5 Questions And 500 Words: “Cougar Town”

Welcome to another installment of “5 Questions and 500 Words,” my approach to reviewing the crazy amount of shows that will be unspooling/returning over the course of the next few weeks. Given the glut of shows, and the glut of reviews that will be published for these shows, I’m keeping things short and sweet. This is for your convenience and my sanity.

“Cougar Town,” returns January 7 at 10:00 pm EST on TBS

cougar-town-s5-renewal.jpgYou’ve written extensively about the show for the past two seasons. On a scale from one to Penny Can, how freakin’ great are the new eps screened for critics?

Eh.

Wait…I’m confused. And nervous. how am I supposed to process this?

I’d say that lowering your expectations is probably a good thing, unfortunately. While the first three seasons of the show are still underrated classics, the fourth saw a fairly steep dive in quality with the everyday departures of co-creators Bill Lawrence and Kevin Biegel. The core elements of the show still remained, but buried under a creeping sense of stasis and an overreliance of tropes rather than character work.

What’s the easiest way to sum up your confusion/worry?

In the premiere episode, the gang deals with the Travis/Laurie relationship that officially started at the end of season four. And that reaction in no way, shape, or form lines up with what happened in the first four seasons. Go back to “Down South” or a dozen another eps in which the possibility of Trav/Laurie is discussed and have it line up.

But maybe this is just a case of theory not lining up with reality?

I’d totally give that point to you, and I’m guessing that’s what all involved thought they were depicting. But no one in the show overtly acknowledges the disconnect. It’s a very simple thing that wouldn’t have solved the episode’s problems, but at least would signal that those in charge were paying attention t the little things. And that’s the biggest overriding sense of these early fifth season episodes: That the show’s somewhat on autopilot. Everything looks and sounds basically the same, but without any urgency or any attempt to change these characters a single iota. “Cougar Town” used to push its characters to grow and evolve. Now, they stay in place, and so does the show. Bobby Cobb used to be a sad man that the show pushed to better his position in life. Now, I assume he’ll never leave that boat. And that’s just sad, especially considering what Lawrence told me in this interview before season three.

Is there anything worth recommending?

Sure. It’s “Cougar Town,” so even a watered down version has some merit. The cast is still great, if somewhat bored with the recycled material at this point. The one person not bored? Bob Clendenin, who gets a lot of fun material early on (especially concerning a certain secret project in his garage). That one sole spot of energy makes sense: his is the last area of the show still fundamentally unexplored, even if you count the Tom-centric episode in season four. That’s not to say there isn’t a wealth of interesting material left to explore in the Cul-De-Sac crew. It’s just not clear that this is a show willing or interested in doing that at this point in its improbable run. That’s not a tragedy: most comedies have a finite life left in them, and the show is far from terrible. But it’s no longer vital. Instead of aging with added texture and maturity, the 2014 vintage of “Cougar Town” barely excites the palate.