Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Younger: ”Exes”

Hilary Duff, Sutton Foster (TV Land)
Hilary Duff, Sutton Foster (TV Land)
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Let’s start at the end and work our way up from the small issues to the more concerning ones. “The Exes” closes with a seemingly romantic sequence, a man and woman kissing on a front stoop in a scene that could’ve been stolen from an impressively detailed Hey Arnold fan-fiction. Romantic in the sense that Liza just found out that their recent bed-breaking, Broad City-worthy escapades haven’t stopped Josh from sleeping with his ex. (I’ve watched two seasons of Abbi and Ilana’s adventures, and I’m still not used to seeing a man go down on a woman on a network that doesn’t require a subscription). With his fooling around, is Josh making a fool of Liza, or would it be foolish to see this as anything other than an honest depiction of a complex, but modern arrangement between two single, consenting adults? On the one hand, this isn’t just any fling: Josh has been hooking up with his ex. On the other, Josh hasn’t felt compelled to disclose this information since Liza herself expressed that she’d rather have fun in the present than spend too much time talking to Josh about their respective pasts or whatever the future may hold.

Allowing the two romantic leads to get together without the requisite pent up anticipation is one thing; showing Josh actually hooking up with another woman is another. Most shows would never go there for fear of alienating viewers, so this willingness to go all in, in more ways than one, is impressive in its riskiness. The revelation does bring Liza and Josh closer in some ways, as it inspires them to open up to one another about their respective dating histories. It’s somewhat refreshing to see a less conventional blueprint for a show’s central romance. At the same time, viewers assess meaning from storytelling by evaluating characters’ decision-making, and that’s difficult to do here at this point in the show’s run. Watching the show, someone could imagine how she would feel if she were in Liza’s shoes. As for the character herself, it’s not clear if she’s capable of engaging in a casual arrangement that remains healthy and satisfactory without the promise of commitment. Subsequent episodes will probably give more insight into Liza’s decision to handwave Josh’s the range of extracurricular activities, but without further development, this happy reunion remains unsettling.

While Liza may be a bit of a mystery, Kelsey is every Agatha Christie Miss Marple novel combined. On the bright side, the friendly, familial dynamic between Liza and Kelsey continues to improve. Solidifying relationships often requires breaking them down and building them back up again, and the conflict between these two characters in “Exes” accomplishes just that. First, some forced contrivances have to take place; it’s out of character for Liza to indulge Kelsey in her drunken shenanigans and Diana to allow a client to slip through her grasp. Nonetheless, the reconciliation between Liza and Kelsey works and does wonders for the latter’s characterization. Kelsey gets drunk, stays out too late, and misses an important meeting, but she blames her irresponsible behavior on Liza, who failed in her bar baby-sitting duties. What happens next elevates both characters, however. Liza confronts Kelsey about this poor decision-making, Kelsey listens, and Kelsey follows through with her promise to make things right. The two colleagues get over this hurdle, laugh it off, and get back to the banter that they’ve gotten better and better at selling. Kelsey’s willingness to admit when she’s wrong, bounce back, and retain her sense of humor are admirable qualities; between this turnaround and her drunken yelling that somehow managed to be both believably obnoxious and hilarious, Kelsey scores several points in “Exes.” (Kudos must also be given to the hair and makeup departments for actually making her look realistically rough around the edges after a night out.

This forward momentum makes the writers’ unnecessary preoccupation with Kelsey’s love life all the more disappointing. Her douche boyfriend’s bad influence over her is at least a different twist on the “good girl falls for bad boys” formula and drinking too much on a weeknight is a realistic character flaw for a young professional. While drunk texting a client is a tad cliché, it’s cliché because it happens, and at least this is an organic, subtle reference to the complexities of using modern technology. Kelsey’s decision to actually go to this man’s private doorstep and apologize in person, which leads to a kiss that isn’t rebuffed (re-Duffed?), though, is a step too far. At least there’s something beautiful about the idea that her admirable efforts to make up for past mistakes may actually implode her entire career.

The problem is that Kelsey is still too much of a cypher to be making this many mistakes, especially when they all revolve around men. Character flaws are easier to take and, more importantly, more interesting, when an audience knows the character involved. Bed-hopping isn’t the only way to develop a character—in this case, immaturity—especially on a show that’s called Younger, not Sex And The City. All signs point to time being spent on a tired plotline instead of actually developing Kelsey as a character. Heaven forbid that the show take notes from a show like Mad Men—yes, I’m aware of the absurdity of making this comparison—use what it has at its disposal, and focus on the politics of modern publishing, which must be a treasure trove of drama and comedy. Based on last week’s episode, Kelsey is more entertaining as a wheeler and dealer and her client is more entertaining as an overly serious Scandinavian author of airport novels than the pair would be together in any kind of romantic capacity. The show is fun; it could also be so much better. Like Kelsey, Younger needs to stop selling itself short.

Stray observations:
• Aren’t JTT and Andrew Keegan references too old for the younger generation of women on this show? I’ll ask Buzzfeed.
• My brain: Gilmore Girls reference me think of Bunheads, which makes me think, “Too Soon!”
• I’ve clearly been watching too much Arrow and The Flash because I keep expecting everyone to know Liza’s secret already.
• Every time I pose a question in a review of a Darren Star show, it takes everything in me not to start it with “I couldn’t help but wonder…” My restraint better be appreciated.
• Serving sushi off of cisgender models? “What is this, Savage Love?” I ask affectionately. I love how Kelsey’s friend has this whole crazy life that’s happening on the periphery of the show while Maggie seems to only exist to be a sounding board for Liza’s romantic drama. OK, “love” might not be the right word.
• Ratings Roundup: TV Land has promoted Younger heavily, but the ratings have been very modest. At least the numbers in the coveted 18-49 demo were up last week, indicating that their strategy to hook younger viewers through sheer force of Edginess was not entirely unfounded.