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How two midseason replacements portray female friendship

Ah, midseason. That not-quite-magical time in a TV network’s year when shows passed over in the fall get jammed and squeezed into the schedule like so many square pegs. As is often the case, The Simpsons — itself a midseason replacement due to production issues — said it best:

Announcer: The start of television’s second most exciting season – midseason – is just two hundred exciting seconds away!
Lisa: Isn’t midseason just a dumping ground for second-rate shows that weren’t good enough for the fall schedule?
Homer: You’re thinking of all the other years.

This month, NBC and ABC will debut two sitcoms that continue TV’s Year of the Woman: Best Friends Forever and the regrettably redacted Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23. While the two shows have different comedic voices, they also have drastically different views on the concept of female friendship.

Best Friends Forever is the brainchild of real-life BFF’s Lennon Parham
and Jessica St. Clair, who along with writing the show, play fictional versions of themselves. The show’s inciting incident occurs as Jessica unexpectedly receives divorce papers. Distraught and unable to deal, she decides to move back to New York to live with her old roommate, Lennon. Complicating matters is Lennon’s live-in boyfriend, Joe (Luka Jones), who while generally supportive, isn’t looking forward to having a squatter in their apartment.

Jessica, meanwhile, is immature and miserable to be around in a way usually reserved for guys in sitcoms (does that count as breaking a gender barrier?). For most of the episode, Jessica is a self-centered pain in the ass, a grenade thrown into Lennon and Joe’s relationship – which seemed to be working pretty well. Plans are broken, tears are shed, but fear not – everyone ends up in a group hug. The needy co-dependence on display is like a more unhealthy version of the threesome on Up All Night.

While the characters in Best Friends Forever start that way, the title of Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23 portends differently. Wide-eyed and right off the bus, June (Dreama Walker) can’t wait to start her new job and live in her company-owned apartment with a view. Unfortunately, her firm implodes on her first day, leaving her both jobless and homeless. Her roommate search yields Chloe (Krysten Ritter), who is literally too good to be true. The titular bitch, Chloe cons new New Yorkers into first, last and deposit before her antics (rudeness, public nudity, fourways in the living room, theft, etc.) drive them from the apartment.

June’s Indiana farm girl personality belies the fact that she’s an equally smooth operator. When she figures out Chloe’s MO, she turns the table on her, earning her respect and a détente. But it’s only after Chloe exposes June’s fiance as a cheater does a friendship actually take root.

An earlier conversation between Chloe and best friend James Van Der Beek (hysterically playing himself) revealed some humanity beneath the horror, even if the show plays the moment ironically:

James: Do you think maybe this is why you don’t have any female friends?
Chloe: Whatever, I don’t want any, girls are too mean.

By the end of the pilot, June is a barista (with a slightly-sociopathic roommate and without a fiance), Chloe has a female friend, and they both seem fine. Created by American Dad writer Nahnatchka Khan, Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23 is not only funnier and sharper than Best Friends Forever, but it also presents a healthier, more relatable portrait of friendship. Trust me.

"Cougar Town" deserves a better title – and your time

First things first: Cougar Town doesn’t have anything to do with cougars, those mid-forties pursuers of younger men who dominated the mid-aughts. Granted, that’s how things started. As Bill Lawrence recalled on a recent episode of Marc Maron’s WTF, the idea of a sitcom about Courteney Cox chasing young guys was an in-jest-pitch about what gets TV networks salivating. At some point, the joke became an actual pitch, and Bill Lawrence, the showrunner behind Spin City and Scrubs, had a new show on ABC. The show went according to plan for the first few episodes, but it wasn’t a good fit for anyone involved. Unfortunately, Cougar Town had been heavily promoted as such, and the show was stuck with the name, a flashy title that Lawrence calls his “giant mistake.”

A more fitting title? The pilot came pretty close with a joke about “Wine and Scrabble without the Scrabble.” Once it dropped the clichés, Cougar Town became a show about a group of roughly middle aged friends who hang out, drink wine, play games, and pass the time. There’s something refreshing about the simplicity of a show about friends that has moved past a contrived premise to offer a realistic – if zany and comical – look at every day life. In that way, it’s reminiscent of network-mate Happy Endings; Cougar Town is the Happy Endings crew after a few more years and a move to the suburbs.

The Cul-de-sac Gang, like most friends, is brought together by proximity and history. Jules (Cox) is a real estate agent and the gang’s “leader.” She is overprotective of son Travis (Dan Byrd), with whom she shares an unhealthily close relationship, reminiscent of the mother-daughter combo of Gilmore Girls. Both Jules and Travis are on good terms with her ex / his dad Bobby (Brian Van Holt), a semi-retired golf pro who lives on a house boat, as in a boat he has docked in a parking lot. Jules’ best friend is Ellie, played by Lawrence’s wife Christa Miller, who basically reprises her role from Scrubs. Ellie is mismatched with husband Andy (TV veteran Ian Gomez). The gang is rounded out with Jules’ beau Grayson (Josh Hopkins) and wacky, white trash friend Laurie (Freaks and GeeksBusy Philipps).

The comedy of Cougar Town is equal parts off-beat and off-color, like latter year Scrubs. And while there aren’t as many dream sequences, there’s the same kind of “Everyone Learns a Lesson” story dynamics. It’s easy to jump into, if the title has kept you away until now. At the start of the third season, all you need to know is that Travis is returning home after running off to Hawaii due to a failed marriage proposal and Jules is finally on the same page with Grayson about another marriage and more kids (they want both). Plus, all the episodes are named after Tom Petty songs, and the show has traded cameos with Community. With the promo clip for tonight’s episode, it looks like the cast and crew of Cougar Town have finally come to terms with the title (and their precarious place on ABC, considering this season’s delayed start). You should, too.

Cougar Town airs on Tuesdays at 9 on ABC.

First thoughts: "Mr. Sunshine"

Matthew Perry has never been able to escape from the shadow of Chandler Bing, the fount of sarcasm that he played for 10 years on Friends. Mr. Sunshine, his new passion project on ABC, seems to embrace that fact.

Perry plays Ben Donovan, the manager of a second-rate San Diego arena, who is entering the mid-life crisis that typically befalls people who call it The Big Four Oh. His boss Crystal is played by Allison Janney, who seems intent on pushing the limits of the zany boss trope. Rounding out the cast are Las VegasJames Lesure as Ben’s friend and polar opposite, Andrea Anders as his sometime-love interest, Portia Doubleday as his pyromaniacal assistant, and Nate Torrence as Crystal’s clueless son.

From the pilot, it’s obvious that the single-camera show is more Cougar Town than Modern Family. Perry is writing and producing the show alongside Alex Barnow and Marc Firek, the team behind the unremarkable sitcoms Rules of Engagement and ‘Til Death. The writing isn’t *that* bad, and there were a few oddball lines that get some laughs. Mostly, the show leans heavily on the comedic timing of Perry, Janney, and Anders (who was a gem on the short-lived Better Off Ted).

Here’s hoping the show can move beyond the de rigueur sitcom themes of commitment-phobic men and 40 year olds behaving badly. At the very least, it’s something to watch after Modern Family until Cougar Town returns.