Matthew Morrison, Sutton Foster (TV Land)
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It’s good to see Matthew Morrison doing anything that isn’t Glee and sharing scenes with another Broadway regular, but even Will Schuester deserves better than this episode. Morrison guests as Sebastian, a stereotypical country mouse who’s abandoned the city for the quiet life on a farm. Still hurting from her breakup with Josh, Liza finds herself tempted by this modern shepherd’s story and his companionship. Soon she’s mixing business with pleasure, cutting a publishing deal with the conveniently prolific amateur writer but straying into unprofessional territory. Despite a refreshingly low-key performance from Morrison, this A-plot never goes anywhere, serving as one long set-up for a punch-line that wasn’t worth the effort.

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Liza’s flirtation with her latest client is loosely tied to the main plot by references to her latent feelings for Josh—which aren’t altogether unexpected considering that they just broke up—and Sebastian’s attempts to reinvent himself. Instead of actually exploring the topic of reinvention, mining the entire situation for comedy like the writers did with Diana’s last fling, or at least developing Sebastian as a character, the writers establish set-up that feels like set-up. Liza’s flirtation with the shepherd is supposed to be taken seriously so that the culminating gag is especially surprising and weird in comparison, but serious doesn’t have to mean dull. Set-up always needs to be as entertaining as it is functional; furthermore, the supposed pay-off amounts to a gag that relies on shock more than actual humor. This type of joke can be divisive and come across as cheap so it requires a deft hand. Writers can’t rely on one joke to carry an episode no matter what, and there isn’t enough humor or substantive material here to counterbalance such a loud, risky gag. The show doesn’t even have the courage to follow-through on the implications of what Liza thinks she sees; the whole situation amounts to a misunderstanding that conveniently disappears a potential new love interest as swiftly as he showed up in the first place.

Liza may experience the shock of her life thanks to Sebastian, but at least she gets to experience that brief shot of adrenaline that accompanies a real surprise. Viewers of this episode can’t say the same, unfortunately, as the B-plot had little to offer that an audience wouldn’t see coming a mile away. For a brief moment, Kelsey’s engagement storyline with Thad shows some potential when Liza and friends decide to confront her with their concerns regarding this decision. Again, the issue of helping a friend versus meddling comes up, but it’s soon abandoned in favor of the inevitable. The focus shifts to the newly engaged couple themselves, who are having trouble communicating and landing on the same page. The overreliance on social media imagery and commentary to tell this story is as expected as its trajectory; meanwhile, Kelsey is a complex character deserving of a better storyline.

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Liza, Kelsey, and Diana operate best as a team whether or not they’re actually getting along at the moment, and separating them into different spheres this often in the season results in missed opportunities. Liza’s admission that she shouldn’t be giving Kelsey romantic advice due to setbacks in her own personal life was much more interesting than anything offered by the storylines involving these characters’ actual personal lives this time around. Gradually losing sight of Liza’s perspective is bad enough; it’s concerning to see Younger focusing on subplots with such weak side characters when there are so many dynamics among the core cast that remain unexplored.

Stray observations:

  • “Relax, it’s just my joke.” It must be so fun to write for Diana. Whichever planet she’s on seems nice.
  • “Is your mouth out of town?” Wow Thad, you really are worth all of this pain and suffering.

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