Thursday, March 17, 2016

Jenn's Pick: 7 Reasons You Should Be Watching Younger


My cable network’s On Demand channel has been discussed a lot recently in my reviews of television shows. That’s because it’s such an asset to me — an avid television watcher who doesn’t have enough hours in the day to watch everything she wants or needs to. So thank you, Bright House Networks, for that one. It was on a day in which I was working remotely that I paused when I saw that Younger was available to watch — the entire first season, in fact. So I watched. And I fell a little bit in love with this zany, fun, and occasionally heartbreaking TV Land comedy.

The show centers on Liza Miller (Sutton Foster) — a forty-year old divorcee who tries to find her ideal job in the world of publishing but is constantly rebuffed because of her age and her (irony) experience. When she’s told by an attractive young tattoo artist that she could pass as being in her twenties, Liza decides to take a chance and lie about her age... which gets her hired at a book publisher called Empirical. What happens next, as you might guess, is the ups and downs as Liza tries to navigate a new, younger life in New York City.

This TV Land sitcom is flying under the radar. Before I watched it, I hadn’t heard much critical buzz, but the bits and pieces I did hear were positive. Add to that the fact that my high school Broadway idol, Sutton Foster, was the lead alongside my adolescent role model, Hilary Duff, and I was sold. So here are seven reasons why I think you should be giving Younger a shot!



7. The show’s episodes are sometimes self-contained, sometimes not  leading to great binge-watching or just picking up an episode and running with it.

Since the show is only a 30-minute comedy (more or less 20 minutes after commercials), there’s not a whole lot of time to unearth large, convoluted plots or launch new ones. And that’s perfectly wonderful. Even so, Younger toes the line between a self-contained comedy and one with an overarching theme. More often, episodes will connect but the narrative at large is not as detailed as the conflicts presented in the individual episodes are. That means that watching episodes of Younger makes time fly by because every minute is packed with either character development or plot. And that’s what’s so impressive — the show manages to wrap up detailed issues within the span of time it might take for your ordered pizza to be delivered to your house.

It’s impressive, really. And what’s nice is that in spite of the fact that most episodes serve as self-contained (in some manner) and characters flit in and out (don’t expect to see everyone in every episode, apart from Liza and Kelsey). I love that, and I love that this show is perfect to binge-watch, but also perfect to slowly make your way through or pick up a random episode and still enjoy.



6. Love is at the center, but not always in the ways you might assume.

I will admit that to me, the romance between twenty-something Josh (Nico Tortorella) and Liza began pretty strongly and then started to fizzle once the couple became more on-again, off-again than Ross and Rachel. (“WE WERE ON A BREAK.”) And the conflict itself between them kept revolving around Liza’s age, which made for a little bit of a stale cracker romance.

And yet still, love is such an important part of Younger. But what’s refreshing is that it is not the ONLY part of the show worth focusing on. Nor is it the only means by which characters grow or backslide. The focus on love is important — it’s a show about millennials, after all, who are either still looking to have fun or settle down or figure out the status of their relationship. But what gives this show the extra depth and complexity is two-fold: 1) love is never presented as a solution, only a potential added layer of complexity to your life. And I love that. I love that this show is not so idealistic to presume that love is the solution to all of life’s problems. It’s realistic in the way that young people talk about and navigate their relationships — from cohabitation to flings to long-term commitments.

The second thing that Younger does really nicely is that it brings depth into the equation as it pertains to Liza. Remember that Liza is only pretending to be a twenty-something. In reality, she’s 40 and she’s been through everything that Kelsey and a majority of her co-workers and new friends are currently experiencing. That means that Younger has the unique ability to present 40-somethings giving sage wisdom to a younger generation... and have it come from the mouth of a 26-year old. Liza’s advice is not pretentious, nor is it judgmental. It’s realistic and it’s nice to see Younger as the show on television representing this.



5. There are wonderful depictions of female friendships.

Speaking of love, Sex and the City this show is not (quite, but there are shades of the show in this one), but female friendships are definitely at the root of Younger. Relationships themselves are really important on this show and every kind of relationship is explored — romantic ones between lovers and partners, friendships, mother/daughter relationships, etc. But what I really love about Younger is that they could have easily fallen into the archetypal “mean girl” character with Kelsey Peters. She’s young, beautiful, and Liza enters the picture as a bit of the clueless new girl. If that’s not rife with clichĂ©d possibilities, I don’t know what is.

And yet, the show did something totally refreshing and never presented Kelsey or Liza as rivals for attention or praise (or men, thank goodness). What I really love is how instantly supportive Kelsey is, in spite of her drive and ambition. She’s compassionate and a smart thinker, but she’s also a really good friend. She has a big heart and absolutely adores and accepts Liza, doling out advice on Josh and career moves. Even Diana Trout (Miriam Shor) who is Liza’s demanding boss is seen to be compassionate, in a most recent episode even giving Liza advice on how being single is an important time in her life.

And then there is the loving and supportive friendship between Liza and her roommate/best friend Maggie (Debi Mazar). I love that Maggie shoots straight and doesn’t allow Liza to wallow. That’s a great friend. And Liza is endlessly supportive of Maggie and trusts her implicitly. There may be secrets between Liza and the rest of her friends and co-workers, but there are none between her and Maggie. That’s pretty wonderful.

