“I’m Vivica Fox, and I am not your cougar.” With these words, self-professed cougar Vivica A. Fox wisely distances herself from the contestants on TV Land’s The Cougar. This is too bad, because if Fox was on the show to find herself another “younger man,” the goings-on would be more interesting: she would shred the assembled boy-toys with perfect ferocity. Alas, with the fantastic Fox serving as host, we are left with only bland, blonde Stacey Anderson.
The Cougar is TV Land’s first foray into original primetime programming — though it hardly seems “original.” Best known for rerunning classic television shows and endless marathons of boring reality fare, the network has invented a new section for itself, “TV Land Prime.” Here you’ll find The Cougar, which is, in form, content, and production, merely a re-tread of ABC’s The Bachelor/ette series. In fact, Anderson lives amongst a group of 20something guys at the exact same mansion set where The Bachelor/ette is taped. I find it hard to believe that no other Mission-style sybaritic McMansions were available in L.A. during production, but then again, it probably makes sense to use the rental while waiting for the next cash-cow crop to move in.
The narrative structure is also exactly the same as The Bachelor/ette: Stacey hangs out at the mansion for parties while the guys compete for “one-on-one” time with her. She goes on group dates, double dates, and “one-on-one” dates. She can send any guy home at any time on any individual or double date, etc., etc.
The Cougar also offers the same scenes of the boys in competition for Stacey’s attention. They are full of sophomoric antics and braggadocio. I guess the preening repertoire of the 20something straight guy is limited at best. When he feels like he’s not getting enough attention, for instance, J. D. strips down to his skivvies (or is it a Speedo that he’s “conveniently” worn under his street clothes?), and jumps into the pool, exhorting Stacey to come join him. She doesn’t.
Certainly, there is some pleasure (and a little bit of sympathetic pain) to be had in watching these guys make total asses of themselves. It is considerably less pleasant to watch when all this macho posturing tips in the direction of sexual violence. At one point, the guys are filmed from above, vying for Stacey’s attention as she sits on a lounge chair poolside. Stacy is lost in this shot, which is reduced to a circle of guys jostling each other for her attention, the tableaux looking creepily like the gang-bang set up from some cheap porn flick.
Such visuals complicate The Cougar‘s insistent claim that it is empowering women by breaking taboos and double standards about intergenerational dating. It’s difficult to find any empowerment for Stacey or any potential female viewer when the guys she has to choose from are so obtusely Defending the Caveman.
Stacey explains her part in this business, telling us she prefers to date younger men because they have a “spirit” and “zest for life” that are missing in men of her own age bracket. Maybe so. But on The Cougar, that “spirit” appears to be subsumed in guzzling copious amount of alcohol, whipping out metaphorical dicks in a bizarre frat-ish mating dance, and schoolyard bullying.
At the end of the series premiere, Stacey has to whittle down the group of 20 guys to 15. (Couldn’t she cut more? Please?) Stacey’s options as to who will stay and who will go are excruciating: the guy who tells her a joke about an “Australian kiss” (“It’s like a French kiss, but ‘down under'”) and the ex-Marine who gets shit-faced drunk, tries to pick a fight with another contestant, and can barely stand at the “Kiss Off” ceremony. Mmm, zesty.
According to Fox, The Cougar represents a “cultural phenomenon” that is “changing dating as we know it.” Well, only those of “us” who never imagined that an older woman and younger man might have sexual and romantic chemistry, say, those of us for whom Demi and Ashton was a revelation. In this, The Cougar is not only oogy and repetitive, but also as behind the curve as TV Land‘s usual rerun fare.