Two episodes were provided prior to broadcast.
In season 1, Younger only got better as it went along. The fusion between creator Darren Star’s bubbly vision of New York, Sutton Foster’s implacable charisma, and some mouth-covering gags only built and built the longer protagonist Liza (Foster) kept up the charade of being a 26-year-old publishing assistant (her real identity: a 40-year-old divorcée). The show’s glitzy charm is still readily available for fans planning to tune in to the second season premiere this month and, better yet, Star doesn’t rest on his laurels the second time around.
The show immediately ups the ante by bringing home Liza’s daughter Caitlin (Tessa Albertson) from her time abroad in India. She packs herself into Maggie’s (Debi Mazar) aggressively rustic Brooklyn loft, and there’s some fun tension between Liza’s internal battle of divulging every secret to her daughter or risking the fallout of her finding out on her own. But, don’t worry, tragically millennial 19-year-old Caitlin doesn’t stick around long (“I need a dead cow as soon as possible,” she admits approximately five minutes after placing her feet back on American soil). Star knows that Younger is about Liza, and the first few episodes of season 2 sort of reinvent her.
Though Liza remains neck-deep in the world of Tweets and best-selling books based on Tumblr blogs (“100 Things Women Think About While Giving Blowjobs”), Foster doesn’t forget to anchor all of the swirling world around her character with some appreciated emotional heft. Season 1’s biggest peak was when boyfriend Josh (Nico Tortorella) discovered her secret, and there’s a sad, self-conscious streak tearing through the show’s second year that feels appropriate. Once Josh gets past the initial shock, he’s elated to keep dating Liza because he knows that they fell in love with one another, not one another’s age.
That’s where Younger season 2 begins to flourish. Liza should be relieved, but the more and more Josh becomes at ease with her age – accidentally spouting it out in the midst of a humorous 90’s trivia bar night she understandably rocks – the more she becomes uncomfortable with the idea of their lives together. Then there’s age-appropriate Charles (Peter Hermann), whose scenes with Liza appear to exist solely as the tease for an inevitable relationship farther down the show’s run.
Hermann and Tortorella are likable, memorable guys, but for a show that feels on the pulse of the forward-thinking ageism and sexism spectrum, the fact that the only men sexually interested in Liza are ones that could be considered “inappropriate,” (Charles is her boss’ boss) feels a bit like one step forward, two steps back. That could have sent Younger crumbling into a cringe-worthy mess, but as seen through Liza’s winsome worldview, it never becomes an issue. Liza created this persona for work; the fact that it also granted her a new lease on life is an unexpected side effect.
Those side effects largely center around keeping her secret from inner circle ringleader Kelsey (Hilary Duff), who still doesn’t get much to do in this new season besides searching for yet another bestselling novel and spouting increasingly ironic dialogue centered around Liza’s duplicity. “Everything’s going to get better in our thirties,” she assures Liza in the opening episode. Every show where the lead has a Big Secret has her character: clueless, endearing, ultimately frustrating thanks to an arbitrary ruleset deemed gospel by the showrunners.
Hints are made at an incoming revelation for Kelsey, but they’re skirted away from at the last minute like a game of whiplash-inducing dramatic chicken. It’s most frustrating because it’s one of the otherwise breezy show’s most leaden burdens, dragging every scene between Foster and Duff down with a tired repetition of dramatic irony. The first two episodes also repeat a particular schism between Liza and Josh on nearly a beat-by-beat basis. It’s understandable and functional the first time around due to the events of last year’s finale, but as a whole it does double duty damage by fleetingly interrupting the svelte show with some heavy-duty mechanical monotony (you can practically hear the gears turning in the heads of the writers) and painting eternally pleasant Liza in a poor light.
Is it a reason to skip out on Younger‘s sophomore year? That would be decidedly a no. As ever, the show feels confident in what it’s doing with its characters (some excluded) and what it’s saying about women who face a constant uphill battle for understanding from the outside world when they are, most importantly, just trying to understand themselves.
There’s poignancy to that, and to Liza’s struggle, that can sometimes get lost amid the shuffle of “Whisky Dick” jokes and a somewhat uncomfortable attempt to stick Younger‘s square peg into the genre’s round hole (this show does not need a love triangle, that can not be overstated). But there’s just enough of an acerbic wit on display here orbiting Foster’s reason-to-watch performance that makes any qualms with the series aggressively easy to swallow.
Still vibrant, funny, effortlessly topical, and entirely anchored by the remarkable Sutton Foster, if the opening episodes of Younger's second year are ultimately less satisfying than its first, it's only by a hair.