Photo: TBS

Cougar Town Returns, And No One's Learned Anything, Thank God

(No) change approved!

Around this time two years ago, I wrote a post for Slate comparing two ratings-challenged sitcom underdogs: Community and Cougar Town. At the time, both were considered bubble shows; and their producers and stars clearly knew it. But as Community's challenges seemed to send it ever further up its own ass, Cougar Town just got more heedlessly goofy and silly.

By the end of both shows' third seasons, just a few months after I wrote that post, Community's showrunner, Dan Harmon, had been fired from the show he created, and Cougar Town had been cancelled by ABC, but would soon be revived on TBS. Community then entered what was generally regarded to be a fallow period under its new management, whereas Cougar Town continued on its goofy path, joking all the while about its new location and dumb title. People got into various conflicts and situations. But no one changed. WHICH IS GREAT.

Cougar Town returns to TBS tonight to kick off its fifth season, and...okay, one thing has changed: after dancing around each other for most of the run of the series, Laurie and Travis have finally gotten together as a couple. But the new turn their relationship has taken has only served to reinforce the one Travis already has with the other most important woman in his life: Jules is trying to appear okay with her still-fairly-young son dating her former professional colleague, but (a) she isn't, and (b) Laurie and Travis aren't making it any easier on her by continually having sex in places where Jules is guaranteed to find them. Naturally, this just makes Jules more inappropriately involved in Travis's private business, because that's how they work.

As for everyone else: they're still just chugging along in their likably dopey way, as they have been all along. Being mayor of Gulfhaven hasn't put even the slightest crimp on Andy's availability to hang out and drink with Bobby. Coming into money (thanks to overseas licensing fees for Penny Can) hasn't caused Bobby to change his mooching ways or even understand that maybe he should think about paying off his tab at Grayson's bar. Grayson is still flummoxed but amused by his wife's weird quirks. And Tom is still trying, fruitlessly, to break into the inner circle of the cul-de-sac crew.

All of which is not just entertaining but extremely comforting. When you turn on a Cougar Town, you know what you're going to get: rapid-fire banter, fueled by copious amounts of red wine, bathed in golden light. You don't need to worry that anyone's little kid is going to gum up the works: you'll see Stan, Ellie and Andy's son, maybe twice a season, and producers have already gotten his first appearance out of the way in the season premiere. Bobby may date a lady, but you can be confident that she's not going to hang around long enough to mess up the crew's group dynamic. No one will have a problem that will linger past the end of an episode, which is really all you could or should want from a sitcom about a bunch of fundamentally imbecilic fortysomethings. I mean, I like Parks & Recreation as much as the next guy, truly, but how many times are those characters going to change jobs?

Whereas...does Jules even have a job anymore? And do you care? If, like me, you're still on board with Cougar Town after four increasingly weird seasons, you probably don't.

Cougar Town airs Tuesdays at 10 PM ET on TBS.

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