Sunday, September 27, 2009

TV: Cougar Town Roars

Wednesday the best new sitcom of the fall debuted, ABC's Cougar Town starring Courtney Cox. If you caught it, consider yourself damn lucky. If you missed it, it's available (for a few weeks after this posts) at Hulu. And it's a good thing it's on Hulu, in fact Hulu's the only reason its coming back this Wednesday.

ABC's under pressure to cancel it. Already. It's the same pressure that led to the cancellation of Emily's Reasons Why Not. You may not remember that show. We'd planned to review the Heather Graham sitcom that debuted in January 2006 but it was cancelled upon airing. There were many laughable reasons given for the cancellation but the reality was right-wing groups launched a campaign to kill the show before it aired and ABC suits were overwhelmed by (and scared of) the protests that came in.

ABC was afraid of offending anyone? Please. Taste has never been a concern at the network which launched T & A TV in the seventies. Running scared, however, has always been ABC's natural fall back position.

So when the complaints came in this week, the fact that Cougar Town's debut was watched by over 11 million viewers mattered less and less to the network. They were scared and convinced that no one would watch again. They were convinced no one would watch again because the e-mail campaign to kill the show (participants were advised to e-mail the network after the show began airing Wednesday night and to use the words "I will never watch this show again") made it appear that a good chunk of the 11 million were so offended they were boycotting.

E-mails and phone calls like that killed Emily's Reasons Why Not and were enough to make ABC really nervous last week; however, they paid attention to Hulu. On Hulu the show's proved highly popular. Not just popular, mind you, but highly popular. And that was enough to give Cougar Town another week.

Some of the people who insist to ABC that they'll never watch again are people who never watched in the first place. And there is an audience for Cougar Town.

That should be reason to rejoice but as we listened to execs at ABC play hopeful but nervous before Wednesday night and then play nervous Nells on Thursday and then be thrilled by Hulu (Friday morning, Cougar Town had become the most watched show of the week), we kept coming back to why the hell did Courtney Cox's show have to go through this?

Wasn't it enough that the show was funny? Wasn't it enough that it delivered an audience?

Why is it that a woman's forced to meet all the markers of success and then be faced with additional hoops to jumped through?

"Women can be some of the worst bitches." That statement was made by a feminist friend when we were griping to her on Saturday about some of the Water Cooler chat and noting how the worst reviews for this show were coming from women.

"Women can be some of the worst bitches," she replied as we looked over The Wall St. Journal's pan by Nancy deWolf Smith. "Never forget that if we could get our act together, we wouldn't need to persuade men to 'give us' equality, we'd simply claim it and have the numbers to do so."

Nance felt the need to match the single-mother Courtney Cox plays against the married mom Patricia Heaton plays and to find Courtney lacking. Why the two shows would be compared to begin with is beyond us but what Nance did wasn't offer a judgment on a show, it was offer a judgment on life and, as usual, Nance was so f**king dumb she didn't know what she was talking about including apparently confusing Cher with Elizabeth Taylor. (Taylor's dated no 'boy toy.' She married a younger man but that's generally not seen as "cougar" behavior.) When not demonstrating she was confused, Nance outright lied:

In an earlier era, the next step for a woman thus scorned was to take her revenge by amassing power, money and independence in the workforce. But this is the 21st century, where pole dancing passes for a statement of female liberation. So it should come as no surprise that Jules will search for self-esteem in frequent sex and the proof that she is still "hot."

Nancy deWolf Smith can't help lying, see she spent the bulk of her 'career' working for propaganda outlets such as Voice Of America -- the 'radio' network which cannot legally broadcast in the United States. So Nance is used to lying and used to getting away with it. So she lobs a critique at Courtney Cox's character, Jules Cobb, for wanting to appear "hot" instead of "amassing power, money and independence in the workforce." Damn liars like Nancy should be jeered whenever they appear in public and, if her outlet had any standards, they'd fire her.

See, Jules is a successful business woman and the first clue for Nance should have been the scene less than ten minutes into the first episode when her ex-husband Bobby (Brian Van Holt) showed up asking for an advance on his monthly alimony check. She's paying alimony, living in a dream home, driving a pricey car and money is not a problem. Why is that? She's a successful realtor. While Nancy deWolf Smith has never personally tasted success, she should know what it looks like but, apparently, having her mouth repeatedly around the balls of government lies has left her with an obstructed view.

We have no idea whose balls Troy Patterson was tonguing while pretending to watch the debut of Cougar Town; however, Slate might want to determine if their 'critic' needs glasses or is just lazy? In his pan of the show, Patterson writes, "Divorced from (and paying alimony to) a chowderhead who lives across the street, convinced that her shortage of suitors verifies her unlovability, psychotically gauche in social situations, she embodies every familiar trope of an unmarried woman approaching menopause." Unlike Nance, Troy-boy grasps that Courtney pays alimony; however, he seems confused as to whom she pays it too.

Bobby, her ex-husband, does not live across the street from her. Troy-boy has confused the character of Bobby (and the actor Brian Van Holt) with Grayson (and the actor Josh Hopkins). Where does Bobby live? The audience hasn't seen his home yet. Grayson, however, the audience sees basically every time Courtney's leaving her home or returning and he's usually with a much, much younger woman. In one memorable exchange, she will yell at him and his young, young date (practically an embryo by comparison to Grayson), "And a hoodie? Really? If you want her to think you're that young why don't you just wear those PJs with the feet on them!"

