I'll be the first to admit I wasn't immediately sold on the TV Land comedy Younger when it premiered in early 2015. The show's pilot and its lazy, cringeworthy jokes about the age of Sutton Foster's 40-year-old Liza were the lowest of low-hanging fruit. But armed with assurances from trusted sources (TV-watching Twitter, of course), I recently gave the show another chance and I'm very happy to say that first appearances aren't everything.
What at first looked to be a show simultaneously poking fun at millennials and positing that 40-year-olds are somehow more ancient than dinosaurs eventually turned into a fun, addicting series that promotes the idea you're truly as young as you feel and that there's never a shortage of second chances. (Also that you can go out drinking during the week and still look great the next day if you're as flawless as Sutton Foster.)
It's true that the show still pokes fun at the frequently incompressible sensibilities of today's youth, but it's also a breezy and sometimes surprisingly daring romantic comedy featuring one of the best — if not the best — love triangles on TV. Buoyed by sparkling performances, especially from Foster — who is so delightful in everything she does it's impossible not to fall in love with her — Younger is a show doing a number of things very well, and with the third season premiering this week (Wednesday at 10/9c, TV Land) it's finally time to sit up and take notice.
Younger's foundation, for those unaware, is built upon the notion that Liza (Foster), a 40-year-old recently divorced mother with a 15-year gap on her resume, has to lie about her age and pretend to be 26-year-old recent college graduate in order to find a job in the publishing business. Her frustration is a very real and very familiar feeling for many, even for those who haven't been out of work for years, as companies move toward hiring younger, more technological savvy employees who don't require the same amount of training. The familiarity of the situation is ultimately what keeps the story grounded when it takes liberties or pokes fun at, say, Liza's ignorance of current popular culture, which is fairly often in the early going.
A great deal of the show's 20-minute running time each week is spent on Liza's professional life as an assistant to Miriam Shor's loud and ostentatious Diana Trout, the head of marketing at Empirical Press, where Liza also helps her new friend Kelsey (Hilary Duff) launch an imprint aimed at millennials. As Liza attempts to start over while dodging her old friends from New Jersey in order to protect her secret, her past keeps finding new ways to catch up and haunt her. The rest of the series focuses on Liza's flourishing love life and her friendships with both Kelsey and her longtime friend-turned-roommate Maggie (Debi Mazar).
Unfortunately, if the series has a real and frustrating flaw, it's that the constant threat of Liza's coworkers discovering the truth about who she really is eventually feels tired and worn. It's almost exclusively the series' only ongoing source of conflict and there are only so many times Liza can come close to being found out only for some fortuitous force to step in and save her before the tension is all but removed from the situation.
Fortunately for Younger, the series has already maneuvered itself out of this sort of dilemma before, when Liza first struggled with whether or not to tell her younger boyfriend, the 26-year-old tattoo artist Josh (Nico Tortorella), the truth about her real age. Once it was revealed, the truth didn't eliminate conflict from their relationship but rather allowed the series to explore in depth their issues and what their difference in age meant and will continue to mean. And fortunately for viewers, Liza's on-again, off-again relationship with Josh is one of the more enticing pillars of Younger, as it is also one half of the show's slow-burning love triangle.
With the younger, understanding Josh pushing her out of her comfort zone on one side and the age-appropriate Charles (Peter Hermann) — Liza's boss who shares her interests — on the other, Younger excels where most other shows fail: creating a true and balanced relationship dilemma.
Many love triangles in fiction feel obviously lopsided, with one "team" clearly overshadowing the other. The triangle that exists between Josh, Liza and Charles (which I have chosen to believe is the product of someone on the writing staff really loving Josh Charles and no one will convince me otherwise) features love interests of equal appeal and merit, and it's almost impossible to choose between them.
This is a feat rarely achieved on TV — even fans of The CW's telenovela Jane the Virgin, a show with an equally pleasurable love story, tend to prefer one man over the other — and although Liza's relationship struggles run the risk of eventually falling victim to the same redundancy problems that threaten the actual security of her work life, at this stage, that particular development has yet to overwhelm the rest of the series. That Liza's age — Charles thinks she's 26 — is the true impediment to a possible relationship adds just enough of a different spin to an otherwise common storytelling device while allowing the show to dig deep and challenge its central themes of chasing one's dreams, no matter the cost.
To be sure, Younger isn't groundbreaking television — and sooner rather than later it needs to pull the trigger on revealing Liza's age to her coworkers — but as the series has aged, it has also found its groove. It manages to consistently hit all the right notes, complete with interesting arcs for its supporting players, while also zipping along at just the right pace. For those of you like me, who may have initially written the show off the way so many people wrote Liza off, now is the time to rectify that mistake.
Younger's third season premieres Wednesday, Sept. 28 at 10/9c on TV Land.