TV Review: Here's to 'Cougar Town,' deeper (and lusher) than you first thought

The comedy series stars Courteney Cox ("Friends") as Jules Cobb, a divorced woman of a certain age trying her hand at dating again. "Cougar Town" airs Wednesdays at 9:30 p.m. ET.
By Hank Stuever
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 7, 2010; 7:48 PM

It's impossible to start a conversation about "Cougar Town," ABC's smart and undervalued Wednesday night sitcom, without a nod to "Big Joe," the 44-ounce crystal wine glass that had a recurring yet crucial bit part in the show - until the gargantuan piece of stemware's untimely demise a few weeks ago.

The lead character (Courteney Cox as Jules Cobb, a divorced and lovably egomaniacal real-estate agent who sells McMansions in a central Florida beach burb) would routinely fill Big Joe up with a nice, midrange pinot noir. The whole bottle. Sometimes at what appears to be mid-morning.

Then tragedy struck. Big Joe tipped over and rolled off Jules's granite-top kitchen island, shattering into a zillion pieces when it hit the floor. Much comedic drama was made of this, including the cliche, lurching, slow-motion Nooooooo! as Big Joe plummeted to its (his?) doom.

Now slurping merrily away from Big Carl (Joe's immediate replacement), Jules continues trading gibes and holding forth with an array of surreal social observations.

Without that constant lubrication, "Cougar Town" would never have become a show that is altogether different than the show it started out as in September 2009. Instead of one long joke about a sex-starved divorcee, it became nuanced parlor comedy about the family-like bonds we sometimes create from spare parts - misfits, exes, neighbors, co-workers and new mates.

Beneath its thick layers of snark, "Cougar Town" might be depicting a family arrangement even more modern than the one seen in "Modern Family," the hit comedy that airs immediately before it.

Like "Modern Family," "Cougar Town" has one of the best ensemble casts currently on TV. There's Ellie, Jules's neighbor (played by Christa Miller; or mostly played by Christa Miller's bizarre-looking cheekbones); Ellie's goofball husband, Andy ("Once you go Andy, you can never go blandy," Ellie observes); Jules's adorably rednecky ex-husband, Bobby (Brian Van Holt); Jules's new love, Grayson (Josh Hopkins), who lives across the cul-de-sac; Jules's Gen Y party-girl office assistant, Laurie (Busy Philipps); and finally, Jules's son, Travis (Dan Byrd), a college freshman who keeps coming home to experience his mother's smotheringly needy expressions of love.

Everyone in "Cougar Town" - except the college kid, who isn't 21 yet - drinks wine, beer, margaritas, sake, you name it. Their eyes light up at the sight of alcohol. If it's not happy hour at Jules's house, then they're all down at the pub Grayson owns.

I want to come out firmly (and soberly, for the moment) in favor of this narrative device. It's refreshing to see grown-ups drink this much and not wind up in jail or, worse, in punitive states of Don Draper-like brooding.

"Cougar Town" gets at a certain tipsy joy - a joy almost forbidden now in mainstream popular culture. The characters here drink, sometimes to excess. They love life, even as they insult one another: Ellie compares Laurie's hair to the color and shape of chicken fat. Everyone tells Grayson his eyes are too tiny.

Dispensing relationship advice to Travis, Grayson says: "I always imagine [the woman] without a face."

"I think I just read that tip in Ted Bundy's biography," Travis says.

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