Last year, Cougar Town began as a pleasantly amusing sitcom about Jules (Courteney Cox), who was dating younger men and not finding much satisfaction in it. From its start, the series had a serious case of previous-show-itis. Cougar Town creator Bill Lawrence also created and oversaw Scrubs for seven years, and his new show’s jokes often seemed lifted directly from the old one, dropped into a different setting. The presence of Christa Miller-Lawrence, who appears in Cougar Town as Jules’ tart-tongued best friend Ellie and was a regular on Scrubs as tart-tongued Jordan Sullivan, didn’t help.
But the show soon addressed these issues, and Cougar Town improved to the point where it was one of TV’s most entertaining comedies. It dropped the idea of Jules constantly dating younger guys and started to focus on the cast as an ensemble. The characters even evolved, particularly Jules’ ex-husband Bobby (Brian Van Holt), still carrying a torch, and Laurie (Busy Philipps), the younger co-worker with whom Jules developed a mutual grudging respect. As Jules and her divorced neighbor Grayson (Josh Hopkins) became friends and then a full-blown couple, Cougar Town‘s fictional world deepened to the point where it became comfortable and warm in addition to being genuinely funny.
The Season Two premiere, which aired 23 September, found the characters in roughly the same state as when we left them in last season’s finale. Jules’ son Travis (Dan Byrd) was still living at home. Jules and Grayson were still dating, but Jules, in typical fashion, had gone a little overboard, wanting to spend every waking minute with him. When he asked her for 24 hours of alone time, she went running to her new therapist, Glenn, for help. And who was Glenn? Guest star Jennifer Aniston. Even if she’s an annoying hippie who is clearly slightly unbalanced, Jules was buying into every piece of advice Glenn gave her.
While the episode had some laughs, it isn’t one of the series’ best. A running bit about Jules not being able to decipher any of the clues in the gang’s new movie title-based trivia game was clever, and Laurie and Ellie shared a brief, hilarious exchange regarding Travis. Jules’ slow recognition that Glenn might not be so wonderful paid off pretty well, but only resulted in one big laugh. To her credit, Aniston went all out to be weird and at least a little unlikable.
Still, the premiere felt stagnant. Traditional sitcoms get mileage from the characters acting the same way in a variety of situations, and much of Cougar Town‘s warmth comes from that sort of predictability. However, the show got better when individuals changed a bit, and the premiere hinted at more of that to come. Jules’ clinginess to Grayson will certainly be an issue, as will her reaction to Travis going away to college. But those are impending events. Without a truly inspired idea, this episode was back to the start: pleasantly amusing.