“Everyone is pretending to be younger. We dye our hair, we whiten our teeth, we wear moisturizing face masks that make us look like serial killers, and we squeeze our widening hips into Spanx because the most important thing to be in the whole g*ddamn world is 27. Should I have told the truth? Sure. But you know what? So should you. Millennial isn’t an age. It’s an attitude.”
That was the response from Younger‘s Liza Miller after she was very publicly outed last season not to be the 20-something publishing assistant, but rather a 40-something who has been lying about her age for years. But it tells you so much about this show.
Younger, which premiered on TV Land in 2015, is about a New Jersey housewife whose husband leaves her for a younger woman after having gambled away all their money and their house. So, Liza moves in with her best friend Maggie (Debi Mazar), a lesbian artist living in a loft in Brooklyn, and tries to get back into the publishing career she left to become a mom almost two decades earlier. But she discovers none of the millennial editors dominating the industry will hire her supposedly because of the gap in her resume but really because of her age.
Her life takes a turn when a handsome young tattoo artist, Josh (Nico Tortorella), mistakes her for 26 at a local bar and asks her out. Maggie encourages her to go with it and be the millennial the publishing houses are looking for. All it takes is highlights, makeup, second-hand clothes, wiping her old social media presence, a fake driver’s license, and, of course, attitude, and the new younger Liza lands an entry-level job at the publishing house, Empirical. She becomes the assistant to the head of marketing, Diana Trout (Miriam Shor.) Think The Devil Wears Prada. Diana is a 40 -something divorcee who despises the millennial ethic while at the same time recognizing that she needs their social media know-how. Over time, Diana’s brash and insulting style gives way to her soft heart and her desire to mentor.
This premise of Younger only works because Sutton Foster (top), who plays Liza, can somehow look like she’s in her 20s and 40s at the same time. It also works because creator, executive producer, and writer, Darren Star, brings some of his Sex and the City sensibilities to the show and has a team of great writers who take you beyond Liza’s big secret. Plus, the show has a great cast with the kind of chemistry with each other that’s hard to find.
Of course, at its heart, Younger is a rom-com. Liza goes from a relationship with Josh, who is 14 years her junior, to one with her dashing, wealthy, successful, and much more age-appropriate boss Charles (Peter Hermann.) Josh learns Liza’s true age a few seasons before Charles, but both come to terms with it. As much as Liza wants her life with Charles, all roads seem to lead back to Josh.
While this love triangle is key, Younger‘s six seasons have gone so far beyond that and have explored so many issues. It’s focused on the pressure on women to be young, but also the challenges for young women trying to be taken seriously in their careers. It’s examined the advantages and toxic nature of social media. In one episode, Liza’s close friend and colleague, Kelsey (Hilary Duff), accidentally posts on her Instagram what was meant to be a personal message to her boyfriend, damaging both her reputation and career. It’s dealt with sexism and the MeToo movement. In one episode, Charles is forced to cut off his cash cow top author when he discovers that he’s sexually harassed many of the women he’s worked with, including Liza. It’s looked at issues facing the LGBTQ community often through Maggie, a lesbian artist. And it’s exposed a lot of what happens in the publishing business, including all the dirty tricks between rival companies, financial pressures, and the eccentricities of writers.
In fact, the very first episode of Younger I watched was Season 2, Episode 11. It featured a cameo by my former boss, NPR’s Diane Rehm, making a joke about my other former boss, NPR’s Terry Gross. The publishing world has, for decades, counted on both Gross and Rehm to feature their authors, knowing it means an uptick in book sales.
For all the ups and downs of Empirical, Season 6 left off with the company in a seemingly good place. But it left us with a cliffhanger.
As the episode begins, Liza’s true age is known by everyone in her world. Her career is in a good place, and she thinks all is going well with her love life with Charles (right) when Josh steps in at Diana’s wedding reception to ask her a question. Years earlier, he gave Liza her first and only tattoo, one he designed specifically for her. It’s an hourglass he described as “time standing still, like a moment that lasts a lifetime.” Offered an opportunity to license the image to a chain store, he wants to know if Liza is okay with it. At first, she says okay, but then she tells Josh the symbol is “ours,” and doesn’t want to share it with others. She asks if that’s alright; he says, “Yeah, that’s great,” and smiles as he walks away. At that moment, Charles appears to ask her to dance to their song, Berlin’s Take My Breath Away. During the dance, he proposes. You would think she’d say yes, as Charles is just about perfect on paper. They get interrupted, and we don’t get her answer.
Younger has divided its fans into two distinct teams, Team Charles and Team Josh. I thought I was Team Charles. But I’ve since come to believe I was giving in to the same ageism and biases that Younger has been exposing and tearing down all these years. Charles is the safe choice, the comfort food, the one her old suburban friends relate to. With Charles, Liza risks going back to being who she was. However, Josh might be her knight. After all, he saved her from that world and helped her reclaim the career and self-confidence she thought were lost. He once told her their tattoo was “us living in the now.” And after all, she’s been through in the last several years, isn’t that the space she deserves to live in?
Creator Darren Star has promised fans “one last rollercoaster ride” this last season. Regardless of the direction Liza’s love life takes, watching her go from 40 to 26 and back to her 40s has already been quite a trip. And it’s well worth the journey.
The first four episodes of Younger will be available on HULU and Paramount+ on April 15, with the eight remaining episodes dropping weekly on Thursdays. For those who don’t subscribe, the season will air on TV Land later in the year.