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An awkward double date goes to pot on Younger

Sutton Foster, Nico Tortorella (TV Land)
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Liza and Josh may have gotten together early in the series but between this episode and the last, Younger itself is showing signs of having trouble sealing the deal when it comes to tying up episodic arcs satisfactorily. To put a positive spin on the issue, one reason that this problem is so frustrating is because the episode’s A-plot is so well-developed initially that it’s bound to be let down by any conclusion that fails to match its level of execution. While this is yet another episode that addresses Liza’s insecurity in her relationship, a twist on the formula and the elegant simplicity of the narrative arc—not to mention the fantastic performances—show promise in the first acts.

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Liza has been grappling with the age gap between she and Josh throughout the series, but her opponent in this fight has mainly been herself. The gap itself hasn’t presented nearly as many challenges as she seems to be inventing in her head. Like many people, Liza also seems to care what other people think much more than they even care about the details of her life in the first place. While Maggie has expressed some reservations, she appears to support whatever decisions Liza ultimately decides to make when it comes to her own life. One of the show’s central conflicts escalates in “Jersey, Sure” when Michelle, one of Liza’s friends from her past life in suburbia, expresses some very blunt reservations about what she perceives to be just another fruitless May-December romance.

One of the elements that some of the best shows share is the ability to make to a seemingly innocuous conversation in a household kitchen as emotionally devastating as any high-stakes shootout. Again, Younger loves its kitchen conversations, and this one packs a real wallop. Part of the credit here goes to the talented actresses and part of it goes to the writers, who set up this encounter cleverly. A disagreement about the extent of Josh’s involvement in Liza’s daughter’s life at this juncture ends up really serving as a way to illustrate how badly he wants to be involved in his girlfriend’s life. Refusing to disconnect from Caitlin on Instagram ends up revealing his devotion to Liza instead of actual thoughtlessness on his part. Similarly, a spat that takes place when Josh initiates a double date with Michelle and Tom occurs partly because Liza takes the gesture as a sign of immature impulsivity instead of what it is—another sign that Josh wants to be closer to her. In this case, he wants to get to know her better, and learning more about the New Jersey side of her is one way to do that.

All of this setup illustrating Josh’s commitment makes it even more devastating when Michelle confronts Liza about the future of the relationship. The fact that multiple conflicts have already arisen concerning the health of the couple’s relationship, despite Josh’s clear effort, puts this dynamic on shaky ground. Relocating the dynamic from the neutral territory of New York City to the “adult” world of the New Jersey suburbs, Liza’s home turf where Josh is supposedly at a disadvantage, builds tension. This tension reaches its climax during the aforementioned kitchen confrontation. The emotions that play across Sutton Foster’s face sell the moment, and so does the writers’ choice to contextualize Michelle’s seemingly rude nosiness. Michelle saw Liza go through a divorce and doesn’t want her friend to experience similar hurt again. She overestimates her understanding of the situation being that they barely see one another, but Michelle is being protective of someone she cares about and testing Liza’s commitment to Josh in a way that could ultimately be beneficial.

For someone who’s always so concerned about Josh’s ability to act like an adult, Liza sure resorts to special substances quickly when her double date starts to go south. The effects of the pot lollipop are so strong that Liza and Josh return to New York City early, and Josh demonstrates his maturity yet again when he takes good care of his poor inebriated patient. He steps up in another way as well—Josh can tell that something is wrong and instead of waiting for Liza to say something, he encourages her to open up so they can hash out the issue like adults. Tortorella continues to prove his worth in this cast by holding down the scene as well as the Broadway veteran does, but the pair’s considerable abilities distract from the flaws in this concluding scene.

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By the end, very little has actually been accomplished. Liza has admitted her concerns about their relationship, Josh has reconfirmed his loyalty, rinse and repeat. Iterations of this same conversation have occurred repeatedly throughout previous episodes, and Josh’s lines about sometime maybe being interested in getting married in the near future—whenever that is—don’t play as satisfactorily as the writers intended. Liza has never seemed particularly concerned about marriage, and this suggestion of there being the potential for that level of commitment in the nearer term than may have been imagined reads like more of a Band-Aid than a real resolution. The problem is Liza’s insecurity about the age gap in their relationship—which is really more about lifestyle differences than anything else—and a piece of paper isn’t going to change that. It does help that Josh is taking the relationship so seriously, but no real changes are made in order to ensure that this couple’s dynamics really improve.

The writers might be understandably hesitant about developing the relationship to the point where a major change like cohabitation is the next logical step, fearing burning through plot too quickly. At the same time, Michelle’s words deserve a stronger conclusion than this. To be fair, this final conversation is realistic, considering that many couples put off really confronting confrontation. Still, the show fails to acknowledge that this couple’s issues remain unresolved, which detracts from the arc’s meaningfulness. It may seem unfair that a conclusion—which can amount to as little as one scene in an entire episode—can carry disproportionate weight in an episode, but that’s one of the many challenges that writing presents.

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Stray observations:

  • I’m happy to see that Jade has returned but her decision to simply refuse to finish her book amounts to a very slight B-plot, one that does little justice to Kelsey’s promising Season Two narrative.
  • The fact that Josh’s instrument of choice is the washboard never fails to amuse.
  • “Can I ask you one question though: what’s a trellis?”
  • Truffle butter—get it? The way that that joke develops throughout the episode was almost a C-plot in and of itself, a feat both impressive and horrifying.
  • I really hope that Liza’s life diagram is an exact copy from the Younger writers’ room whiteboard. They have to keep all of the narrative threads straight somehow and that’s certainly one way to do it. You’ve got to cater to the visual learners in the room.
  • A pot lollipop is the Chekov’s gun of this episode, and I love Younger even more for it. Sutton Foster’s gleeful smile after she admits to eating said lollipop is another reminder of her range, and I love her even more for it.
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