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TELEVISION REVIEW

This 'Cougar' lacks real magnetism

Stacey Anderson, 40, the ''Cougar'' of tonight's premiere episode, has a wine date with Jon, 27. Stacey Anderson, 40, the ''Cougar'' of tonight's premiere episode, has a wine date with Jon, 27. (TV LAND)
By Joanna Weiss
Globe Staff / April 15, 2009
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In the opening minutes of "The Cougar," the new dating show that premieres tonight on TV Land, host Vivica A. Fox describes, in breathless terms, the thrilling possibilities of older women dating younger men. As if Demi Moore had never existed. Not to mention "Age of Love" or "American Pie."

Indeed, if you're learning about the notion of a cougar from a TV Land reality series, then it might also surprise you to know that we have a new president and the stock market hasn't been doing so well. Still, this dating show stakes a particular claim to the pop-culture phenomenon. Unlike, say, the current "Saturday Night Live" sketch, which features a group of women who are drunk and oversexed, "The Cougar" claims - on the surface, at least - to treat its subject with reverence. "A woman in her prime," Fox crows, "is the ultimate catch!"

The woman in question here is Stacey Anderson, a bleached-blond hottie in a little black dress whose speaking voice sounds like Hannah Montana on helium. She's a 40-year-old divorcee from Arizona who spent her own 20s and 30s raising four kids. She says that, unlike men her age, "younger guys have got zest for life."

What her new dating pool lacks in world-weariness, though, it makes up for in general vapidity. Stacey's suitors include Bodie, a 23-year-old pool boy; Travis, a 21-year-old who says he enjoys doing "anything boarding"; and 27-year-old "Officer Nick," who tells her, "You have the right to remain delicious." Ryan, a 29-year-old ex-Marine, tells Stacey he's "reporting for booty as ordered," then flubs his pickup line, telling her "You look way too old to be a cougar."

By rights, given all of this material, "The Cougar" should be hilarious. But the show takes itself so seriously that, instead, it feels impossibly sad. Stacey seems genuinely excited about her position - I'm "UrbanCougar of the month!!!" she crows in her inevitable Twitter feed, referring to an obscure cougar website - and goes on and on about how being sought-after makes her feel empowered. She seems to forget that these guys mainly want to be on TV. And she's constantly referred to, not by name, but by the "cougar" moniker. It's not just the guys who objectify, but also Fox herself, who at one point purrs, "Where's my cougar at?"

Where she's at, in fact, is little surprise, since this show unfolds amid the standard tropes of dating shows, from the castle-like mansion to the drunken cocktail party and the overhyped eliminations. The farewell ceremony is especially creepy: Instead of handing out roses or flutes of champagne, Stacey has to kiss each of her chosen beaus on the lips. As men move in for contact, even Stacey looks uncomfortable, as if she's been dragged into an exhibitionist game of "Spin the Bottle." For a woman so intent on being young at heart, she suddenly looks awfully old.

Joanna Weiss can be reached at weiss@globe.com. For more on TV, go to www.viewerdiscretion.net.

THE COUGAR

On: TV Land

Time: Premieres tonight at 10