Good show, bad title: ‘Cougar Town’ returns for season 3

“Cougar Town” season 3 makes a very belated debut tomorrow night at 8:30 on ABC, and the guerrilla marketing campaign being waged by creators Bill Lawrence, Kevin Biegel and their stars seems two-pronged in its goals: 1)To remind existing “Cougar Town” fans that the show still exists and will be back on Valentine’s Day, and 2)To convince people who either gave up on the show after a handful of episodes, or who simply refused to watch a show called “Cougar Town,” that it has nothing to do with its horrible, horrible title anymore. (Biegel explained to me last month why they unfortunately can’t change it.)

I’ve written a lot over the last couple of years about the ways the show transformed itself from the story of Courteney Cox’s Jules living up to the cougar archetype into the story of Jules becoming the unofficial leader of a collection of oddball friends and relatives who live on her cul-de-sac. As I wrote last week, it’s an incredibly goofy, incredibly charming comedy about friends and family, about red wine and running gags and boredom, and while it’s certainly not for everyone, it’s for far more people than anyone might suspect from thinking it’s about Courteney Cox having sex with younger guys.

But no matter how many words I write, a picture will be worth 1,000 of ’em, and a bunch of embedded videos will be worth even more. So I’ve gathered together a collection of scenes that I feel capture the show that “Cougar Town” became over time, and that should be a good barometer of whether you want to watch the season premiere tomorrow. Lawrence’s sense of humor is idiosyncratic, not universal. But if you find yourself laughing at one or more of these clips, chances are you’ll want to spend more time with the Cul-de-Sac Crew this season. (And, yes, the gang’s nickname is also terrible, but more intentionally so.) 

We start with the first of two clips from season 1’s “Don’t Come Around Here No More,” the show’s seventh episode and the first where it began to resemble the show it would become. Josh Hopkins’ Grayson first demonstrates his flair for writing catchy, funny original songs (usually written by Hopkins himself) and challenges the loneliness-averse Jules to a bet: 

And from later in that episode, Jules has lost the bet and is now trying to prove that the gang will have more fun at her house than Grayson’s, by invoking ultimate guy movie “The Shawshank Redemption”: 

As everyone and their mother (even a young, cougar-ish mother like Jules) could have predicted, Jules and Grayson eventually wound up as a couple. And contrary to most Unresolved Sexual Tension tropes, once they got together, they’ve stayed together, as the show has taken pleasure in the many ways they can get on each other’s nerves even while they’re happy overall. Case in point: Jules and Christa Miller’s Ellie find a way to turn one of Grayson’s speeches back on him with a catchy remix:

The characters on “Cougar Town” drink wine – a lot of wine. If you want to take a darker view of the show, it’s about a group of barely-functional alcoholics enabling each other’s behavior. Or, on the lighter view, it’s a show where our heroine’s most prized possession is a jumbo-sized wine glass named Big Joe… until this happens: 

The characters on “Cougar Town” also play a lot of games – often as an excuse to drink more wine. Other than the bar Grayson owns (again, another excuse/location to drink), no one really spends much time at their jobs, so they’re always trying to invent ways to alleviate their boredom, like their movie mash-up game: 

The gang’s most enduring game is Penny Can (introduced here), an elegantly simple contest in which the goal is simply to toss a penny into a paint can from a great height or distance. The inventor: none other than Jules’ hillbilly ex-husband Bobby (Brian Van Holt), who later decides to build an entire business around selling official competition Penny Can cans. And any new product needs a commercial, as recorded by Busy Philipps’ always-enthusiastic Laurie: 

Bobby, much as everyone loves him, isn’t always the easiest person to understand: 

And Laurie has her own interesting way of ordering coffee:

Sometimes, the characters take their games too seriously, like in this clip from an episode where everyone has been using “truth guns” (basically, pointing) to get their friends to be honest with them: 

The series also has a sweet side, which will be very much on display in the season premiere. Yes, the Cul-de-Sac Crew is ridiculous, borderline criminal and almost certainly substance-abusing, but they also function as a makeshift family for one another, as Jules explains in this scene from season 1’s Thanksgiving episode, which neatly doubles as a mission statement for the series:

And, finally, a meta message from Jules, Laurie and Ellie alluding to both the long hiatus and the show’s title-transcending transformation:

Those are some of the ones I came up with. I’m sure the commenters have plenty of others.

Catch you back here tomorrow night at 9 to talk about the premiere.

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at