Last night, I sat down for the series premieres of Modern Family and Cougar Town, bringing high expectations to the former, and a sense of “eh, might as well finish out the hour on ABC” to the latter. But lo and behold, both shows left me howling with laughter, then promptly fearing that they’d draw Wonderfalls-sized audiences and get taken down to the river with the brick and the burlap sack. If you shared my feeling of nameless dread about these shows, however, you can stop fretting — at least for now. My colleague Mandi Bierly reports that the comedy duo pulled in a better-than-respectable 12. 7 and 11.4 million viewers, respectively. (Ratings hounds: Keep an eye on our Hollywood Insider blog every weekday around lunchtime to get a handy breakdown of the network’s overnights.) With MF and CT‘s short-term prognosis looking okay, we can now sit back, set DVR series-recordings, and talk about how awesome they are — without fear that we’re setting ourselves up for Post-Traumatic Early Cancellation Disorder.
Of the two shows, Cougar Town definitely surprised me the most, thanks to razor-sharp jokes that elevated it above the gimmicky horny-middle-aged-single-lady-prowls-for-manmeat rubric its title (and promos) suggested. I howled when Cox’s realtor Jules directed a December-May couple to a master bedroom, then muttered under her breath, “If you wanna see where your 1,000-year-old husband will eventually die on top of you,” and also when, drunkenly raging against her bimbo-chasing neighbor, she shouted “In a hoodie? Really? If you want her to think you’re that young why don’t you just wear those PJs with the feet on them!” Just as important, though, Cougar Town pays attention to little details: The bevy of “hot mom” types populating the opening-scene high-school football game (the better to explain Jules’ visible insecurities), the way she combined two glasses of wine into one after her neighbor cancelled their planned hang-out, even Cox’s electric orange floral dress. I also appreciated that the show’s writers had Jules totally tipsy and uninhibited (telling a suitor he was “hot as balls”) after only two cocktails.
Beyond Cox’s winning performance, Cougar Town features a deep, appealing ensemble cast including Dan Byrd (of the late, lamented Aliens in America), Freaks and Geeks‘ Busy Phillips, Felicity‘s Ian Gomez, Brothers & Sisters‘ Josh Hopkins, Scrubs‘ Christa Miller, and especially scene stealer Carolyn Hennesy, who scored the pilot’s biggest laugh, lasciviously mouthing “Nail that” (complete with fist pump) after spotting Jules flirting with a hot, young stud.
As for critical darling Modern Family, well, in just 22 minutes, it managed to paint a whole crew of distinctive, oddball, heartbreakingly funny players. It’s rare to find a sitcom (or even a drama) these days where you sense that the writers have thought deeply about their characters, where punch lines come out of the mouths of vibrant, believable beings rather than hastily sketched archetypes. Line of the night for me was Julie Bowen’s Claire insisting her teenage daughter keep her door open while hanging out with a male classmate: “I’ve seen this little show before: Lying on the bed with a tall senior. One minute you’re just friends watching Falcon Crest. The next you’re lying under the air-hockey table with your bra in your pocket.” DWTS maven Annie Barrett, however, Tweeted that her favorite zinger came courtesy of Jesse Tyler Ferguson’s brilliantly uptight Mitchell: “Nothing gay going on in here, dad…May I take your multi-colored coat and bejeweled cap?” And what’s awesome about Modern Family is I bet you guys could come up with a dozen other options for the episode’s best zinger, and you’d all be correct, too. (Check out my colleague Ken Tucker’s full take on the show, too, over at his action-packed Watching TV blog!)
Who else is already hooked on Modern Family and Cougar Town? Anyone set a series recording yet, or were you not as impressed as I was? Sound off in the comments section below, and (because I like to sound like a broken record) follow me on Twitter @EWMichaelSlezak!
Image Credit: Modern Family: Ron Tom/ABC; Cougar Town: Michael Desmond/ABC