For good reason, Mad Men is generally acknowledged to be the drunkest show on television, what with all the major characters heavily drinking from the time they wake until they go to bed at night. HBO’s new Boardwalk Empire, about Atlantic City bootleggers, seems poised to give Mad Men a run for its alcohol poisoning. But on both of these supremely soused shows, drinking is not without its complications. Sure, it’s fun to hit the scotch at 11 a.m., until, like Roger, you puke on the carpet, or, like Freddy Rumsen, you piss yourself publicly, or, like Duck, you make scenes at awards shows and lose your job, or, like Don, you black out entire days and wake up in bed with women you don’t remember. If the cast of Boardwalk Empire doesn’t personally imbibe to such ill effects, they do, in fact, kill people over alcohol. But there is one show on TV where drinking seems to be all sweetness and light: Cougar Town.
This very funny series — which is not at all about cougars! — is more pro-wine than the Pinot Grigio lobby. Jules (Courteney Cox) and her gang of friends consume wine all of the time, often in the morning, with great joy, little embarrassment, and many uproarious drinking games. Just about every episode contains an extended bit about the group’s drinking habits, delivered with zero judgment — no one’s peeing themselves or losing their jobs here, just having a gay ol’ time.
To get a sense of the show’s pro-drinking vibe, consider last season’s eighteenth episode, “Turn This Car Around.” In it, Jules decided to prove she can quit drinking for an entire month. Just days into the experiment, her friends stage an intervention so that she’ll start drinking again. Without alcohol she’s become uptight and boring. “Mom, you need to start drinking again,” says her son. “Nothing could ever make me stop loving you, except you not drinking,” says her best friend. “Twelve steps, shmelve steps. Alcohol makes people fun.” When Jules acquiesces, she takes her first sip of a tall glass of red and says, “It’s like finding my missing child, but in a glass.” That Jules feels any pressure to stop drinking is the show’s acknowledgment that her alcohol consumption might be a little much. But the story line’s resolution — that drinking is one of life’s pleasures, and even if one overindulges it, or loves it a bit inappropriately (like a child, say), that’s basically fine — also seems to be the show’s stated position on alcohol.
When we asked Cougar Town creator Bill Lawrence what was with all the wine drinking on the show, he replied, “It’s basically from real life. As soon as I get off the phone with you, I’m going to go home, I’m going to make sure my kids see me, and then I’m going to have a hefty glass of red wine. No product placement, but it seems like something we could finagle.” More to the point, however, is Lawrence’s observation that Cougar Town “is now about a whole bunch of people who, were it not for each other, would all be incredibly lonely.” Wine, like friends, is a good loneliness killer. But because Cougar Town is a sitcom, loneliness is its subtext, not its subject. To the extent that it does at all, unhappiness only very subtly motivates the character’s wine chugging. Mostly, they seem to drink because drinking is fun — as you can see in the wine-loving clips below, starting with one from last night’s episode.