One episode of the first season of “Younger” was provided for review purposes prior to broadcast.
Younger, the new half-hour sitcom premiering this week on TV Land (stay with me, stay with me) comes from Darren Star, creator of some of the biggest women-centric TV series of the past two decades: Melrose Place, Beverly Hills, 90210, and Sex and the City, amongst others. Star’s work, dealing nearly across the board with themes of eking out your own persona within a very specific place and time (and, ya know, horrific head scars as plot twists), flows nicely into his new show, Younger.
But instead of choosing a generation – Millennials versus Gen-Xers – he intriguingly melds the two together. What results can sometimes delve into an unexciting rotary of lost-in-translation gags, but ultimately ends as a fun, lighthearted generational romp that feels particularly welcome into today’s age-shaming world.
The basic premise is this: Liza (Sutton Foster) is a 40-year-old divorcee with a teenage daughter accomplishing more than her out in Mumbai and a fifteen year sabbatical on her resume. When no one wants to hire her, she enlists her friend Maggie (Debi Mazar) to help her appear 26 and land the job of her dreams at an uptown book publishing firm in Manhattan. She does, and begins navigating the shaky waters of pleasing her bitchy boss Diana (Miriam Shor) and falling in with her trendsetting co-workers, led by queen-bee Kelsey (Hilary Duff).
The premise reads like a really bad The Devil Wears Prada rip-off, and a few occasional dips into the politics of Liza’s new office certainly paint it that way, but the show’s surprisingly sharp and prescient in avoiding cliche traps at almost every turn (which is one similarity with the 2007 hit that works in Younger‘s favor). Foster, while saddled with a few punchline duds, is largely a bullseye as the distraught, distracted ex-housewife Liza. Even more remarkable, she ages backwards 14 years (she’s also 40 in real life) in a wholly believable way, all gangly awkwardness thrown back into the profession she was an expert at before cell phones were even a thing.
Even more surprising is the chemistry between Foster and Josh (Nico Tortorella), a tatted-up guy she stumbles across in a bar after flaming out in over a dozen interviews during the show’s opening minutes. Their banter, fast and curiously edged, is the home of the pilot’s funniest, most memorable lines. They not only shape character (“So are these for real, or can you scrub them off whenever you want to?” Liza asks of Josh’s tattoo sleeves), but feel naturally fluid and sharp, overflowing with the honest depiction of uncertain thorniness when meeting someone for the first time.
As the main crux of the show, this lie-as-a-plot-device set-up provides far more food for thought than eye-rolls, in the pilot at least (listen, my mom is about ten years older than Foster and could undoubtedly navigate the painless Twitter set-up page process without the need to Google it beforehand). Though the problems no doubt generating outwards of this lie vortex created in the pilot have the danger of feeling overly familiar (“Can you believe she lies about her age? So pathetic”, Duff laments of her and Liza’s boss halfway through the premiere), there’s a certain scrappiness to the show that continuously trumps its sporadic dip into redundancy. Even Liza’s decision to pretend to be younger feels empowered, not sad, a tough line to walk for sure.
“People will believe what you tell them,” Liza’s gay BFF Maggie tells her, becoming the catalyst for the events that lead her to lying about her age. “They believe the Real Housewives are real. They believe coconut water is gonna shrink their ass. They’ll believe you’re 26.” While the initial idea of Younger sounds, amongst other things, too cute for its own good, the surprising thing that occurs by the end of the pilot is that the premise – with one foot in Star’s bright and shiny New York City and one foot in reality – becomes universally believable, as well.
Younger isn't groundbreaking or sensational, but its honest characters, solid premise, and sporadic hints at a razor-sharp wit will no doubt hook fans of Star's previous works, and should net in a few converts as well.