Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Cougar Town, Happy Endings, and the hang-out comedy

Posted By on Tue, Feb 14, 2012 at 4:55 PM

You know what day it is, of course. Society – our consumerist culture – won’t let us forget. Tonight, Cougar Town returns.

Any discussion of Cougar Town, of course, requires lengthy apologies about the name  and explanation that, no, the show is not about Courtney Cox picking up younger guys.

But it is – and this is mostly a secret -- one of the better comedies on television. You could praise the characters and jokes – but Cougar Town isn’t about characters on jokes, really. It’s not about the elaborately constructed plots of some sitcoms or the familiar catchphrases and predictable reactions of others. It’s more about people who like each other hanging out. Modern TV comedy – from Always Sunny to Big Bang Theory-- is filled with dislikable, dysfunctional characters who annoy and hate each other.

Yet Cougar Town and one of the good network comedies, Happy Endings rests mostly on the premise of how much the characters love hanging out together. (At its best, How I Met Your Mother worked on the same principle.)

In Cougar Town, they hang out in a living-room and sip wine. In Happy Endings they hang out in a bar. The style differs – the older crew of Cougar Town communicates with inside jokes and good-natured insults (as 40-something people might) while the younger crew of Happy Endings prefers a rapid-fire stream of pop culture references (just like we young people do) – but the inherent people-hang-out-premise makes these two shows nearly cousins.

TV, as a medium, asks viewers to “hang out” – sprawling on the couch, week after week -- with its characters in a way that movies and books don’t. Shows with the same ambition have an inherent advantage for longevity. Even when the plot ideas run dry, the sense of community, both between the characters and between the fans, keeps the show chugging.

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