Hilary Duff, Sutton Foster (TV Land)
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Based on the good ideas in “Girl Code,” it’s easy to be optimistic about Younger’s potential to crank out interesting material. Unfortunately, the execution of said ideas is lacking, and this is a problem because execution is everything. Good execution can make almost any idea work, and bad execution can plague a project from start to finish, dragging down any potential with little inconsistencies that pile up over time. Thankfully, Younger has been renewed for a second season; they’ll need to overcome some of these execution problems if they want to be taken seriously and considered capable of earning a third.

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The best idea in “Girl Code” involves the episode’s climax, when Kelsey and Lauren surprise Maggie, an artist, with some much-needed gallery space. Maggie’s relationship with a gallery owner has imploded so this favor means everything to her. This development is smart for a number of reasons. It resolves the conflict that had been brewing between Liza and Maggie, since it was Liza’s idea to go to her younger friends with this problem. Their solution makes Kelsey and Lauren look better after an episode spent emphasizing their immaturity. Most importantly, this new bond between figures from Liza’s old and new worlds introduces a new direction for Younger, where more comedic and dramatic storylines can be explored thanks to these new pairings.

Seeing new bonds forming between the foursome of Liza, Maggie, Kelsey, and Lauren is satisfying, but the lead-up to this conclusion is less so due to some shaky execution. Too many of the scenes in “Girl Code” are too truncated or one-note, serving as the bridges to reach certain conclusions instead of fleshed out, entertaining sequences in their own right. An episode involving conflict between Liza and Maggie could be very successful, shedding light on the latter’s world and this longstanding friendship. The pair’s signature city street walk and talk is as organic as ever, as the two joke about how they’ve switched identities as “the cool one” and “the lame one” as they walk to the gallery. Maggie the worldly artist is now the older Craigslist roommate and Liza the nerdy student is now out partying with the kids. The conversation emphasizes the importance of this friendship, but also how many changes it’s undergone.

The rest of the episode does Maggie a disservice, however, as all that’s articulated about her life as an artist is that she tends to yell at a guy named Phil. It’s clear that her friendship with Liza is evolving, but Maggie’s accusations during their blowup fight come out of nowhere. Liza should have answered her phone but it was Maggie’s behavior that got her released from the gallery’s schedule. Maggie encouraged Liza to pretend to be younger and date Josh, so this conflict feels forced and expected without more lead-up and development. At least the fight is resolved with a cute homage to Pretty Woman involving an apology-limo and the type of banter that probably drew Liza and Maggie to one another in the first place.

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Meanwhile, the fact that Kelsey and Lauren help Maggie on Liza’s behalf is a great way to show the young women in a better light after they’ve been behaving like stereotypical sex-obsessed, self-involved twentysomethings for the majority of the episode. At the bar after the gallery show, it seems like Younger is trying to create a scene evocative of Sex And The City, with the four women, the drinks, and the sex jokes, but they forgot a crucial element that made that show work: character-based humor. Even if the point of the scene is to show Liza bonding with these young women despite their immaturity, it isn’t nearly as effective or funny as it could be when the characters are treated more like mouthpieces than people in their own right.

Despite these problems, it’s nice to see an episode that’s so interested in the topic of friendship to balance out the last installment, which was more focused on romantic relationships. Maggie may be having a difficult time dealing with her best friend forging new bonds with younger people, but she’s right to applaud someone’s attempts to try to meet new people at an older age, because that’s difficult. The episode doesn’t spend time on how important this new life is for Liza after her divorce, but that’s another issue at play. Liza just needs to learn to concentrate on the changes she can make in her own life without forgetting about the priorities from her old one.

Any writing problems that resulted in the underdeveloped scenes in this episode are exacerbated by other execution issues. Considering that Younger has real New York City locations at its disposal, it’s strange how oddly insular and stagy it comes across at times. For example, Lauren talks about pursuing the artist at the gallery but she never interacts with anyone other than the main players in any scene. The main issue involves the rhythm of the dialogue, though, and it probably has more to do with direction than performance. Sutton Foster delivers her lines with Amy Sherman-Palladino’s trademark rapidity from time to time, but that pace would elevate almost all of the exchanges and the chemistry between the characters on this show. Series involving women, young people, best friends, and screwball humor need that energy, and without it, the words hang in the air for far too long. Some of the actresses may have better comedic timing than others, but there’s no excuse for the type of pauses that belong on the set of a multi-cam between laughs. These characters are smart and these lines are funny so, by the fifth episode, the writers’ words deserve to sing instead of just sink.

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Stray observations:

· When TV Land hired Darren Star, they clearly wanted some of that HBO street cred. What that means is that you get a cold open where Sutton Foster is helping Hilary Duff pull out a knock-off Diva Cup.

· Dante forgot the Friends gallery show when he described the circles of hell.

· “I love a guy in a high bun.”

· I though I’d spend a lot of time cataloguing Patricia Field’s fashion in these stray observations but the technology jokes are far more entertaining to track. This week, we have cracks about how the kids angle their heads when staring at their phones and a Siri joke.

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· Liza gargled a shot. Now that’s the kind of character beat I’m talking about.

· Diana has a crush and all I took away from this subplot is that for an executive, she is quite the over-sharer.