Younger and suspension of disbelief

I really wanted to like Younger. I can’t resist the if-I-knew-then-what-I-know-now fantasy (see Being Erica). Also Sutton Foster. Sutton Foster is fabulous and adorable as a theatre actress, but her talent hasn’t translated too well to the tube. If Bunheads couldn’t figure out how to make the most of this shining star when she was playing a dancer… which she is… this one needed to work extra hard.

LizaandKelseyat work1.jpg

Younger follows the misadventures of a woman in her 40s posing as a woman in her 20s to facilitate her transition back to the workforce following stay-at-home-mom life and a painful divorce.

There’s nothing wrong with a premise that stretches belief. My opinion on asking your audience to take a leap with you in your pilot, when you’re simultaneously introducing new characters who they haven’t yet gotten to know, is this… Ask them to really suspend their disbelief — like with nanotube-reinforced spider silk — by having time travel or superpowers or whatnot. If that’s not your thing, just come up with a completely plausible premise and then ask us to forgive minor “yeah, right” moments once we’re invested (ala every police procedural ever). I mean, it’s television, so we’re not expecting everything to add up all the time, but we have to agree to take the leap. Ya know?

We meet Younger‘s protagonist, Liza, during what is probably the most unprofessional, if not illegal, job interview I’ve ever heard of. The two perky publishing company employees ask completely obnoxious questions and flat out tell Liza she’s too old. As someone closer to Liza’s age, I’m just as offended on behalf of the show’s assumption that all Millenial women are shallow and horrible.

Blah, blah, blah, Liza’s prospects look grow ever dim until her BFF in the city helps Liza undergo a makeover and buy new clothes. And, viola, she’s 24. Sutton Foster is gorgeous, but being gorgeous and looking twenty years younger than your age are not the same, nor should we want them to be. I presume some lesson will be forthcoming about just being yourself and embracing your age, but Cougar Town did it better…eventually.

The next job interview, post-makeover, isn’t any better. The new prospective boss grills Liza about what she’s being doing with her life. The scene, fortunately, gives Foster a chance to display her take-no-shit banter skills. But how  many renditions of the devil-lady boss can the universe contain? Supergirl at least remixes the trope a little, but Younger‘s version is just gratingly derivative.

More egregious is the way the show takes back-stabbing envy among women for granted. “She sees girls like us come in here with our fresh ovaries and our faces plump with elasticity and she wants to destroy us,” says Hillary Duff’s fresh-faced character. It’s like a study in how unprofessional and rude people can be.

Most of the humor, naturally, stems from Liza’s inability to connect with the younger generation’s ways, which in itself makes little sense. Has she been raising a family or living underground? She’s more clueless than Kimmy Schmidt. She doesn’t know Bombay is now Mumbai or how to tweet? She’s never heard of krav maga and thinks it’s okay to insult someone’s tattoos right to their face? These are not things you need a 9-to-5 job to be aware of. Hear that? That’s the sound of disbelief crashing like the chandelier in Phantom of the Opera. (See, that dated reference lets you know I’m Gen X.)

Liza has a daughter around the same age she’s pretending to be, and they’re presumably close, so one would expect Liza to have picked up a clue or two. It seems the show’s writers want us to feel that being in one’s 40s is practically geriatric. Okay, it’s a little funny that she changes her e-mail address from AOL to Gmail, but even that makes it seem like she’s closer to 60 than 40.

The Millenials don’t come off much better. A younger woman in the locker room wants to photograph Liza’s “bush” to put on Instagram, because it’s so heartstoppingly gross. And what person in her 20s says things like, “We’re only in our 20s once”? The line provides the perfect set-up for a hilariously droll Foster reaction… but it’s such a bad line.

As you can guess, I don’t exactly recommend the show, and I stuck through three episodes just to be sure. Like I said, I really wanted to like it. In this case, the pilot is a great indication of what you’re in for.

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