There’s an inherent cynicism and naughtiness that makes “Cougar Town” a particularly unpleasant place to visit — and this reaction will likely be amplified for many by seeing “Friends” alum Courteney Cox in such a leaden vehicle. Thematically similar to CBS’ somewhat better “Accidentally on Purpose,” the older woman/twentysomething guy thing was clearly in the zeitgeist this year, but whatever the femme appeal of that particular fantasy, its comedic treatment here amounts to less of a defiant roar than a feeble meow.

Cox plays a divorced woman with a wiseass teenage son (Dan Byrd, and really, is there any other kind?) and a slacker ex-husband (Brian Van Holt). She also has bad-influence friends (Christa Miller, Busy Philipps) who all but challenge her by saying, “You couldn’t bag a young stud if you tried.”

OK, so maybe Cox’s character, Jules, hasn’t gotten laid in a while, but the notion that she’d be off-putting to men hardly matches her trainer-toned body and proves more laughable, unfortunately, than anything in “Scrubs” creator Bill Lawrence and Kevin Biegel’s script. So a trip to the local bar quickly yields a tryst with an obliging young dude — as well as a truly icky moment when her kid walks in on them.

The idea of women reversing the polarity of May-December (or really here, more like June-September) romances is hardly a new one — hell, we’ve even had a couple of reality shows devoted to it — but it does feed into the dual sense of insecurity and self-empowerment that women harbor about getting older. Women, after all, remain network TV’s most loyal audience, so why not let them proudly proclaim that bagging bimbos (or in this case, “himbos”) is no longer men’s exclusive province?

For all that, though, the execution here is consistently about as subtle as a kick to the groin — and represents the least appealing component in ABC’s quartet of new Wednesday-night comedies. On the plus side, there are some talented folks in the cast (including Josh Hopkins as Jules’ womanizing neighbor) and, in the glass-half-full department, this kitty’s aspirations have nowhere to go but up.

Cox serves as exec producer as well as star, and her cachet may help get the program sampled (though that didn’t pan out especially well for her misguided FX comeback “Dirt”), but if the pilot is indicative of the show’s direction, it’s unlikely many will yearn to linger for long in “Cougar Town’s” untidy litter box.

Cougar Town

ABC, Wed., Sept. 23, 9:30 P.M.

  • Production: Filmed in Los Angeles by Doozer and Coquette Prods. in association with ABC Studios. Executive producers, Bill Lawrence, Courteney Cox, David Arquette; co-executive producer, Kevin Biegel; producers, Thea Mann, Randall Keenan-Winston; director, Lawrence; writers, Lawrence, Biegel;
  • Crew: Camera, Andrew H. Rawson; production designer, Cabot McMullen; editor, John Michel; music, Waz, Golden/SGRO; casting, Debby Romano, Brett Benner, Blyth Nailling. Running time: 30 MIN.
  • Cast: Jules - Courteney Cox Ellie - Christa Miller Laurie - Busy Philipps Travis - Dan Byrd Grayson - Josh Hopkins Andy - Ian Gomez Bobby - Brian Van Holt