In a recent episode of NBC’s Community (a show that itself deserves a post here at H&H, because aside from all the funny and clever and crazy, that show is full of all the very best in romantic tropes: Flirtatious Backbiting, Lovers of Friends, May/December, even Second Chance at Love), resident pop culture maven Abed (Danny Pudi) was much put out to discover that his favorite show, ABC’s Cougar Town, had had its long-awaited third season premiere relegated to 2012. “Not a good sign,” he lamented in his deadpan way, but with panic in his eyes; I smiled in fellow feeling, not only because my reaction to this news had been very similar, but because it was entirely due to Abed’s declared love of the series that I had even began watching Cougar Town in the first place.
“Annie took to deception like Abed took to Cougar Town,” Jeff (Joel McHale) said in early Season 2, and the rare spark of absolute enthusiasm on Abed’s face as he agreed wholeheartedly with this statement really—and I am not kidding—made me rethink my stance against the show and immediately go download the first episode from iTunes.
I’ll be honest: until then I had no real idea of what Cougar Town actually was. Oh, I knew sitcom, I knew Courtney Cox and the mean lady from Scrubs (Christa Miller). But that title. Ugh. As a variably single woman in my thirties who has been known to date the occasional younger man, more by accident than design, the patronizing phenomenon of the so-called “cougar” makes me cringe, and I certainly had no intention of seeking out any series that based its entire premise on older women seducing hapless college kids for fun and profit.
The pilot episode, though, proved that this title did not begin to give an accurate picture of what we could actually expect from this show. I mean, sure, Cox’s character, the dynamic and engaging Jules, does hook up with a younger man or two early on, but those are mere plot devices and not at this story’s core, all appearances to the contrary. Indeed, as executive producer Bill Lawrence has said/tweeted: “We screwed ourselves with a crappy title.” (Most of the second season’s title cards carried with them some form of apology for this—“100% Cougar Free”; “Regretfully, We Give You…”; “Titles Are Hard.”) “We thought we’d do campy show about woman re-entering world,” he continued. “Now Cougar Town is show about adult friendships and drinking. And it’s called Cougar Town. I hate myself.”
Adult friendships and drinking. Yes, that is very much what this show is about. And what goes better with friendship and drinking than romance, I would like to know?
For anyone not yet fully dialed in to the world of Jules and her immediate circle, allow me to introduce you. Newly divorced from her high school sweetheart, the simple-minded and philandering Bobby (Brian Van Holt), who you want to hate but can’t because he’s just so genial and endearing despite his myriad character flaws, our heroine is a successful realtor in her early forties who lives with her whip-smart teenage son, Travis (Dan Byrd). Her caustic best-friend Ellie (Miller) lives next door with lawyer husband, Andy (Ian Gomez; who, if he seems familiar, played the flamboyantly gay Dean & Deluca manager on Felicity) and maintains a frigid rivalry with Jules’s other close friend— and employee—the voluptuous twenty-something Laurie (Busy Phillips; yes, of latter-day Dawson’s Creek fame). Into this mix is added handsome neighbor Grayson (Josh Hopkins), who, ever since his wife had left him pre-show, spends his nights in the company of cute, though typically empty-headed, co-eds he picks up at the bar he owns.
What follows is two seasons of elaborate, if occasionally inconsistent, characterization and deeply amusing one liners, along with some of the finest comic performances on television and, yes, a lot of drinking, mostly centered on copious amounts of red wine (and yet rarely does anyone get red wine mouth. Ah, the magic of television!).
The most notable romance on the show is, of course, that of Jules and Grayson, who begin their fractious courtship with exchanges like this:
JULES: Good morning! I’ve been up for hours.
GRAYSON: I had eggs for breakfast.
GRAYSON: Oh, I’m sorry, I thought we were sharing incredibly boring facts about each other.
—“Into The Great Wide Open” (01.02)
But cut to the end of Season 1, after several separate relationships have played themselves out (including one involving Sheryl Crow and another involving Noel from Felicity!), and Jules and Grayson finally consummate their long-standing attraction, though neither is quite prepared for what that will entail:
GRAYSON: Our friendship means a lot to me. I don’t want to mess that up.
JULES: I don’t either. Maybe this should just be a one-time deal?
GRAYSON: Or we could be friends with benefits.
