for the moment it’s leaning heavily on Jules’s repressed–and the rest of the gang’s not-so-repressed–discomfort with the whole thing.

The more amusing B story had the show’s Penny Can game becoming an international success (online footage showed players in Africa and what may have been Vatican City), bringing unexpected riches to Bobby (Brian Van Holt), which made Grayson (Josh Hopkins) long for a repaid bar tab, a concept of which Bobby was blissfully unaware despite Grayson’s helpful hints (including a giant pyramid of beer cans).  The C story had Stan, son of Ellie (Christa Miller) and Andy (Ian Gomez), so freaked out by Andy showing him A Nightmare On Elm Street (let’s assume the original and not the inferior reboot) that he couldn’t sleep, a situation remedied when stalker-ish neighbor Tom (Robert Clendenin) was recruited to put on the Freddie mask and fingers and take polite leave of the neighborhood, on his way to terrorize Canada.

If Cougar Town ever had any edge, it’s long gone.  There’s also hardly sense of surprise anymore.  What’s left is a pleasant half-hour, reasonably smart, spent with a fine cast that seems to have explored just about all the ins and outs of their goofy characters.  Ellie will always be bitchy but ultimately goodhearted; Andy will always worship Bobby; Jules will always smother Travis with her affection; everyone will drink vineyards worth of wine.  It’s predictable, but enough laughs are ensured so that the time spent on the cul-de-sac doesn’t seem wasted.  Although the TBS episodes haven’t come close to rating as well as the Big Bang Theory reruns that surround them, nothing else does, either, so allowing for contractual issues, Cougar Town seems to have a home for the foreseeable future.  At some point, “comfortable” may shade into dull, and the series may need to explore livening things up without jumping the sitcom shark.  For now, it’s still on the right side of reliable.


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."