Tuesday, January 27, 2015

How 'Cougar Town' Restored My Faith in Comedy

As the parent of a young adult with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, I'll admit, I can be pretty humorless about the topic of alcohol use during pregnancy. I have no patience for anyone who wants to split hairs. This is a 100 percent preventable birth defect. We know exactly how to avoid it. News reports about how maybe this much is okay, maybe that much is okay, just make steam come out of my ears. You might be able to smash your baby's head against the wall a few times before causing permanent brain damage too, but why in the world would you?

Still, our society and our entertainment is pretty heavily invested in the idea that abstaining from drink is a fate worse than death. That's certainly the worldview of Cougar Town, a show that revolves around a group of friends in a Florida cul-de-sac whose most common communal pastime is polishing off bottles of wine. Jokes have revolved around the size of the container Courteney Cox's character uses as a wineglass. Funny jokes. I love the show, despite the fact that I gave up alcohol not too long after adopting my son when it became tough to relax and enjoy a substance that broke my kid's brain. (It's not like I was ever much of a drinker anyway. The line between feeling good and feeling sick was always pretty thin. No way could I keep up with the cul-de-sac crew.)

Cougar Town is one of those rare good-natured comedies — like Parks and Recreation — that just leaves me feeling happy, like I've spent some good time with fun friends. But I'll admit, I was worried when at the end of last season, one of the wine-swilling characters turned out to be pregnant. I wasn't looking for the show to turn into a crusade against drinking during pregnancy or anything; it's not that kind of show, and shouldn't be. But these are characters one might reasonably expect to be among the hair-splitters on the topic of fetal alcohol exposure. If the season resumed with Laurie explaining how she had determined how many glasses of wine she could safely swig, or grandma-to-be Jules laughing about how she drank when she was pregnant and her son turned out OK, I'd never be able to watch the show again, or with the same pleasure. And I would miss it.

So huge thanks and kudos to the Cougar Town writers for, in the usual amiable way of the show, just ambling right around the issue. The season picked up with Laurie late in pregnancy and lamenting her inability to drink. Her friends tried abstaining with her and were unable to, but there was no suggestion that she should join in (or preaching that she shouldn't). In the second episode, she had the baby, keeping this from being a season-long concern. Maybe I should worry about whether she's going to drink while breast-feeding, but you know what? I'm going to let that slide.

I'm just going to be happy that, at a time when those with serious concerns about special needs are regularly admonished not to hold comedy to any standards at all, Cougar Town has shown that you can avoid issue-baiting and still be funny. Turns out it's not that hard to avoid pissing people off.

[I also talked about this on the Parenting Roundabout Podcast: Round 2 this week, along with Snowpocalypse, the Super Bowl, Oscar scheduling, and books I may or may not have read. Listen in, and subscribe on iTunes for weekly episodes on parenting and entertainment.]