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TELEVISION REVIEW

Review: 'Cougar Town'

This ABC show, about a mid-40s mom eyeing younger men, does few groups any favors. The occasional joke will stick, and Courteney Cox makes her character as likable as possible. But: ick.

September 23, 2009|MARY McNAMARA | TELEVISION CRITIC

Ah, "Cougar Town." The title alone just makes your heart sing, doesn't it? It's right up there with the title of the reality show Jack Donaghy turned into a hit on "30 Rock," whose title, which referred to sexually active mothers, is so coarse we cannot print it here. Only that show was a joke and this is not. This is a real show whose main conceit is that having sex with a younger man is fun and exciting for women over 40.

Crude stuff for a family newspaper, but despite the warm-and-fuzzy-celebrity cred that star Courteney Cox brings to it, some funny lines and good acting all around, "Cougar Town" is a crude show, built on jokes about oral sex and droopy breasts, a show in which words like "coochie" are used with regrettable abandon.

The show opens with Cox's character, Jules, examining her naked, aging and, if her facial expressions are to be believed, simply awful body in the mirror. What some might see as a brave act by a female star -- look, the skin on her elbows is no longer as elastic as a 10-year-old's! -- others may view as a ridiculous attempt by Cox to prove that she is not preternaturally slim, trim and perhaps procedurally enhanced. As with many shows centered on a struggling single lead, Cox is way too attractive to be quite believable as the character she plays.

Jules, a lonely, divorced real estate agent, lives in a community that looks a lot like Agrestic from "Weeds" except that it's in Florida not California and filled with cougars instead of potheads.

Cougars, for the uninitiated, are middle-aged women who hook up with much younger men. Although some women fondly embrace the term, it is, at its root, a sexual pejorative; cougars may be sexy, but they carry with them a predatory air and the distinct whiff of desperation. Previous incarnations involved blowzy peignoirs and a bottle of gin -- in "Cougar Town," this has been updated to cocktails and implants.

Jules knows all this and apparently has spent much of her life making fun of all the cougars who surround her and saying things like, "Look, Travis' math teacher has new boobs." She is enraged by her recently separated neighbor Grayson's (Josh Hopkins) attempt to recapture his youth by bringing home a endless parade of nubile young women -- "Oh, a hoodie?" she yells at one point. "Really?" But when he suggests she couldn't catch a young thang if she tried (like this is something a man would even say to a woman), Jules decides to, in the parlance of the show, "go for it."

Clearly, creators Bill Lawrence and Kevin Biegel (both previously of "Scrubs") are trying to take on some legitimate issues, and no doubt there is pathos and insight to be gleaned from a divorced woman staring down her mid-40s as her child prepares to leave the nest, wondering if this is as good as it is ever going to get.

But that is no excuse, and I mean whatsoever, for having that woman look at a shirtless young man and say, "I want to lick him." Jules may have been out of the dating loop for a while, but did she spend her 30s in Judd Apatow's basement playing video games and watching "South Park"?

And it's not just her own dignity that's on the line. Travis (Dan Byrd of "Aliens in America") is Jules' teenage son, whose actual adolescence is being preempted by his mother's second go-round. Jules seems to take pride in her lack of boundaries, giving their relationship an ick factor that even Byrd's quietly hilarious performance cannot overcome.

He does his very best, though, stealing every scene he's in. "Why don't you laugh at my jokes?" his mother asks after she cracks one about the fact that, in an attempt to prove her attractiveness, she flashed a neighbor kid. "Because they make me sad," Travis says, giving voice to us all.

To make sure we understand the nature of Jules' torment, and the wide-ranging nature of female sexual dysfunctions, she is given two friends: Her young assistant Laurie (the always reliable Busy Philipps), who thinks pretty much every problem can be solved by another shot, and Ellie (Christa Miller), a new mother bitter over the fact that her husband still wants to have sex once a month without having to beg.

The maddening thing about "Cougar Town" is that it isn't completely unfunny or uncharming. Lawrence and Biegel are fine writers, and there are sparks amid the mire. Jules' ex-husband, Bobby (Brian Van Holt), is a lovable deadbeat, and their relationship is one of mutually defeated but still real affection.

Cox is working as hard as she's ever worked to give us a woman not so much desperate as afraid that things did not work out the way she planned and now it's too late to fix them. Certainly, everyone can relate to that.

But to take such a universal fear and boil it down to ancient and degrading jokes isn't fair to Cox, it isn't fair to women and it certainly isn't doing viewers any favors either.

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mary.mcnamara@latimes.com

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'Cougar Town'

Where: ABC

When: 9:30 tonight

Rating: TV-14-DLS (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14, with advisories for suggestive dialogue, coarse language and sex)

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