Critics say Courteney Cox is a good actress, but even she can't make the stale, raunchy humor of Cougar Town - which premieres tonight - work. Unless, of course, viewers, like Cox's character, tend to think with their "coochie cooch."
In tonight's premiere, Cox plays Jules, a recently-divorced Florida real estate agent who lives with her teenage son Travis (Dan Byrd). Jules criticizes her recently separated neighbor Grayson (Josh Hopkins) for hooking up with an endless parade of younger women and he bets her that she couldn't get a younger guy to go home with her. After discussing her sex life (or lack thereof) with her best friend, Ellie (Christa Miller), her trashy assistant Laurie (Busy Philipps), and most disturbingly, Travis, she takes her neighbor's advice to "go for it" and brings home a guy who isn't much older than her son.
Cougar Town was created by the same people behind Scrubs, Bill Lawrence and Kevin Biegel, but Cougar Town lacks the charm of their previous effort. Most critics say the problem with the show isn't Courteney Cox's acting, but the fact that she's forced to deliver absurd lines like, "I was 19, I started thinking with my coochie-cooch, and then, bam, I had a kid,'' and is too hot to be a cougar. Reviewers note that even though some women in Hollywood have adopted "cougar" as a positive term, (according to critics) there's still something desperate about a woman dating a younger man. They argue that Courteney Cox just doesn't fit in the role: She's still attractive, and thus bears no resemblance to real women over 40. We've already gone over the five reasons we think Cougar Town looks awful, and below, we take a look at what the pop culture pundits are saying.
Your first thought is that Cox is too gorgeous to have such concerns, but from her opening scene (as she's unhappily studying her bare body in the mirror), Cox is not only convincing but touching - and unfailingly funny. Her insecurities seem as natural and ingrained as her loving if sometimes tortured relationship with her teenage son, wonderfully played by Dan Byrd of Aliens in America...There's a fragility to Cox that in the wrong show can come across as brittle, but is used here to increase her vulnerability and appeal.
The dialogue, timing and jokes have the madcap pace and anarchic spirit of Scrubs, and it takes a while for Ms. Cox to recalibrate her Monica persona from Friends. To her credit, Ms. Cox is game for anything, and the humor is raunchy and Seth Rogenish. But in the pilot she tends to overact, flattening arch slapstick and sharp-edged dialogue with clownish overkill. It also takes awhile to accept this actress as a lonely divorcee sidelined by middle age. Ms. Cox is supposed to be a 40-year-old Everywoman who is appalled by what society - and the Florida man shortage - has done to her cohort. "I know I'm one of them," Jules says to Laurie as the camera pans Botoxed matrons in leather and low-cut leopard-print bustiers. "I just don't feel like one of them." Ms. Cox's face is so tight and unlined, and her figure so taut, that it's hard to really see the distinction. But as the pilot gets funnier, so does Jules. She is of course the butt of most of the jokes, but she is doughty and not without a sense of humor..."
The recently divorced Jules, who goes completely mental one morning after noting a few elbow wrinkles and tummy jiggles — is shrill, unappealing (except for the whole looking like Courteney Cox thing), self-obsessed and has no filter between what she thinks and what she says. Things she says: "All the single guys our age are broken, gay or chasing younger girls." And, "I started thinking with my coochie cooch." And don't forget the discussion with her teenage son, Travis, about penis-holding. At least the boy has the grace to be mortified by his mother's sudden need to find the G-spot. To sum up: This is a one-note premise, with a lead character no one could want to spend five minutes with, based on a passing fad.
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... 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."
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.
Jules also chats about her sex life with her teenage son, Travis, which may be the truest indication of what a shallow humor pool the show is drawing from. And that's even before Travis walks in one evening to discover his mother has not only snagged a kid who isn't much older than he is, but who is performing a sex act on that fellow in the living room. Now we all know sitcoms face an ever-tougher challenge to offer a sex scene that hasn't been done by, say, Two And A Half Men." But a whole lot of viewers, if they wanted this kind of humor, would simply have gone to Spike in the first place. It's a waste of Cox's comic talents to have her spend the whole show trapped in lines like, "We had sex three times without you needing a nap or a pill or anything."
Cox is a funny TV presence with self-deprecating charm, but she's not an everywoman, and she's certainly not a stand-in for a population of women that is experiencing the aging process in real time. And so a show that's meant to be a meditation on gender, age, and insecurity is, instead, a vehicle for marveling at the amazing sculpting power of the Hollywood workout routine.... As a pop culture concept, [cougars are] already feeling stale. Besides, it's unclear that Jules even fits in the category; the lustful older women mocked in American Pie and on Saturday Night Live are well into their 40s and beyond, but by my math, Jules is in her mid-30s. I know this because she tells a potential date in a bar that "I was 19, I started thinking with my coochie-cooch, and then, bam, I had a kid.'' There's plenty of dialogue like that in tonight's premiere, and while it's meant to represent women talking frankly about sex, it comes off as women talking awkwardly about anatomy. When Jules stops her car short in one scene, Busy Philipps, as her younger, hard-partying co-worker, shouts, "Give a girl a warning. My uterus almost shot out!''
Cougar Town creator Bill Lawrence got a lot right about male friendship in his most notable creation, Scrubs, but this sitcom doesn't really capture much that feels true about female friendships. Women on this show tend to shout at each other, browbeat each other or simply announce, "Wow, you look like a whore." All of that claws-out humor is of a piece with the show's vaguely hostile attitude toward its female characters and their middle-aged dilemmas.
We can all perhaps agree that Cox is a good actress. She was good in Scrubs, good in Dirt, good in Ace Ventura, good in Scream - and Friends without Monica Geller would be just about unthinkable. So why, then, is Cougar Town such a painful belly flop? Easy answer: The glaring mismatch between material and starring actress. As the woebegone divorcee with an antic streak and a full-blown need to get down, Cox is not believable. In the opening scene, attempting to forge a winking comradeship with millions of other 40-year-old women in the viewing audience, she pinches rolls of fat, flops bat wings and compares herself to a farm animal. Then, a couple of scenes later, those viewers get a full-body view, and there's not a fat molecule out of place. Cougar Town will get a big number Wednesday, but do not be fooled. It doesn't deserve one.
Cougar Town premieres tonight on ABC at 9:30, Eastern and Pacific times; 8:30, Central time.