Cougar Town: About as Sexy as it Sounds

Let's talk about cougars. If you are ever hiking, say in some wilderness area of Florida or somewhere similar, you should watch out for them. They have teeth and sharp claws and will try to seduce you by dancing seductively to Hall & Oates. What's that? Ohh ha ha ha. You thought I was talking about the animal. No, no. I'm talking about old women who liked young men. It's quite a trend, apparently! Or at least asserting that it's a trend is a trend. Anyway, it's a Thing big enough in the national consciousness to merit a TV show: Courteney Cox's new Cougar Town, premiering tomorrow night.

I know, the show sounds absolutely dreadful. Who wants to watch a bunch of skeletal old white ladies wrap their leathery tentacles around dudes who are young, dumb, and full of... er... spunk? And especially when the head cougar is Courteney Cox, who is only playing a 40-year-old but whose wiry manic-ness can make her seem either infantilized or strangely elderly. It's kind of gross. Plus what is the show really even about, it can't possibly be focused solely on Cox and her elderfriends grinding up on college boys, can it? It's on ABC for gosh sakes! So just what the heck is this show's deal? Well, I've seen the pilot and I'll tell you something kind of surprising. It's not that bad.

Don't get me wrong. There are some really awkward moments and some dirty jokes that really don't need to be there, but the series has a few genuinely funny moments, most of them when Cox's character is drunk and all amped-up on crazy. Otherwise, though, Cox is slightly miscast as a regular mom in a Florida suburb (the high school sports teams are the Cougars, natch). She's so much better at tough-as-nails (see Scream) and whiny-and-slightly-insane (see Friends) than she is at playing some weird middle hybrid. This is to say that she's not exactly the most nuanced of actresses, and since this isn't a slasher or a multi-cam sitcom with a live studio audience, her performance seems a bit lost.

She's rescued, thankfully, by the always-enjoyable Busy Phillips, playing the swingin' single younger friend who, in the pilot, drags Cox out of the house and helps her become a cougar for the first time. Dan Byrd does his usual mildly charming sarcastic stuff as Cox's put-upon teenage son (there is a horribly rancid incesty joke in the pilot, be warned.) And Brian Van Holt is a welcome surprise as Cox's messy burnout of an ex-husband. His character is a bit of a tired cliche (he talks like a rock 'n roll surfer and is totes unreliable!), but it's still good to see the talented fellow freed of the sturm und drang and crazy theo-speak that overwhelmed and sank his last steady gig, John from Cincinnati.

But Christa Miller, late of Scrubs and even later of The Drew Carey Show, doesn't offer anything new or interesting as the beleaguered best friend and neighbor. (Though Ian Gomez is cute as her rolypoly sex machine of a husband.) Nor does the sexy man across the street character who seems, like so much of this show, bused in from Desperate Housewives (and who, I'm sure, Cox will have some sort of romance with) entice in any real way.

Actors aside, the bawdy comedy just doesn't blend well with the standard-issue lonely single mom sincere stuff--it's hard to watch a mother and son be affectionate with each other shortly after an incest joke. The show wants to be two very different things at once--both dirty and kind. And it isn't smart enough to almost pull that off the way Californication almost does.

And yet, somehow... it vaguely doesn't suck? That is to say, I'll give it a second episode. All does not seem totally lost in the pilot. Ratings-wise though, there's something about the show--the desperate glint in Cox's eyes, the desperate clawing of the jokes to be So Scandalous!--that suggests to me that Cougar Town is not long for this world. I guess it's still sorta fun to see old gender tropes flipped, with women being the horny sex-chasing ones, but where Sex and the City did that filthily well, Cougar Town just does it filthily. To wit: There's an extended masturbation joke about a middle school boy and some big real estate signs that runs throughout the episode. It ends in the boy's bedroom. Eesh.

For a network comedy on primetime ABC? I just don't think that's gonna score.

'Cougar Town' premieres Wednesday Sept. 23 at 9:30/8:30c on ABC

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