Jennifer Aniston turns up tonight on “Cougar Town.” “Cougar Town” stars Courteney Cox, who once upon co-starred with Aniston in a little show called “Friends.” ABC has been doing a good job of promoting the reunion (Where without Aniston the show might have gotten minimal or no promotion altogether.) And Aniston aquits herself just fine in the small role of Jules’ eccentric new therapist. She’s likable and daffy but never over-the-top. As he so often did on “Scrubs,” Bill Lawrence (here writing with “Cougar Town” co-creator Kevin Biegel) has taken a stunt-casted guest star and made them feel like they fit right in.
But here’s the thing: other than the possible promotional value, and the hope that Aniston might move the ratings needle in a way that last year’s Lisa Kudrow guest spot didn’t (and that Aniston’s visit to “30 Rock” a few years back didn’t), “Cougar Town” doesn’t need her.
As I wrote about repeatedly last year, and as Lawrence and I discussed last spring, the show started off with a dumb title and a dumb premise to match. Then midway through the first season, Lawrence, Biegel and the other writers realized their cast was so funny together that the wisest course was to just put everyone together as often as possible, let everyone be goofy, and see what happened. By the end of the season, it was often funnier many weeks than the “Modern Family” episode leading into it.
And even with Aniston’s guest appearance tonight, this is still the show that “Cougar Town” became at mid-season last year. There are various random games invented by Jules and her friends. Grayson (Josh Hopkins) proposes a movie title mash-up game where you drink red wine while describing the plots of “Scooby-Doo the Right Thing” or “Free Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” Laurie (Busy Philipps) challenges the college-bound Travis (Dan Byrd) to see who can go the longest without sleeping. And Andy (Ian Gomez) and Bobby (Brian Van Holt) decide to stake out a park bench where an ad for Jules’ realtor business keeps getting defaced.
There’s not much of a point to any of these ideas, save that this cast has tremendous chemistry and are funny (and, at the requisite heartfelt turn at the 25 minute mark, sweet) just being together.
It’s become one of my favorite comedies, and whether you care about Aniston or not, tonight is a good time to sample it if you dismissed it last year because of the title, the original premise or some of those early episodes.
(Due to premiere week time crunch, I’m not doing a second post after the episode airs, so feel free to discuss it here.)
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org