See You Next Tuesday: Cougar Town

See You Next Tuesday is the Boomstick's regular column. On some Tuesdays, I bring you the week's most laughable scumbags, idiots, and jerks for your reading and reviling pleasure.  If you don't get the name, visit your nearest middle school playground and ask the first kid you see.  You can read previous editions here. 

Today's See You Next Tuesday is a particularly sad one for me to write, because it's about a group of people whom I loved and trusted and believed in, but who have begun to disappoint me with increasing frequency.  That's right, writers of Cougar Town, I'm looking at you.

I have long stuck up for, defended, and promoted Cougar Town as an underrated sitcom.  (Not least because it lends some social legitimacy to my own version of "Big Carl"  Target boxed Pinot Noir drunk from the spigot. Tastes like classy!)

And what's not to love?  The cast is talented, there are tons of Scrubs cameos (Bill Lawrence created both shows) the writers are witty, sharp, and obsessed with wine. Courtney Cox has proven that she's capable of carrying an insular group-of-friends sitcom at any age on her tiny, lovable shoulders.  Indeed, Cougar Town is all the best parts of Friends with a slightly meaner, more caustic writing streak, set against a slightly more realistic backdrop. (I say "more realistic" because it's not twenty-somethings living in giant, unaffordable New York apartments, and because these grown-ups cater most of their social events around drinking like real people, whereas no one on Friends ever drank, ever.  But I say slightly because, like Friends, the group hangs out in the mornings before work [who does that??], no one ever seems to actually go to work anyway, and while everyone is constantly drinking from giant wine glasses, no one ever seems to actually get drunk, unlike real people.)  But the cast is really wonderful, and Courtney Cox is the eternally lovable glue that holds them all together.

And that's just the problem. Cox's Jules Cobb is so likable and so adorable, but the writers keep putting her in emotionally devastating situations and expecting her to make light of it.  For the first two seasons, the oft-mentioned joke was how often Bobby Cobb, Jules' ex-husband and inexplicable continued member of the cul de sac crew, had remorselessly cheated on her, largely with the knowledge of their neighbors and son.  This is played off as a recurring gag, and Jules is expected to shrug her shoulders, wag her finger at him, ("Now, Bobby!"), and ultimately accept that her unemployed, boat-living bum of a cheating ex-husband has an intense bromance with her neighbor and constantly occupies her couch.

And that's just background.  Then Jules started dating Grayson, cul de sac resident and reformed man-whore.  Grayson wants kids, though, and first, Jules is forced to compromise to the idea of having a second child -- a child who would have been 19 years younger than her first kid, and birthed in her 40s -- when she really didn't want to.  When Jules and Grayson got engaged in a thoughtful and romantic way, it seemed that Jules was finally getting a well-deserved karmic stroke of good luck.  But good luck is apparently bad television, because then the writers introduced my most hated story-line ever: Grayson's illegitimate daughter with a ditzy one-night stand.

Maybe this was meant to avoid a storyline where Jules and Grayson conceive a September-of-their-lives infant and the inevitable viewer backlash?  Maybe this was to avoid the tastelessness of a fake-pregnant Courtney Cox?  Maybe the writers are watching Mad Men and realized fat-suited actresses make cheap and tacky plot points?

Anyway, Grayson has this illegitimate daughter (they did a paternity test so there's no backing out of this one) named "Tampa" and her mildly-retarded but large-breasted mother is suddenly around all the time.  And, instead of being allowed to have a normal, confused, angry, bitter, pissed-off-but-trying-to-be-supportive reaction to this bit of life-changing news, everyone admonishes Jules for not being nicer to her fiance's baby momma.  Grayson defends Tampa's mom, and everyone takes his side about how harmless and okay she is. 

Then, THEN, in a moment that made me write this post and almost write a letter to the Cougar Town writers if I knew their addresses or thought anyone would read it or people still wrote letters anymore, Jules' son Travis makes out with Grayson's baby momma and then Grayson and Travis discuss how hot of a kisser she is and then everyone is mad at Jules for not wanting to listen to her fiance and her son discuss making out with the same woman who is also the mother of her fiance's child.  WHAT IS WRONG WITH EVERYONE? WHY ARE YOU ALL THE WORST, LEAST EMOTIONALLY-REASONABLE PEOPLE EVER?

Writers, I know you want some quality babymamadrama, but why can't you give Jules a break, or at least use some of the drama as a window into character growth or emotional complexity and not just a vulgar plot vehicle.  It's bad enough that Jules has to hang with her cheating ex-husband every day, its bad enough that you made her arrange a romantic date for him to take another woman (Scrub's Sarah Chalke!) on, it's bad enough that her fiance's man-whore past has caught up to him, but asking Jules to stay stoic and glib throughout the crashing blows is too much.  It's okay for the characters on Cougar Town to sometimes be hilariously bad people (a la Seinfeld), but Jules has put up with so much, can't you just let someone say, "hey, this situation might be a little difficult for Jules right now guys so let's fill up Big Carl and have a Jules day?"

Cougar Town, your jokes, quips, group gimmicks, and pop culture nods are as on-point as ever.  Even another terrible "let's pile on Jules" episode (where Travis wants to date Jules' personal assistant and best friend 10 years his senior and everyone admonishes Jules for disapproving and "getting in the way of love"), there was this amazing re-enactment of the The Perfect Storm on Bobby's boat during a hurricane.  That scene was a total riot, right down to Ellie's sad exit line after poorly aiming a bucket of water: "I'm just an okay storm, I'm not a perfect storm." 

But the driving plot of the show feels like really terrible, messy fan-fiction that everyone wishes they could just back out of.   There was enough borderline soap-opera going on in this show with the twisted relationships, but it was never the main focus and it always managed to make for a few solid, self-aware punch lines.  But now lovable Jules IS the punch line, and the other characters are rapidly descending into despicable, self-centered shallowness.  And that, my friends, should be territory reserved strictly for Ellie.

I love you Cougar Town, I really do, and I will keep watching you.  But please, get back to what you're good at:  slut jokes, wine, and penny can.

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Write comments
May 22, 2012 at 3:39 PM delete

Is this the longest post you've ever written? It's the longest one I've ever tried (and failed) to read.

May 22, 2012 at 3:54 PM delete

When it comes to a subject as important as Cougar Town, I don't think there's such a thing as "too long." Just think of me as the The Atlantic magazine of ABC sitcoms.


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