Y'know, they don't call us "viewers" for nothing. When you change a major element of a show, we notice. The latest: Cougar Town's creator has reportedly said that he might change that show's awful title. Okay, now it's getting insulting.
Look, we get it. Life happens. Dick York's back gave out; Barbara Bel Geddes needed a bypass; McKenzie Phillips developed a serious drug habit; Will Smith and Janet Huber hated each other. You don't always want to kill off a major character and they can't always be conveniently married off. Mid-stream changes are not what any producer wants. And for the most part, as viewers, we're good sports: we're willing to suspend disbelief. But don't insult our intelligence:
If we watch the show, we're going to notice that Blair Waldorf's mom looks different, that Bobby Draper changes into separate boys instead of growing at a normal pace, or that Christopher Partridge is suddenly blond. So, how to handle it? Well, if they can't marry and leave town — leaving room for the occasional cameo or a lifestyle change — there's always death: Izzy's cancer may have strained our ability to forget the off-screen power struggles, and maybe Dr. Mark Greene's brain tumor seemed a bit much in a hospital where physicians routinely pulled off medical miracles, but hey — at least they were trying to maintain some sort of storyline. As viewers, we appreciate that.
There's the "unexplained disappearance" which, while ludicrous, does kind of neatly avoid the issue. Bobby Martin goes upstairs to wax his skis; 40 years later, he's yet to come down. Dr. Crusher's job is given to Dr. Pulaski. Well, okay, no one liked her anyway. Besides, superfans love red herrings!
Perhaps best of all is the wink-wink acknowledgment that, yes, the actor has been replaced and, yes, you're not stupid. The new Becky sits down to watch Bewitched and comments that she finds the second Darrin more likable; when Aunt Viv (after a mysterious hiatus) reappeared as a (literally) new woman, the Fresh Prince writers had the family remark on her altered appearance. This, really, is all we ask.
The title change, though: That's a move of unprecedented temerity. Okay, not unprecedented, exactly — the unmemorable James at 15, not shockingly, was forced to update (like the world, they presumably didn't expect a second season), Valerie Harper's departure would have made the continued use of Valerie particularly pomo, and It's a Living was inexplicably tweaked into Making a Living, not that it made a difference. These changes were, one could argue, necessary and inevitable and, in the case of Living, not that noticeable save for the poor kid who had the outmoded lunchbox (and who, come to think of it, probably had bigger problems anyway.) If it, were, say
Three Two and a Half Men, it would be one thing. But the Cougar Town change is particularly desperate: an acknowledgment that the name is the titular equivalent of last year's $200 boyfriend jeans, or putting pork-belly sliders on every menu. The title was always embarrassing, but it cannot be accused of misrepresenting the show. And there would have been a certain blowsy, Belle Watling-esque dignity in just owning its datedness. Fans will be put off; the rest of us will not be fooled. As with the new Christopher Partridge, we'll know we're being played, and while we may watch stupid TV, no one likes being made a fool of. Unless, that is, they go for Jumping the Shark, which I, for one, would applaud.
"Cougar Town" Name Change? [PopCrunch]