Based on the novel of the same name by Pamela Redmond Satran, Younger follows Liza Miller, a newly divorced 40-year-old suburban housewife who masquerades as a 26-year-old to get a job in the youth-favoring publishing industry. This ridiculous premise shouldn’t even work, but thanks to strong writing from Sex And The City creator Darren Star and a winning lead performance by Sutton Foster, Younger is utterly charming. A series about a woman looking to reinvent herself after a devastating loss may seem like a slam dunk for Foster, but the tone of the series is tricky and it’s hard to imagine it working at all with anyone besides the Bunheads alum. Foster deftly switches between slapstick comedy, wordplay, and moments of thoughtful introspection, and maintains a vital air of mischief throughout. Liza can’t believe she’s pulling this off, which lets the audience suspend its disbelief and go with it.
Supporting Foster are Debi Mazar as Maggie, an artist and Liza’s best friend who concocts the scheme in the first place, and Hilary Duff as Kelsey Peters, Liza’s 26-year-old new coworker and friend. Both Mazar and Duff have great chemistry with Foster and the series uses them well, with Duff in particular given plenty to do. As Liza’s main tie to her previous life, Maggie plays an important role, grounding Liza and providing perspective on her second stab at her 20s, but it would have been nice to see more of Mazar. (Should the series find an audience and come back for a second season, Maggie will hopefully get a bit more attention.) Rounding out the supporting cast are Miriam Shor as Liz’s prickly new boss; Nico Tortorella as Liza’s hot young boyfriend Josh; and Tessa Albertson as Liza’s daughter, Caitlin.
The performances are fun, but what helps the show blossom as it moves through its first season is its look at the pros and cons of both sides of Liza’s life. Rather than come down on one side of Liza’s experience, Younger looks at the invigorating and exhausting aspects of both, treating them with respect. The tone is heightened with more than a touch of escapist wish fulfillment: Foster looks amazing, but there’s a difference between great genes plus healthy living and a time machine. Enough honest moments temper this fantasy and build the audience’s relationship with the characters. The first few episodes are enjoyable, if a little slight, but as the season progresses, the characters deepen and in some cases, mature. Viewers may find themselves surprisingly invested in the characters’ romantic entanglements. Also promising is the series’ long game; while the season follows a clear arc, there’s plenty of story for a season two or even three just with the characters introduced here. Should the series get picked up, Star and the writers will be able to continue exploring Liza and her circle, foregrounding elements only teased in season one and seeing where they lead. It’s also a refreshingly sex-positive look at life at 40, celebrating Liza’s sexuality without defining her by it.
Despite its many strengths, Younger does have a few weak points. Shor gives a commendable performance as Diana Trout, but the character is far less fixed than the rest of the cast, switching from ally to suspicious foe depending on episodic needs. Diana is more interesting than Kelsey’s boyfriend Thad, however, who remains a two-trait jerk from his first appearance. A bigger disappointment for Bunheads (or Broadway) aficionados will be two-time Tony Award winner Foster’s failure to sing or dance at any point. Aside from these quibbles, Younger is an entertaining and heartwarming series and one fans of Bechdel-busting television should seek out.