JULES: Oh you snuck that one in at the end didn’t ya? Friends with benefits - the old FWB. That is the greatest male myth of our time. That and our knee being an erogenous zone.
GRAYSON: It is.
JULES: It’s not. It’s a knee. Do you want to know why FWB never works?
JULES: We’re friends. It can’t be casual. Friend sex comes with feelings and baggage and someone always gets hurt. It’s a horrible idea.
— “Feel a Whole Lot Better” (01.22)
But they try it anyway, and guess what? It was a horrible idea… out of which came a fully-realized adult relationship that has had its peaks and valleys, its weirdnesses and its “awww” moments, but has managed to keep things fresh and interesting over a whole season of burgeoning togetherness.
Other relationships of interest on the show are those of Ellie and Andy—she, the hot, stay-at-home Mom who rarely permits him to touch her and has one of the more abrasive wits on television today; he, the husky Latino who still can’t believe his luck in having scored her and lives for the daily “golden seven minutes” during which his wife is actually nice to him—or anyone.
Beautiful, blowsy Laurie has gone through an assortment of entanglements on the show, most referenced rather than seen, her casual attitude to sex explicit in such statements as “When I want to end it with a guy, I sleep with his best friend... or brother. Brothers are good because if the guy was hot, chances are the brother is too. Best friends are a crap shoot.” She had her well-guarded heart broken by the very well-bred Smith (Ryan Devlin) in Season 2, and it was hard not to shed a bitter-sweet tear when she later said mournfully: “When Smith dumped me, it literally took me months to get back to a place where I could sleep with random dudes to feel good about myself.”
Then there is Travis, the object of Jules’s maternal obsession (“If I could, I’d have them shrink me down so small that I could live in your blood.”), who has an understandable crush on Laurie and has so far gone through two superhot girlfriends—first Kylie (Spence Locke), then the slightly-older Kirsten (Collette Wolfe)—which perhaps unlikely conquests were doubtless aided by an agreeably acid tongue and a certain adorable nerdiness. (On reinventing himself at college: “Here, I’m gonna be a quiet bad-ass. Like Harry Potter.”)
Rounding out the main cast is Bobby Cobb, Jules’s ex-husband, Travis’s father, Andy’s best-friend/man-crush, Ellie’s sometime nemesis/punching bag, Grayson’s drinking buddy, and Laurie’s partner in crime. Improvident, irreverent, inventive and totally without shame, he is a would-be professional golfer who lives on a boat in a parking lot, drives a golf cart around town and has been known to sleep with women for food. Bobby has a certain simplicity to him that makes even his worst qualities—in particular, that serial adultery – kind of charming.
TRAVIS: Look, Dad isn’t completely oblivious, he’s just got a basic, Cliff Notes version of current events. Dad: the world today. Go.
BOBBY: Well, ice is melting, oil’s spilled, black president – love it – people watching movies on their cell phones, and oooh! Lady Gaga.
—“No Reason to Cry” (02.11)
He still carries a torch for his ex-wife, of course (“I’m not sure how I feel about Jules. It’s a lot like soccer that way.”), and word on the street is that Season 3 will see Bobby find himself a new love interest in Scrubs’s Sarah Chalke…if, that is, Season 3 ever sees the light of day.
The most recent news out of ABC is that Cougar Town, rather than reappearing mid-season as previously promised, will in fact not return to our screens until “sometime in the spring”… and sadly, we may not even get to see Abed’s reaction to this worrisome news, since Community has likewise been “benched” by NBC this mid-season and has no specified return date. What is going on here? These are, to my mind, without a doubt the best comedies on television at the moment— sorry, Big Bang and Mother; I love you, but there’s really no comparison in terms of originality and verve—and yet they languish in hiatus hell while insults to the intelligence like Up All Night and Two and a Half Men thrive. I honestly don’t get it.
If you have yet to assay the wonderful world of Jules and her friends (and her drinking), then please do not delay. Go, laugh, love. Be bathed in the humor, the camaraderie, the beautiful people and, yes, the romance. Pretend it’s called something else, or perhaps just think of it as that awesome show with Courtney Cox and the mean lady from Scrubs.
And then, join me in willing “sometime in the spring” to come around as soon as possible. Preferably with a nice glass of red in hand.
Rachel Hyland is Editor in Chief of Geek Speak Magazine.