Why You Should Watch That Show with the Terrible Name


Tonight is the return of Cougar Town and it will be glorious. How much have you missed Dime-Eyes, Jelly, Jules, Trav, and the Robert “Bobby” Cobb? Penny can? Army Boyfriend Wade? Tom! Big Carl! The nice guy and the “other one!” Baby Stan! God, so many good friends that I just want to snuggle up with forever and ever.

Wait, you mean you weren’t watching Cougar Town? Seriously? Yes, I know it has a stupid name that even its own writers hate, and yes, I know the first seven episodes are terrible, horrible, no-good flailing attempts at comedy. I grant you all that, but will you pretty please just tune in already?

Cougar Town is one of the most delightful examples in my absolute favorite television genre, Mixed Groups Sitting and Talking, zanier than Friends, less gimmicky than HIMYM, slightly more stable than Happy Endings, and more generationally diverse than New Girl. And it is absolutely drenched in wine.

If that’s not enough for you, Cougar Town passes the Bechdel test with flying colors, and it even scores highly on my own overwrought, overly complicated rubric for determining whether a show is feminist or not. Behold:

1. Marriage and Babies? The main character, Jules, is 41 when the show starts. While her attempts at romance are plot point, they are not the plot point. Even for the younger character (Lauri), her trajectory is about figuring out what she wants in life (she starts a new business at the end of season 3), and less about some desperate or overwhelming urge to partner.

2. Women like sex too? Check! My favorite scene is when Lauri (late 20s) and Ellie (early 40s) try to find a sexual partner they’ve shared. Jules’ teenage son, Travis, matches up their respective lists to find a winner. “There are a LOT of names on these lists,” he says, and the two women high five.

3. Body beautiful? As important to me as this component of feminist-y media is, it’s such a rare find that I’m considering removing it from the list altogether. I guess I just have to acquiesce to the fact that 95% of bodies on television are going to be thin, blonde, and mostly white. On the other hand, on CT, you do get Andy (short, bald, pudgy, hairy), and yet all the women fit a very narrow version of beauty. That doesn’t seem quite fair….

4. Platonic Boy Girl Friendships? Cougar Town always wins big when it relies on the less frequent cross-gender friend pairs. There are some great moments between Ellie and Bobby and even better ones between Andy and Lauri. Plus, Lauri and Grayson sleep together and then manage to maintain a sweet, supportive friendship that isn’t tainted by their past shenanigans.

5. Girls that don’t talk about boys. Ellie, Jules and Lauri do spend a lot of time talking about boys (tennis pros, Abercrombie models, Zac Efron, and more), but they also talk about Lauri’s relationship with her mom, how Jules and Ellie’s parenting styles have differed, relationships with therapists, their aging bodies (but like… come on, have you seen Courtney Cox?), and Ellie’s claustrophobia as a stay-at-home mom.

6. People want different things? This metric is about recognizing that men aren’t just after sex and women aren’t just after love and Cougar Town nails it. People are complicated. Jules writes Grayson off as a player who left his wife to date younger women, and comes to find out she left him because he wanted children and she didn’t. The original (flawed) premise of CT was the very exploration of a woman pursuing sex for the sake of it. It didn’t work, but the conversations that continued are really, really good.

7. Some women are bitches, some men are douches ≠ Battle of the Sexes: Sometimes people behave badly, but their behavior isn’t tied to men being dicks and women being bitches. Ellie is the closest to a caricature of a bitch, but over the last few seasons her role in the group has gotten more and more delightfully complicated.

8. Feminism isn’t a dirty word. Not sure that Cougar Town ever explicitly brings up the F word (correct me if I’m wrong!) but I would argue that the show addresses a lot of the big third wave questions (slut-shaming, double-standards, pressure to partner, body-snarking, SAHM vs. working mom) with wit and with a progressive-ish attitude.

9. Male Gaze? CT is obsessed with bodies, to be sure: Grayson’s waxed chest, Lauri’s boobs, Travis’ insecurity about his physique, the very opening sequence of the series (Jules pinching her underarms), but the camera isn’t sexist. It doesn’t linger on women’s bodies, it doesn’t pan up and down, it doesn’t encapsulate the male gaze.

This is all beside the point (I mean, not really, but kind of…). Cougar Town is fucking hilarious. It’s one of those shows that rewards your for your loyalty by echoing past gags, trusting you to remember the inside jokes, and having characters evolve in ways that only make sense–but they do make perfect sense!–if you’ve been following along. So start with season 1, but know that the first seven will be kind of janky, and just stick with it. I promise it’s worth it in the end.

Related Post: Does The Good Wife out-feminist Parks and Rec?

Related Post: Why 2012 was a good TV year for the ladies. 


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Filed under Gender, Hollywood, Media

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