Nico Tortorella, Sutton Foster (TV Land)

The second episode of Younger spun its wheels after a promising pilot, but the third establishes the series as one worth watching, which should be a relief to those who have needed a little Sutton Foster in their lives ever since Bunheads was canceled. It’s a good time for Younger to start gelling and finding its own identity before it gets very far into its first season, as this year’s run is only twelve episodes long. I’m relatively forgiving when it comes to disappointing second episodes; the second is one of the most difficult episodes to write in a series’ run due to the reality check of a time crunch that occurs after pilots have been completed, as well as network demands to reiterate information for new viewers. Thankfully, “IRL” rights the ship and demonstrates the series’ potential should it continue in this direction.

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The episode’s very title indicates that it’s another installment up to its ears in cheesy modern technology jokes, but at least the dating website subplot offers opportunities to explore character dynamics and go to some unexpected places. There are no new jokes about online dating under the sun; the banter between Liza and Diana while chatting up a potential suitor may not single-handedly justify Match.com but it does help solidify this pair as a promising comedic duo. In this instance, Diana asks for Liza’s advice because the kids these days are pros at navigating the fun world of online dating. Later, the situation is flipped when Maggie helps Liza figure out what to say when texting Josh. Why? Because Maggie is a kid at heart and Debi Mazar can do anything. These sequences aren’t particularly creative, but they serve some important functions. While it’s a drum that may have been beaten to death, it’s only said so often because it’s true—technology somehow makes everyone’s favorite activity, dating, even harder than it already is. These two Jedi/Yoda teaching moments may revolve around men, but they’re all about the women involved. Women helping other women get laid is still helping, and this episode goes a long way toward improving the dynamics between Liza and Diana.

Of course, the best way to improve the comedic and dramatic pairings on a show is to make sure both parties are fully realized characters in the first place. Younger may have landed a dynamite lead in Sutton Foster, but “IRL” is the type of early episode that shows that a show is invested in its ensemble. While the characterizations of Diana and Kelsey have been fairly broad so far—professional women can’t succeed in both the boardroom and the bedroom, amirite?—the decision to pluck these characters out of their workplace, set them down in other locations, and watch what happens introduces some much-needed specificity. Diana’s online dating storyline actually takes an unanticipated turn when a potential hook-up becomes something more special; Diana may feel self-conscious about being an older single woman intimidated by the dating scene, but the fashionista who catfished her was equally intimidated by the prospect of trying to land a meeting with a mature, successful executive.

This early on, Younger has already made a name for itself with a unique strength; it’s adept at exploring the topic of aging by examining and comparing the perspectives of both the older and younger generations, using these parallels to illustrate that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. Liza’s glamorization of her daughter’s sojourn to India versus the reality also was another similar parallel, and it’s exciting to see that Younger is finding the fruit in its fruitful, completely absurd premise. And with that, Diana is further humanized—because The Devil Wears Prada and Meryl Streep must not be defied—and the show’s preoccupation with fashion pays off; this is the kind of series where a luxury bag gets its own storyline, and I’m fully onboard.

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Kelsey also gets to let loose in a new setting when she goes the extra mile to land a client who vaguely resembles Stieg Larrson because these writers are pop culture obsessives. What losers. Duff shines when she’s given something specific to do, and it’s nice to see the once vaguely ambitious character in action, justifying her reputation. The fact that Kelsey’s subplot with her new client didn’t end with a predictable hookup, at least for now, was a relief; her relationship with such an obvious jerk of a boyfriend is already dragging the character down. More negotiations with foreign, walking pop culture references instead, please.

While Kelsey’s jerk of a boyfriend is a waste of time, Liza’s jerk of an ex-husband makes a good impression, despite his badness, in his introductory episode. The writers were smart to push this inevitability off until Liza and her new life had been fully realized. Even though the scene is short, the history between he, Liza, and Maggie is clearly felt. Instead of getting mired down in adult drama, with all the excitement that ex-husbands and money problems that divorce provides, Liza is drawn back into her new Brooklyn life when Maggie comes to the rescue. Deciding what to do with old things is a mundane part of life, but a realistic one that’s organic to this story, and the writers find a way to imbue that decision with meaning by differentiating Liza’s old life in the suburbs with her new one in Brooklyn.

Moving on often requires a little push; friends are good for that and so is sex. In a well-shot, kinetic sequence down New York City sidewalks, Liza performs a walk-and-talk-to-herself as she works out how she’s going to tell the truth of her age to Josh. The climax is reached, in a matter of speaking, when she meets him at his door, and the hilarious scene where Maggie talks to “Frida” meets its match when Josh also proves to be a vagina whisperer in his own right. Younger isn’t reinventing the wheel with its depiction of the relationship between Liza and Josh, with age gaps and drug-induced trips being par for the course on television, but this pairing continues to be adult, grounded, sweet, and sexy, and that’s more than enough for now.

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Stray observations:

· Liza’s vagina is “Frida” and Maggie’s is “The Entertainment Center.”

· In my last review, I indicated that I had more to say about Debi Mazar and I did not tell a lie. Debi Mazar got her start when she was hired by Madonna to do makeup for a music video. She then performed as a hip hop b-girl in other music videos of Madonna’s. Debi Mazar was Spice to Drew Barrymore’s Sugar in Batman Forever. Debi Mazar has a reality/cooking show, Extra Virgin, on the Cooking Channel, where she cooks rustic Italian food with her adorable husband. Debi Mazar divides her time between their home in Brooklyn and a 14th-century house outside of Florence, Italy. Needless to say, Debi Mazar is my hero.

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· Commentary about Costuming: In the first two episodes, I thought to myself that Patricia Field had a long way to go if she wanted to elevate Diana to Diane Lockhart standards. With tonight’s statement necklace, which was more of an exclamation, Diana threw down the gauntlet.