The XX Factor

How “Cougar Town” Is a Matriarchal Society

The first thing you need to know about the first season of Cougar Town - which comes out on DVD August 17 -is that no one on the show has actually ever uttered the C-word. The ABC sitcom, starring Courteney Cox, is certainly the victim of a poorly chosen zeitgeisty name. And in its early episodes, the plot revolved around the drinking, dating habits, and “aging” body (a ludicrous subject matter, since 46-year-old Cox has the face and figure of someone at least 20 years younger) of its heroine, Jules, a Sarasota, Fla., divorcée.

There were jokes about waiting 10 dates before having sex with a new beau and others about chewing chocolate and spitting it out to save calories; they all fell flat. But somewhere around the middle of the first season the series wisely changed focus: Gone were the boy toys and shots of tequila, and in its place, the show focused on the makeshift family of Jules and her friends and neighbors.

When Cox was freed from acting like a kind of Samantha Jones-lite, the show emerged as a powerful portrayal of adult female friendship. There was Jules and her two best friends Ellie (a dry-witted stay-at-home mom played by Christa Miller, who is married to the show’s creator Bill Lawrence) and Laurie (Jules’ assistant at her realty firm, played by Busy Philipps), who frequently say “I love you” to one another. Whole episodes have been devoted to whether Jules and Ellie would have enough time in their lives for quality time with each other.

It makes for an oddly matriarchal society, where women rule at home, work, and in their love lives. Jules is portrayed as a fully capable single mom and the primary financial caretaker, since her golf pro, mimbo ex-husband lives on a parked boat. Instead of being shown at each other’s throats, Jules and her ex, Bobby, have a touching and humorous rapport. She dumps adoring boyfriends because she’s not looking for anything too serious.

Yes, the show occasionally falls into the “men are so stupid” trap of so much pop culture, but the male characters do have rich friendships of their own. Plus, as creator Lawrence says in the “Taming Cougar Town ” DVD extra, the show is committed to “equal opportunity male nudity.” (Still, you’ll see fewer taut and lifted bodies among the male leads than the  female leads.)

So while Cougar Town isn’t doing much to upend the beauty myth, its female characters are strong and funny-a combination that’s all too rare on television. The premise has strayed far enough from its unfortunate title that Bill Lawrence has been quoted about considering changing it all together. For the second season, they’re keeping the name , but the show’s identity has matured far beyond the cougar cliché.