Sutton Foster, Debi Mazar (TV Land)

Younger is a show about reinvention, which is appropriate given that its home network, TV Land, is currently experiencing a reinvention of its own. In 2010, TV Land expanded beyond classic programming into original programming in order to chase more lucrative ratings. Its first venture, Hot in Cleveland, was a huge hit, but subsequent series have been less successful. TV Land’s target demographic consists of forty-year-olds, and its network executives have concluded that today, that age group has more in common with Generation X than with the Baby Boomers. Appealing to Boomers meant centering shows around stars famous for their work during the ‘70s and ‘80s, but appealing to Generation X means exploring edgier territory. Concurrently, TV Land network execs have been inspired by recent buzzy network fare to not only take risks with comedy, but to inject more drama into their comedies.

A quick glance at the internet’s reaction to the news indicates that many fans aren’t happy about this change, but online fans are an opinionated lot. Is the shift just a cheap attempt at trying to stay relevant, or is this a move in the right direction for TV Land? The answer is both, but mostly the latter. Younger is a continuation of TV Land’s respectable interest in series about older women adapting to major life changes, which started with Hot In Cleveland. Based on a bestselling novel deeply personal to its author, Younger is about a forty-year-old woman named Liza whose world turns upside down when a divorce from a man who squandered her family’s money forces her to reenter the workforce after years spent at home taking care of their children. But wait, there’s more. Due to her lack of experience and employers’ fascination with youth, Liza faces challenges during her job search. In order to secure an entry-level position at a publishing company, she undergoes a makeover to attempt to pass as a twenty-six-year-old.

Romantic comedies have officially found their way to television and this fairly outlandish premise is right out of the playbook of films like Never Been Kissed and 13 Going On 30. To cut to the chase, Sutton Foster is gorgeous but it is a stretch to buy that she can pass as a believable twenty-six-year-old. This part of the hook is distracting at first, but the show commits to its premise and the viewer has the choice to go with it or not. Although they can seem gimmicky and dated, stories that play with the concept of aging still find audiences because of the timelessness of their themes. The premise is a catalyst for telling a story that addresses weighty subjects like starting over at a time in life when people are supposed to have it all figured out and the relationships between generations of women. For instance, the way in which Liza co-opts her daughter’s experiences living in India throughout these episodes is a great way of illustrating her regrets and desperation for time to become someone else. Liza envies this opportunity, but her daughter also experiences homesickness. Both the older and younger characters in Younger appear alternately confident and lost at varying moments, so the pros and cons of different stages of life can be examined.

Younger may be a comedy, but it also delves into commentary about the tensions between different generations of women in the workplace. Kelsey, for example, vows to help Liza learn the ropes, as opposed to their boss, Diana Trout, who has achieved success in her career, but backstabs younger underlings who threaten her. Unfortunately, the unrealistically glamorous publishing workplace material isn’t as strong as the Brooklyn scenes. Swapping dialogue with an actress of Foster’s caliber is a challenge, and Hilary Duff and Miriam Shor aren’t quite up to the task at this stage of the game. To be fair, their respective characters are also comparatively flat at this juncture, so hopefully these characters will improve over time. The writers waste a crucial opportunity to address this problem in the second episode, spending time on comedic shenanigans that don’t further the development of the characters. Thankfully, they have a well-realized and well-performed lead, and that’s the most important element. The author of Younger, Pamela Redmond Satran, has expressed excitement about this adaptation because it affords an older actress the opportunity to play a meaty role, and Sutton Foster deserves the chance to continue her winning streak on television; she has no problem delivering the comedy, pathos, vulnerability, sexiness, and hilarious reaction shots that alone make this show worth watching. Satran also wanted someone who could write for a multi-faceted forty-year-old female character to adapt her work, and with Darren Star of Sex and the City fame, her wish was granted.

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Have I mentioned that Younger is wickedly funny when it wants to be? With its immensely quotable lines peppered with pop culture and literary references, and some graphic female body humor that’s probably new for TV Land, Star’s voice is a major component of the show. At first, the shift to more explicit humor is jarring, but some of the lines are really worth the risk. Overall, it’s the same story here as it is for most comedy: The best jokes are often those that rooted in character. The humor is much sharper in the pilot than in “Liza Sows Her Oates,” however, where any subtlety in the execution of the social media and sex jokes that had been achieved is lost. That being said, without the second episode, Younger wouldn’t have that date-appropriate conversation about Chipotle, and that would be the real tragedy.

The focus on mature women and the inconsistency of the humor aren’t the only characteristics that Younger shares with Sex and the City; it has its sex and its city as well. Like all female leads, Liza has a love interest that she just so happens to meet in the pilot, but tattoo artist Josh’s delivery of lines like “Body art is this really personal experience” indicates that there may be some potential there. Another commonality between this show and Sex and the City is the location; Younger is shot in New York and the setting is an important component of the show, with outdoor scenes shot on the street and verbal exchanges noting the transformation of Brooklyn. Most importantly, Younger shows signs of valuing female friendship in the same way that Sex and the City did. The relationship between Liza and her best friend, Maggie, is one of the best parts of the show so far, mostly because of Mazar’s performance and her chemistry with Foster, but also because of the writing. This portrayal of a close friendship between a straight woman and a lesbian woman is refreshing, and the pair’s bond resonates through the screen. The show could have easily been just as successful, if not more so, if it had co-starred Foster and Mazar and featured their inevitable wacky hijinks, but Younger has potential as well.

Stray observations:

· Welcome to regular coverage of Younger! As long as everyone remains hilarious and courteous in the comments, we’ll get along just fine. All you need to know about me is that I also cover Person Of Interest (so much whiplash) and I have to wait to post another stray observation devoted to the awesomeness of Debi Mazar until a later date because it was really pushing my word count.

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· Commentary about costuming because Patricia Field is responsible: Debi Mazar in that hat. Oops. The awesomeness cannot be ignored.

· Lack of diversity. White girl wearing a bindi. Rape joke. Word count. I’m out.