Television behemoths “Seinfeld”, “Friends”, “Frasier” and “Will & Grace” made the 90s the official decade of the situation comedy. The half hour sitcom format has, this last decade, changed, evolved, one may say, at the very least adapted, to a great extent under the tutelage of Ricky Gervais and British mockumentary “The Office”. The new breed of successful sitcom tends towards following the mockumentary format, and has included “30 Rock” and more recently “Modern Family”. While critically acclaimed, their viewership is nowhere near the sitcoms that preceded them, with “30 Rock” settling in at about 5 million viewers, as opposed to the 50 million who tuned into for “Friends”. The traditional format, which tended towards using lovable protagonists, a more formal visual set-up, and aiming for flat out laughs, rather than the more modern notion of edgy, ambivalent awkwardness, is dead in the water. With “Cougar Town”, we are invited to its wake.
Picked up, shockingly, for a second season which premiered recently, “Cougar Town” attempts to cash in on what popular culture has deemed the latest dating ‘’trend’’. While the 90s were epitomised by Bridget Jones — the thirty-something single girl, in possession of an urban family, a semi-career and a French skillet that she would never master — the new millennium brings with it the coupling of the successful, affluent 40-something divorcee and the younger man. It comes with the ugly, derisive, predatory term ‘cougar’, which goes to tell you, more than anything else, that some ninety years after women won the right to vote and some forty years after the advent of the contraceptive pill, the idea of a woman trying to control her destiny is still viewed with a sneering contempt.
That said, sneering contempt is all that is deserved by “Cougar Town” and its portrayal of modern sexual mores. Springing from a school of thought that considers any display of intelligence pretension, “CT” is a repellently crass look at a financially successful but intellectually bereft divorcee Jules (Courtney Cox) who scandalises her equally provincial friends by re-entering the dating scene and trying her hand at younger men. As an attempt to ham-handedly draw attention to double standards, her neighbour Grayson (Josh Hopkins) is a forty-something who dates one young girl after another, with no qualms and no societal disapproval either. That he is portrayed as an infinitely more attractive character than the protagonist does not help the argument. The show follows Jules’ dating misadventures, along with her attempts at raising her teenage son alone, in order to give her character some appearance of depth, with motherhood ever the shortcut to proving that one is a ‘good person, really’. Perhaps the only amusing moment so far has been Jennifer Aniston’s cameo as an obnoxious, two-faced therapist, reminding one that Aniston is so much better at playing petulant and vile rather than the bland girl-next-door she’s been condemned to on the big screen. As for Cox, if dating in ones 40s is really a matter of obsessing over the appearance of one’s elbows and eternally waiting for the phone to ring, then I, for one, am least surprised by her continuing singledom. Age has come to “Cougar Town” without bringing with it smarts, self-awareness or even a dash of sophistication. Jules is a character consistently told by well-meaning friends to learn to love herself, yet not one convincing reason is provided as to why.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 24th, 2010.