Cougar Town. Selfie. Trophy Wife. I Hate My Teenage Daughter. What goes through network executives' minds when they doom a sitcom from the start with a terrible gimmick of a title and an equally throwaway, zeitgeisty concept? Maybe they do a cost-benefit analysis of the amount of free publicity a show will hopefully receive from being the butt of late-night-show punchlines versus the marketing dollars the network would have to spend to promote it. It's hard to get a new sitcom noticed, so the terrible-name option could be a cheap way to stand out from the pack.
Is it really worth the immediate condemnation, though? "This is a real show whose main conceit is that having sex with a younger man is fun and exciting for women over 40," television critic Mary McNamara wrote when Cougar Town premiered in 2009. By then, the whole cougar trend was well past its cultural-saturation tipping point, which probably occurred around the time Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore tied the knot in 2005.
Hanging a show on a supposed phenomenon whose name makes older women dating younger men sound desperate and predatory felt wan and almost insulting. There was Courteney Cox, gorgeous as ever, playing Jules, a character overly concerned with her looks fading and dying alone. Maybe some viewers could commiserate, but the thrill of watching Cox's character bed young studs didn't feel sustainable. Nor did it tackle the real heart of the issue, which was the raw vulnerability people face when a longterm relationship ends.
The Jules-as-cougar theme didn't last, but that was the best thing that ever happened to Cougar Town. By the end of season 1, Jules had stopped drooling over and trying to date men closer to her son Travis' age than her own. The show instead shifted its focus to the now-beloved Cul-de-Sac Crew, whose wine-swilling, madcap hijinks made it infinitely more watchable.
What are the creators of a terribly named show to do when it unexpectedly outlives its admittedly campy premise? They considered changing the title to reflect the evolving focus — Friends With Beverages was a leading contender on Twitter. Cougar Town already had brand recognition, though, and loyal viewers were in on the joke of the name. So, instead of changing it, producers helped set the lighthearted tone each week with a new title card addressing the problem directly.
"All I want for Christmas is a new title," one season-2 episode opener joked. "We pretend Cougar Town is called Wine Time," read another. "Remember when we wanted to change the title? Ah, good times. Thanks for sticking with us," said episode 14 of season 4's card.
That last one was a genuine thank you to viewers who continued watching after the show moved from ABC to TBS before season 4. Loyal fans followed the Cul-de-Sac Crew from network TV to basic cable, but for anyone just tuning in, TBS knew it had to again apologize for the terrible name.
"Cougar Town isn't about cougars or cougars," Courteney Cox explained in a video. "It's about friends who are like family and like to drink a lot of wine around a kitchen counter."
Watching an episode of this show is a breezy, fun escape from the mundane. You want to drink an entire bottle of wine from Big Lou, Big Carl, or any of Jules' extremely generous beverage holders. The characters are silly and fairly static, but who doesn't want a close-knit group of friends that invents games like Penny Can? Sometimes, you just want to watch fictional characters acting carefree and unencumbered by the grim realities of adulthood. There's absolutely nothing wrong with some fictional, wine-soaked levity.
Cougar Town begins its sixth and final season tonight on TBS, and it's absolutely worth another watch. Have your Zach Braff Appetizer App suggest some munchies, and get ready to pound some grape, because Jules has one key question for you: