"Cougar Town" returns to ABC a week from tomorrow, at 8:30 p.m. on Valentine's Day. On the one hand, this is good news for a show that's been absent a long time. On the other, it has an extremely incompatible lead-in from "Last Man Standing," and it's been off the air so long (9 months since the last episode aired) that all but the real die-hard fans may have forgotten it exists, and — worst of all — it's still fighting the perception created by that off-putting title and the show's early episodes, neither of which remotely represent what the series became.

Last month, "Cougar Town" co-creator Kevin Biegel told me that much as everyone would love a do-over on the title, they can't, because changing the title would make everyone's pre-existing DVR season passes useless. So unless you A)know that the show is coming back next Tuesday, B)know that it has a new name, and C)know that you have to set a brand new season pass, you might miss the show's return entirely. And a show that lives very much on the ratings bubble (especially now that it won't be airing after "Modern Family") doesn't have a big enough margin of error to lose any subset of viewers.

But there's still that perception issue. First impressions are huge in television. I was at a party on Friday night and spent 10 minutes trying to convince an old friend that "Parks and Recreation" got much better after its first season, and that's just a case of a series that just improved the things it was already doing. "Cougar Town," on the other hand, bares very little resemblance to the show the title suggests, or to what it was in its first handful of episodes. It's an incredibly goofy, incredibly charming comedy about friends and family, about red wine and running gags and boredom, and while it's certainly not for everyone, it's for far more people than anyone might suspect from thinking it's about Courteney Cox having sex with younger guys.

So as the latest element of an elaborate, unprecedented guerrilla marketing campaign that Biegel and co-creator Bill Lawrence have been mounting during the show's long time in the wilderness, Lawrence has posted a 10-minute highlight reel of the third season, which I've embedded below. This isn't a trailer that just gives you a taste of what's coming: this is Lawrence, Biegel and company giving away lots of major plot points and running gags from the season. It's giving away a lot, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

As Lawrence explained on Twitter this morning, he hasn't so much done this for the hardcore fans — though if you like the show and have missed it these long months, these 10 minutes will make you very happy — but for them to show to friends who haven't or won't watch the show. These 10 minutes capture the flavor of what "Cougar Town" has become incredibly well. Again, it won't be to everyone's taste, but anyone who watches it and laughs will be getting a very accurate picture of what kind of show they'll see next Tuesday at 8:30.

You know that I'm pretty spoiler paranoid, but that's much more for dramas than comedies. Very rare is the sitcom plot point that I would have been genuinely upset to know about in advance (Dawn at "The Office" UK Christmas party comes to mind), and in this case, the man in charge of the show wants this out there, to be seen far and wide. And because I want to live in a universe where "Cougar Town" continues to exist past this season, I'm posting it. Obviously, it's fair game to discuss any of this in the comments for this post, and when we start doing the weekly episode reviews next Tuesday, I'll ask everyone who's seen the highlight reel to be more circumspect for the benefit of those who chose not to watch it.

As I've said before, the first five episodes of the new season are a lot of fun, and I'm glad we're getting so close to everyone having a chance to see them, rather than just critics and people who won tickets to all the viewing parties.

Enjoy.


Bill Lawrence on WhoSay

Alan-sepinwall-med
Alan Sepinwall has been reviewing television since the mid-'90s, first for Tony Soprano's hometown paper, The Star-Ledger, and now for HitFix. His new book, "TV (The Book)" about the 100 greatest shows of all time, is available now. He can be reached at sepinwall@hitfix.com