   

4. The show’s main character is someone you can genuinely root for.

The whole “lying to protect yourself and then your loved ones” is a trope that has been done time and time again on television, including recently with shows like Psych and Suits. And it’s tricky when it comes to morality, because on the one hand, we shouldn’t actively be rooting for characters who lie to everyone about who they are. But on the other, if we don’t, how can we possibly relate to them? For those who watch Younger, it’s easy for us to root for Liza to succeed — she’s a genuinely good person. She lies to get her life back on track because she just suffered through a divorce and is trying hard to create a better life for herself and her college-age daughter.

And Liza is a good person. She cares deeply about others, and fights for the things that she knows she — and others around her — deserve. In the most recent episode (spoiler alert, if you haven’t watched yet), Thad (Dan Amboyer), Kelsey’s fiancĂ©, discovers Liza’s secret. He uses it to hold over her as a way to prevent Liza from telling Kelsey about his infidelity. And in any other show, Liza would have backed down and walked away, succumbing to Thad’s blackmail in order to keep her secret safe. But Liza Miller is a good person and an even better friend, so she tells Thad that she doesn’t care — she will put her secret on the line, knowing all that exposing it risks, if it means that one of her best friends will know the truth about the man she was prepared to marry.

That is the difference between Liza’s secret-keeping and the other shows I mentioned. Liza is willing to risk it all if it means protecting the people she cares about. She will always do that — always go to great lengths to ensure their happiness, even if it means it costs her own. So that’s why we can forgive and accept Liza’s lies. We know, deep down, she doesn’t mean to hurt anyone. Sutton Foster is so brilliant in this role that it’s impossible to not love Liza Miller and feel yourself ache for her and long for her happiness.



3. It’s bold and brash and funny.

There is literally nothing that this show isn’t afraid to tackle, from feminism to morality to really uncomfortable and hilariously gross (and intimate) subjects, to things as mundane as everyday life. And honestly, you won’t find a quicker, zanier comedy than this one on television. It’s weird in all of the right ways, and relatable in all of the best and most important. These characters are unique, while also being the kind of people you might meet on the subway or at the office.

Younger is a fresh take on a workplace comedy, because it doesn’t dwell in the workplace too long and it allows those scenes to have new life (and comedy) breathed into them because of it.



2. The show talks about millennials without patronizing them.

As a millennial, the most annoying thing to open my Internet browser and see is just another article bashing my generation and calling us selfish or else aloof. The thing about millennials is that we are self-focused, sure, but that’s not really a lot different from any other generation. And we aren’t aloof. In fact, we just actively ignore the things we don’t like or trust. So to fixate an entire show around millennials (and then — spoiler alert — have one of its main characters start running her own imprint at Empirical called “Millennial”) is really refreshing to see. More than just fixate on this generation, though, Younger actively celebrates it!

Characters like Kelsey and Lauren (Molly Bernard) are extremely successful at what they do, not relying on men or their parents in order to make or break their careers for them. While initially Lauren seems like an aggressive, abrasive character who is obsessed with social media, you quickly realize that Lauren isn’t obsessed — she’s a professional at what she does. Everything that she executes is flawless, she has more connections than a New York Subway, and she’s powerful. People listen to her, follow her advice, and are inspired by her social media accounts. (Plus, Lauren is really good at analyzing photos and social trends.) Kelsey, too, is wonderful at her job. Creative, sassy, and incredibly smart, Kelsey is also not above asking for help from Liza. She commends her friend’s taste, and is strong enough to take on famous authors and publishers while driving a bottom line home.

Remember: these are characters who are in their mid-twenties.

It’s so refreshing to see millennials revered and respected in Younger, because they are treated like professionals and passionate young people who are good at what they do and want to change the world because of it.

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1. The cast is fantastic.

When a television show has no weak link, you know it’s a great one. And Younger is that show. Everyone is exceptional, nuanced, and excels at their own form of comedy. Molly Bernard’s Lauren is vibrant, energetic, a little bit spastic, and incredibly hilarious because of that. She can deliver zingers and quips like no one else. Hilary Duff’s Kelsey is fantastically nuanced, and both she and Sutton Foster make some of the most hilarious facial expressions in the show. Even Charles (played expertly by Peter Hermann) is funny, but more understated. His character — a more stoic one, considering that he is the one in charge of everyone else — is completely and totally endearing, and the kind of character you know is just a good person, both on the surface and also deep down. And that’s pretty incredible, considering the cutthroat world of publishing that he exists in. Hermann also plays the (possible) romantic lead with such gentleness and sincerity that it’s fantastic. And deadpan, sarcastic humor is the heartbeat of characters like Maggie and Diana (Miriam Shor and Debbie Mazar are absolute delights and have the best comedic deliveries.)

This show is filled with wildly talented performers, both comedic and dramatic. There is literally no weak link among them, and they each bring something really special and fresh to Younger.

If you have yet to check out Younger, do so! It airs Wednesday nights at 10|9c on TV Land.

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