Out of fondness and respect for Bill Lawrence, and seasons one through four of “Scrubs,” I think I tried to will myself into loving “Cougar Town.” But in the end, the only thing I could really see in the pilot was potential for a better show. All I could muster was this saving notion: Pilot episodes are notoriously bad indicators of a show’s future. See: “Seinfeld.” See “30 Rock.” See “The Office.” Or, for the opposite crash-and-burn perspective, see: “Glee.”
There really is a lot of potential in “Cougar Town,” though. The problems, so far, are three-fold. First, Courteney Cox still hasn’t given up her Monica Gellar personae — she’s just a different kind of neurotic. But it’s still the same over-pronounced, get-in-your-face delivery, replete with a shrill, trying-to-hard vibe. I don’t really have anything against Cox or Monica Gellar, but it doesn’t suit the role, and it only exaggerates the second problem with “Cougar Town,” namely that Bill Lawrence is trying to fit part of the “Scrubs” paradigm into a show that can’t contain it. The lesboerotic relationship between Cox’s Jules and Christa Miller’s Ellie doesn’t sit right, and it pales in comparison to JD and Turk’s bromantic relationship. There’s also the fact that Lawrence reaches for the same “Scrubs” quirky vibe, and though it works with some of the smaller characters, Cox is too settled into the mainstream sitcom mold to make it work for hers.
The biggest problem, however, is the show’s premise: Recently divorced, 40-year-old Mom returning to the dating scene, only to sleep with men half her age. The Cougar/MILF thing has been played out for years — the Cougar has become as much as stock character as the sassy black woman. It also makes for a lousy character to revolve a show around.
But on the flip side, “Cougar Town,” also seems to suffer from the same problems that plagued the latter seasons of “Scrubs”: It’s main character is the least interesting person on the show. The good news, however, is that “Cougar Town” already has the makings of some great supporting roles. Dan Byrd, who plays the son, Travis, is amusingly dry and sarcastic. The recently divorced neighbor guy (Josh Hopkins), who sleeps with sorority girls, similarly, has excellent prankster potential. Ian Gomez could be the next Ted. But the best is Brian Van Holt, the ex-husband, who is essentially a more fully formed Todd, sans the high fives. He’s easily the best part of the show, but unfortunately, has the least amount of screen time. It’s a shame, however, that “Cougar Town” is so desperately missing a Dr. Cox, someone who can ground the show and keep the main character in check.
Still, the pilot did feature some fairly great lines, though some of them would’ve been much better delivered by Sarah Chalke (“You know how it goes, I started thinking with my coochie-cooch”). Still … Cougars? Really? In 2009.
But then again, maybe I’m being too hard on “Cougar Town.” Maybe it only suffers in comparison to “Scrubs,” a beloved show that never got the ratings for ABC (though, it will be back at mid-season). I think Bill Lawrence may be trying to tone down the quirk, and dial up the sitcom conventions in the hopes, ultimately, that “Cougar Town” will find a broader audience. Or maybe, it’s just going to take Lawrence a few episodes to find his footing, to build a few running gans, and to develop the relationships a little better. I hope, for his sake, that Courteney Cox cooperates. And as long as “Modern Family” serves as one of “Cougar Town’s” bookends, I’ll gladly stick around to see if it gets better.