Remember when Cougar Town premiered four years ago and we all made a whole thing of it because of its name, and, oh my God, what was this trying to say about older women’s sexuality, and why are we legitimizing the use of this offensive term?
I am not making fun. I was one of those people saying those things. But while the show itself knew from the beginning that its title was stupid, it turned out the idea wasn’t so dumb: funny divorced lady funny played by Courteney Cox starts her life over sans husband. The show gradually outgrew its hamstrung premise and morphed into something else altogether: a show about six friends, most of them of a certain age, acting just as fun and confused and complicated as we all do at all ages. It turned out the show was trying to say something about older women, and it was mainly this: They’re just like all other women!
Cougar Town even publicly discussed their urge to drop the title, but by then it was too late and the show had too many fans. Not enough fans to keep it on ABC, but enough to get it picked up this season by TBS.
On TBS, hopefully, the show will continue to lead a long life and continue contributing to the idea that middle age is pretty much like any other age. Here are four things we’ve learned from Cox’s character, Jules, and her friends, who happen this time to mostly be over 40:
- Divorce is just a fact of mature life—sometimes complicated, sometimes funny, sometimes both. Jules has remained friends with her doofus ex, Bobby, and we never feel like she’s anything but better off without him. The complications of being friends with your ex are still underexplored comic territory in proportion to how often exes remain in each other’s real lives. (The New Adventures of Old Christine also mined this theme beautifully, and I miss it dearly). Cougar Town hits the sweet spot with this, as in a recent episode in which Bobby tries to stop taking alimony from Jules, only to find himself giving up health insurance and stretching himself too thin. Finally, Jules admits she likes helping him. This is why we need people farther up the age spectrum on TV, just as we need people of all colors and backgrounds—they provide characters with interesting life situations that haven’t been done in a million comedies about young white people already.
- Long-term relationships actually can be fun. Jules and new(ish) guy Grayson went through the standard sitcom stages of sexually tense sparring and will-they-won’t-they. But against all odds, they’ve made a stable relationship funny, and not by turning into a married sitcom couple who pretend fights over banal household matters. Part of this is due to them both being very funny actors. Part is, once again, because relationships between older, divorced people starting over make for fresh storylines. The pair almost broke up because Grayson wanted a kid but Jules didn’t want another one. (She already has a college-age son.) That’s more interesting than the lady wanting a kid and the dude not wanting to commit. They also wring so many stories out of their group-friendship dynamics that their relationship can remain a mere background detail a lot of the time.
- Women have friends of all ages. The age difference between late 20s/early 30s Laurie and 40-plus Jules makes for some of the show’s best moments. Often they’re just normal friends, which is cool and realistic—I love being friends with women much older or much younger than I am. You can learn a lot from both groups, and they help you keep things in perspective. (Oh, thank God I’m not struggling through my 20s anymore!) Occasionally, Laurie’s clearly decades sillier or more energetic or more reckless than Jules, and that’s just fun to watch.
- 40 is not really the new 20. Yeah, this was the obnoxious tagline for the show when it premiered in 2009, to go along with its obnoxious title. But instead, Cougar Town has managed a neat trick: Showing us the best and worst of over-40 life without making women over 40 into stereotypes or alien others. Catch it in its new TBS slot—it’s worth the visit, despite the name.