I had lofty ambitions for today's column, I honestly did. After reading a story in last Saturday's New York Times about "Global Spirit," a program that examines religion and spirituality in a non-hysterical manner, I planned to check it out and, fist shaking righteously, bemoan the lack of similarly smart-headed fare on TV. After weeks upon weeks of wallowing in fluff, I would realize my highbrow fantasies and announce myself as a erudite, sharply observant critic. You know, like David Hasselhoff, minus all the cough syrup.
Unfortunately, I made the mistake of watching the show. Its intro featured the host longingly gazing up at St. Patrick's Cathedral and down at a scholarly tome in some dingy library. He then unleashed a torrent of precious Lipton-speak, expressing his hope that "some conversational magic will spontaneously erupt." It was at that precise moment that I lost interest and, eventually, consciousness. Lesson learned: I am forever destined to swim in the shallow end of the intellectual pool.
So I accepted my stupid fate and instead spent a stupid hour with TV Land's much-hyped "The Cougar," the latest stupid variation on the spit-swapping grandeur that is the televised dating derby. Its twist: The romantic predator is a 40-year-old gal, and her oily prey is a fraternity's worth of 20-something dudes.
The show marks a second step into the tele-wasteland for TV Land, which has spent most of its formative years cutting kitschy promos and airing "Andy Griffith Show" reruns. The network is currently asserting its reality-sleaze bona fides with the triumphantly moronic "High School Reunion," which chronicles the 20th-anniversary get-together of the one high-school class in America backloaded with reformed prostitutes. The show works because it doesn't hold back. It is programmed for maximum humiliation value; it goes out of its way to put its oblivious participants in situations equally ugly and awkward. I won't speculate as to what my unabashed enjoyment of this says about me as a viewer and human being.
In "The Cougar," TV Land has stumbled upon a concept similarly rife with raffish potential. The show, however, makes the fatal mistake of dropping the meanness from the equation. It seems to believe its oft-spouted message that it is doing the world a great service by giving unprecedented access into the inner workings of a Cougar's mind, such as it is. Turns out that Cougars dig nice clothes and frisky young dudes. Who knew?
The Cougar herself, one Stacey Anderson, is part of the problem. She's a 40-year-old mother of four with the ... uh, "personality" ... of a 26-year-old. We're told of her professional and personal successes -- the show's website notes how such successes are "based on upbeat optimism," just like Jodie Foster's or Napoleon's -- and of her eagerness to smash dating stereotypes. Then we watch her gently trace her fingers over some himbo's abs, like a tubbo caressing a veal shank, and down shots with abandon.
There's nothing fun about Stacey or her quest. VH1's televised dating congresses have taught us so many things, both in matters of the heart and hygiene, but they haven't forgotten that their primary purpose is to entertain. "The Cougar's" strenuous attempts to enlighten and empower lose their pop around the 32nd time the show notes how the protagonist is "in her prime." That comes 18 minutes into the premiere ep.
As for Stacey's suitors, I want to hire the Hollywood types who scripted their introductory salvos to ghostwrite my next column. Bonus points go to the auteur of the poem that rhymed "My dear, your heart I shall court" with "Never mind that genital wart," and to whoever coached the dude who solemnly intoned, "You're under arrest ... you have the right to remain delicious." I'll give them this: Their smiles are little miracles of orthodontics.
A few days ago, in her Twitter feed, Ms. Cougar wrote, "I hope that this show breaks the stereotypes people have about Cougars." Well, consider me chastened. The next time I romance a fading tart who looks like she oughta be sponging butterscotch off her torso in a Warrant video, I'll acknowledge that she is my emotional and sensual superior. I'll respect her brains, her heart, her giggle. I'll distress my jeans and wax my shoulders.
Stacey will show me the way. She will show us the way. Sexy singledom is a sexier place for her sacrifice.