Why There is No Escape From Cougar Town

It's time for women in their 40s to face up to a harsh cultural reality: This cougar thing isn't going away. It's been about five years since this unfortunate piece of singles-bar slang insinuated itself into the mainstream, and the cougar jokes, TV shows, movies and dumb products keep coming.

There are cougar conventions, bar guides, dating sites, and last week, Carnival Cruise Lines announced a three-day "Cougar Cruise." Instead of a passing fad, it's turned into the Cougar Industrial Complex.

At this rate, it's entirely possible that there are 6-year-old girls sitting in classrooms across the country right now who will grow up and be called cougars. Of course, we don't know whether the definition will still be vaguely insulting, as in a somewhat-hot, somewhat-desperate older female who chases younger men. Maybe it will become a compliment in the way that these marketers insist it is. Either way, we're sure that the next generation won't escape.

And should The Future Cougars of America ask, "Mom, what was cougar-ing like at the turn the century?" we can direct them to Courteney Cox's new sitcom Cougar Town. The show, premiering this week, is just the latest in a long list of hot-older-women-on-the-hunt features. (By the time our kids grow up, there will be enough programming to populate a 24-hour Cougar Network.) We already had Vivica A. Fox's excruciating bachelorette reality show The Cougar along with Age of Love, the odious dating program which pitted "cougars" against younger "kittens" in a competition for "cubs"—or, as they used to be called, "men."

No cougar collection would be complete, of course,  without classic cougar precursors like Sex and the City, which featured the bold and rapacious Samantha Jones, a.k.a. "Cougar Zero." And surely there will be lots more cougar spin-offs like Pumas, starring Cox's BFF Jennifer Aniston and is about 30-something women who chase (and dump) younger men. (Nervy of Jen to play a puma, when at 40, she's really a cougar, but you know how hard it is to let go of youthful sexist slurs.)

Next to some of these offerings, Cougar Town isn't all that bad. Created by Bill Lawrence, the guy who brought us the loveable and raunchy Scrubs, the show is about an unreasonably gorgeous, recently divorced 40-something woman who is struggling to cope with aging, dating and raising a teen—in that order. However, unlike many single moms, Cox's character, Jules Cobb, doesn't seem to have money troubles, or weight troubles or hair troubles, and her main angst about getting older seems to center on a tiny bit of loose skin around her elbows—not for example, the realization that you can no longer wear shorts in public. But it's Courteney Cox, and it's impossible not to like her goofy I'm-beautiful-but-kind-of-hapless charm.

The pilot's main problem is that the writers have crammed exaggerated versions of every single horrifying thing that can happen to a divorced woman into a half-hour. Much of it might strike married people or younger women as funny, but for real divorced women, it could feel like the Al Brooks version of your life. In the first episode alone, Jules drinks too much on her first outing at a singles bar and tells a guy he's "hot as balls." On the same night, she encounters a lusty much-older woman, a kind of ominous Ghost of Cougar Future, who wears too much makeup and makes lewd gestures around young men.

And to top it all off, Jules doesn't even get to enjoy the ego boost of dating young guys. (And isn't that the point? Or part of the point?) The first (and only thing) a young hottie says upon seeing her in bra and panties is, "What's that scar?"—referring to her C-section scar--not "wow," as one might assume given how stunning the 45-year-old Cox looks. Jules makes a joke about it, but still…

They might have called the show Nightmare on Divorcee Street, except for Cox's charm and the fact that there are some great Scrubs-like zingers, mostly at the expense of men. In a post-romp moment, Jules says to a sweet, artsy younger guy: "We had sex three times without you needing a nap or pills or anything!" And just when things get too embarrassing for Jules, they switch to a scene with her married neighbors in which the balding, paunchy husband is shown in his sad little undershorts talking about scheduling sex positions. It makes Jules' awkward cougar-ing seem positively appealing.

But perhaps the best line of the whole pilot is when Jules leads a young guy to her bedroom with a single command: "Matthew, no more talking." After all, there may be lots of disadvantages to being 40 and single and female, especially for women who may not look like Courteney Cox, but one of the plusses is that you're old enough to tell people exactly what you want. Of course, if you're asking for an end to the all the cougar programming, you'll probably be disappointed.

Cougar Town premieres on ABC September 23 at 9:30 ET.

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