Stay Tuned: Learning to act your age on ‘Younger’
Based on the novel of the same name by Pamela Redmond Satran, “Younger” is the story of Liza, a 40-year-old mother who pretends to be 26 in order to get a job. Thanks to a solid performance by Sutton Foster as Liza, it’s an entertaining commentary on age and the politics of the workplace.
Liza was a rising star in publishing when she quit in order to raise her daughter. Now 40 and newly single, she decides to rejoin the industry but discovers in job interviews that her experience means nothing to prospective employers who are more interested in candidates in their 20s. When an innocent flirtation at a bar suggests that she can pass for younger, she decides to reinvent herself as a 26-year-old. A makeover by best friend Maggie (Debi Mazar) helps her land a job as the assistant to a notoriously tough editor named Diana (Miriam Shor). At work, she quickly makes friends with her colleague Kelsey (Hilary Duff), a “fellow” 20-something.
The show’s premise only works if you believe that Liza looks 26. I don’t think Foster entirely pulls it off, but she is a likeable actor, so I’m willing to suspend some disbelief. If you saw her work on the show “Bunheads,” you will appreciate, as I do, that she brings the same ease and charm to her performance here.
Naturally, much of “Younger’s” humor focuses on age-related misunderstandings. Part of Liza’s education is realizing how out of touch she is with women in their 20s. She has to figure out social media for example, but her discoveries also get a little more intimate. In one funny scene, Kelsey and a friend are horrified at Liza’s outdated personal grooming habits, something they discover while sharing a changing room with her while shopping.
Liza also has to navigate an office environment that is not as supportive as she remembers it. Kelsey makes unflattering comments about Diana’s age behind her back while Diana herself is quick tempered and happy to take credit for Liza’s ideas. So far, the character of Diana is one dimensional. It remains to be seen how long she’ll stay a cliché.
“Younger” is about starting over, but it’s also a unique take on a do-over. Liza can’t relive her 20s, but how others interact with her as a 26-year-old means that she can experience life differently. There’s a lot of room here to explore the freedoms and the restrictions that society assigns to specific age groups. The story points out that as a 26-year-old, Liza has career possibilities and the opportunity to date a 20s-something man without being judged for it, two things closed to her 40-year-old self. It’s not a deeply layered look at the cultural norms regarding age, but it’s a start. What is perhaps more interesting is Liza’s learning curve — not the one where she has to figure out Twitter and her bikini wax choices — but the one where she discovers what it really means to act your age.
“Younger” is on Tuesdays at 10 p.m. EDT on TV Land.
Melissa Crawley is the author of “Mr. Sorkin Goes to Washington: Shaping the President on Television’s ‘The West Wing.’” She has a Ph.D. in media studies and is a member of the Television Critics Association. To comment on Stay Tuned, email her at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter at @MelissaCrawley.