Sutton Foster, Hilary Duff (TV Land)

Given its title, I’m kind of disappointed that this episode doesn’t feature self-harming rascal Anton, but special guests Ana Gasteyer and Kathy Najimy more than make up for his absence. More welcome surprises that reward viewers for their loyalty as the season winds down don’t hurt either. Here, the arc involving the publication of The Scarf reaches its climax when the author is exposed to be a fraud who has plagiarized the story from its original source, an out of print, “more ethnic” novel called The Babushka. Not only is this an effective reveal, but Gasteyer plays the part wonderfully, bringing great comedic timing and groundedness to the part; I could have watched her lecture to a disinterested classroom full of English Literature students all day.

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In Meredith Montgomery, a hard-working mother who followed her dream, Liza finds a new role model to put on a pedestal, but it doesn’t take much time for that pedestal to be crushed under the weight of heightened expectations. It’s difficult to watch Liza experience disappointment and realize her error in judgment, but this outcome is also realistic—she’s still learning the ropes in this industry and her ambition outpaced her experience. What’s important is that Liza tried and learns from her mistake, brushing herself off so she can get out there again for her next at-bat, making her inevitable success all the sweeter. The discovery of Montgomery’s plagiary is a reminder that life offers few shortcuts, and Liza is reminded of her own fraud when it comes to her relationship with Josh. A more tangible reminder is revealed when Josh shows off his new, very permanent tattoo of Liza’s supposed Chinese zodiac sign, a symbol of his loyalty and her deception all in one convenient package. The topics of aging and deception are interwoven seamlessly throughout these work and home life plots, and now that she has seen Meredith come clean, Liza appears to be on the brink of coming clean about her deception to Josh, resolving the main dramatic conflict as the final episodes approach.

But thankfully, there’s more to this episode than drama. There’s one more reveal to discuss and it’s a doozy—Liza discovers that Kelsey not only lives with Lauren, but with Lauren’s parents as well, and the entire season snaps into place. The relationship between Kelsey and Lauren has been somewhat mysterious thus far. Furthermore, both characters can be a little too cool for school, since they are the representatives of the younger generation on this show. The idea that these gal pals take the town by storm during the day and mooch off of Lauren’s parents at night is a great one, and one that should be exploited to its fullest potential; between Kathy Najimy’s character, her awkward husband, Kelsey, and Lauren herself, imagine the nights around this particular dinner table! As always, the social media and sex jokes could use some work, but the same warm energy that comes across during Liza’s chats with Maggie is generated during the girl talk scene at the kitchen table—and that’s a very good thing. I imagine that Najimy’s schedule wouldn’t allow it, but I can see Liza taking a note from Kelsey and adopting Lauren’s parents as her own. Who wouldn’t want more scenes like the one where Liza is cowering underneath the covers after Lauren’s dad barges into her room unannounced?

Even if these guest actresses don’t return to the show, they play crucial roles in the season, helping wrap up some mighty significant season arcs and mysteries. This episode’s reveals are satisfying because not only are they surprising, but they also work as pay-offs to the arcs and character development that have been established organically throughout the season. At the same time, the back half of the season feels vaguely claustrophobic because of the tight focus on Liza, despite her engaging storylines. Younger might have benefited from the extra eight minutes that it would have enjoyed on premium cable as opposed to TV Land, since the side characters haven’t had enough time to shine this season. As usual, however, I’ll play my own devil’s advocate and argue that it’s better to allow the story to develop naturally than limit the show to spending a specific amount of time with each member of the cast every episode via B-plots and C-plots, an approach that can work but often feels forced. Most importantly, each character has shown promise, a solid foundation has been built, and now it’s up to the writers to discern what has worked this season and what hasn’t so they can build on the strengths and potential of Season One when writing Season Two.

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Stray observations:

· “To Kelsey’s vibrator!”

· “Roll that in your Shakespeare and smoke it.”

· “That’s his idea of sexting?” “What is it?” “Piece of poop.” A joke that’s both technological and scatological in nature that somehow works despite itself? What kind of sorcery is this?

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