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Cougar Town joins Conan in the TBS shuffle

More wine and whining. Cougar Town is back. TBS photo

Well, there's this.

By moving from ABC to TBS for Season 4, Cougar Town automatically ranks as that network's funniest half-hour scripted comedy in a sea of Men at Work, Sullivan & Son and Tyler Perry's For Better or Worse.

OK, the bar for faint praise has just been raised to a world record pole vault level.

But yes, Cougar Town remains amusing in fits and spurts as it follows Conan O'Brien's trail from a Big Four broadcast network that didn't want it to the enchanted land of "Very Funny." After a year on the shelf, it returns on Tuesday, Jan. 8th at 9 p.m. (central).

Principal star Courteney Cox, now 48, continues to showcase herself in a manner that should convince one and all she'll still be doing this at age 70. Few TV stars -- with Julia Louis-Dreyfus a notable exception -- are more intent on displaying their cleavage.

Cox's character, wine-inhaling Jules Cobb, also is always in full makeup and form-fitting outfits while her best friend/neighbor Ellie Torres (Christa Miller) seems to be all but makeup-less in their scenes together. It's getting close to a modern-day Lucille Ball-Vivian Vance vibe, in which her Lucy Ricardo always had to look better -- and trimmer -- than frumpy second banana Ethel Mertz.

Ergo, Ellie invariably seems to look washed out and physically nondescript even though she's an attractive woman in her own right. It's starting to jump out -- at least to this viewer.

Jules has now been married a week to pub owner Grayson Ellis (Josh Hopkins), whom she's already intent on turning into her obedient "coffee bitch" and "wine guy." Ellie is still saddled with layabout hubby Andy (Ian Gomez). In Episode 2, she has him trained like a dog, responding to her commands in return for kisses on his forehead.

The other members of Cougar Town's Gulfhaven, Florida menagerie are ditzy, showy Laurie Keller (Busy Phillips), Jules' grown son, Travis (Dan Byrd), and her ex-husband Bobby (Brian Van Holt), an accomplished beer drinker who still lives on his boat.

TBS wisely has kept a laugh track out of these proceedings. And perhaps the show will have a tad more leeway creatively, even though the answer almost assuredly will be "No" to a question posed on Cougar Town's opening title card: "Thanks, TBS. Can we curse on TV now?"

What do they think this is? FX?

Constant drinking is very much allowed, though. And Jules is the Queen B in this realm while also still extraordinarily needy. In Episode 1, a bad dream sends her "spinning" toward the blues, which must be avoided at all costs. Because as Ellie notes, "Jules Cobb is the light of our group. And as she goes, so goes the rest of us."

In next week's Episode 2, Jules can't handle the distance her son is trying to put between them. So she of course frets non-stop while Grayson, Andy and Bobby all impulsively grow unbelievably thick mustaches in nine days in tribute to Tom Selleck's co-starring role in Three Men and A Baby.

Ellie gets off a good one in this instance, finally telling her husband, "You have got to shave that thing. It feels like I'm eating Willie Nelson."

Bill Lawrence, who created Cougar Town in the waning seasons of his Scrub series for NBC, has yielded "showrunner" status to Ric Swartzlander, whose host of TV credits include Gary Unmarried and Samantha Who?

Lawrence remains a highly quotable favorite of TV critics, who relished his frequent jabs at ABC while Cougar Town bounced on and off the schedule. TBS has committed to an order of at least 15 new episodes, with options for more.

There are, of course, far worse viewing experiences, even if Cougar Town is still hit-and-miss at best.

Episode 2 end with Jules marveling at all the "butt sex" while watching Game of Thrones with her son. That's a miss.

But the same episode has Laurie exclaiming, "Zooey Deschanel no!" That's probably a hit.

Whatever the caliber of its comedy, everyone on Cougar Town seems completely dedicated to alcohol intake. Seriously folks, that's no laughing matter. Never really was.

GRADE: B-minus