When the new year starts, we will have been reviewing TV for five years. In the past, we usually were kind to the idiots who make up the Water Cooler Set. They are the fools and gas bags who champion bad TV (such as the Aaron Sorkin disaster) and we generally refer to them collectively or toss out a few telling details. But we've largely avoided naming them. That's changing right now. We will name every liar, and call him or her out, when they go after a show because it stars a woman. There are critics at your daily papers who have made a career out of destroying women's careers. For example, a daily boasts a man whose ripped apart any woman not playing a stay at home wife (who does nothing but set up her husband's punch lines) for forty years now and he's gotten away with it. No mas.

Those days are over. You want to play sexist, well get ready because from now on we're calling you out by name. From now on we're highlighting your lies. These aren't mistakes, these are outright lies. And you've used them repeatedly to destroy projects women starred in. So consider yourselves to be on notice, we will nail your asses to the ground.

Courtney Cox is starring in the funniest new sitcom on TV and she's doing an amazing job. Instead of reviewing what she's appearing in, a number of people are making 'mistakes' in their efforts to take her down. Those aren't mistakes, they're deliberate. They are deliberate in intention or they are deliberate in carelessness. It makes no differences, they are deliberate and that's because writers know if they trash a woman, they're 'only' trashing a woman. They lie repeatedly and they get away with it when a sports writer doing the same to an athlete would be forced to issue a correction.

What has the anti-women forces in such a tizzy?


cougar town

cougar town 2

All together now, "Break me off a piece of that Kit Kat bar."

David Clayton Rogers played Matt in the debut episode. He's the guy Jules meets in a club that wacky friend Laurie (Busy Phillips) drags her to. Jules is uptight beyond belief and, to calm her down, Laurie suggests Jules critiques her appearance since that always seems to bring her focus leading Jules to tell her she looks like a crack whore with fake nails on one hand and none on the other. Laurie explains she only had four fake nails and that's the hand she smokes with. Moments later, Matt and Jules collide. There are sparks but the sparks make her nervous and she leaves the club alone and rushes home. Honk-honk. It's Laurie outside dropping off something Jules left at the club: Matt.

With her son Travis (Dan Byrd) at her husband's for the weekend and with encouragement from her next door neighbor Elle (Christa Miller of The Drew Carey Show and Scrubs) who spies Matt shirtless through the window, Jules and Matt get busy. And then they move it out to the patio in the backyard, to the lawn chairs. She explains she's going to do something that she normally doesn't do, something she didn't do that often for her husband. Just as she's going down on Matt, Travis and Bobby arrive with Bobby protesting that Jules told him she hated doing that.

It's awkward and it's funny. And the humor is sexual. It's no more sexual than you can find on Two And A Half Men or, for that matter, from Jack Tripper on Three's Company. But when it's coming from Courtney Cox (or any woman), it's time to start the e-mail campaigns to pull the show off the air, it's time for 'critics' to lie about a show in order to take it down.

This is the funniest new show the networks have. It may end up being the funniest show of the year. There's nothing like it currently on TV. Some wrongly try to lump it in with Jenna Elfman's new show. The two are completely different characters and the shows are completely different shows. (We plan to review Accidentally On Purpose next week. We do recommend you check it out on Mondays on CBS and it is a funny show.) And Jules is completely different from Monica Geller. That's the friend we all associate Courtney with and the majority of us would probably welcome the return of Monica. It would certainly be a safe move for her to return as Monica. She could be a radio chef in Seattle with a zany younger brother.

Instead, she's decided to play Jules and it's not just the names that are different. Courtney Cox is a talented and successful comedic actress and there are many ways to bring back Monica with variations. Instead, she's playing a completely different character and she's fleshed it out in a way that even we didn't expect (and we know Courtney and we're big fans of her but we have really been shocked watching the episodes of Cougar Town to see what she's done with Jules). Jules has her own series of tics and Courtney's making them work. It's amazing.

And the entire cast is amazing. Dan Byrd hits all the right notes as Jules' son. Brian Van Holt manages to make the lazy Bobby not only funny but actually appealing. There's a moment where Travis is embarrassed because Bobby is mowing his school's lawn and mowing it shirtless and stopping to offer a few bits of advice to Travis before resuming his air drum solo and mowing. Bobby is so oblivious and Van Holt walks the fine line so that you enjoy the cluelessness and find it endearing. Josh Hopkins has less to do thus far as Grayson but has handled everything well. Ian Gomez does a fine job as Andy that's made better by Christa Miller's dry reactions to him. In the midst of everything that is going on in the debut episode (and a lot's going on), time's made for a scene at the office where Miller's Elle stops in to explain to Jules she feels like she's losing their friendship and being replaced by Laurie. Every beat in that scene is perfect and it touches on elements of comedy and drama with the three actresses seamlessly handling each transition. The only thing to compare it to is the beauty shop scene in Steel Magnolias.

And when we were mentioning that on Saturday to our friend we quoted earlier, she said, "You see!" We didn't at first. Then she pointed out you have Academy Award winners Julia Roberts, Sally Field, Olympia Dukakis and Shirley MacLaine in that scene as well as the amazing Daryl Hannah and Dolly Parton. But we don't get Movieline or American Film drooling over the talent there. The same outlets that cream their panties or BVDs every time Al Pacino and Robert De Niro team up, ignore it when strong acting results from actresses teaming up.

There's a long, long history of sexism in media criticism and between that and the right-wing campaign to kill the show, it's amazing that Cougar Town will air this Wednesday. But it's that good, it's so good that it's managed to thus far overcome both obstacles. In a decade that's mistaken whimsy for laugh-out-loud funny, Cougar Town reminds you of a time when TV could actually do funny and Courtney Cox is already the one to beat for Best Actress as next year's Emmys. She's that amazing.
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