“Younger”, But Wiser…

“Am I willing to lose my dignity, wisdom and self respect for another chance at my twenties?” Liza Miller (played by Broadway star Sutton Foster) a 40-year-old divorced New Jersey housewife and mother to an 18-year-old daughter, asks her best friend Maggie (Debi Mazar of “Entourage”) on the first episode of TV Land’s “Younger.” “Yes” says Maggie, who is already planning her friend’s makeover. “Yes, you are.”

Debi Mazar (Maggie) Gives Sutton Foster (Liza) a Younger look

The premise is that in order to jump start/reignite a career in book publishing begun 15 years earlier and abandoned for stay at home motherhood, Liza turns back the clock to her 26th year and a double life, apparently fooling a boss, co-worker and boy toy in the process. I vaguely remember hearing of this Darren Star (“Sex and The City”) produced show in its debut last spring yet didn’t view it/become addicted until I happened to catch a recent marathon; binge watching half of the 30 minute 12-episode series on TV while mainlining the last six commercial-free online (a much preferable experience).

Liza (Sutton Foster) in Younger

The second season will premiere January 13 with an hour-long episode so there’s still time to catch up on the first. I realized the irony in that, one of my other favorite series “Jane By Design” which ran on ABC Family in 2012 for only one season (I was crushed when it was not renewed) actually featured the converse of this plot: a teenage girl in high school pretending that she was in her twenties in order to land a job in a fashion design house. “Jane By Design” had several parallels to the “Younger” story line including one person (a male friend from childhood) who was in on the age deception from the start and covered for Jane just as Maggie does for Liza.

Hilary Duff (Kelsey), Sutton Foster (Liza), Debi Mazar (Maggie)

“Younger” which is based on the 2005 book by Pamela Redmond Satran, is not “The Carrie Diaries” ie a younger version of “Sex and the City.” Instead it is a fun and entertaining romp through the NYC that includes Brooklyn with its hipsters vs. the “old timers” such as Maggie, who bought her art studio/loft apartment when rents were cheaper than in Manhattan. After Liza’s gambling and cheating husband (the irony is that he leaves her for a younger woman) over-mortgages the NJ house, Liza is forced to sell. She moves in with lesbian artist Maggie (a “friend who is a girl”) and also her partner in crime/ keeper of the age deception secret/lie.

Kelsey (Duff) and Liza (Sutton) at the Office

Other cast members include Kelsey Peters (Hilary Duff) as Liza’s millennial co-worker, Diana “Trout Pout” Trout (Miriam Shor) as Liza’s head of publicity boss, and Liza’s young love interest Josh (Nico Tortorella).  The ensemble work well together although one must suspend disbelief to think that book smart, Dartmouth educated Liza would have much in common with unschooled tattoo artist Josh than an obvious physical attraction (incidentally the word “cougar” was unbelievably never uttered in the whole first season).

What IS said makes for some pretty funny observations between Gen X and Millennial experiences in everything from personal grooming (or lack thereof) of the bikini area, to new food (Korean Bibimbap from a truck), workouts (Crossfit , Krav Maga), email providers (bye to AOL, hello to Gmail), to text-speak (K instead of OK). Naturally a large part of Liza’s job revolves around being social media savvy. Upon learning that she is expected to Tweet as a modern day Jane Austen, Liza asks Bing “how do I open a Twitter account?) Somehow, only guest star Jane Krakowski (30 Rock) seems to realize that Liza is a pretender to the under 30 throne and quietly warns her that her hands are a “dead giveaway.” Actually, the hand thing is a recurrent joke.

Patricia Field on set of Younger

Costume Designer Patricia Field (also of SATC fame) is responsible for Liza’s wardrobe transformation from suburban housewife to publishing assistant. Apparently upon hearing that she was being given this task, she thought “I’m not a magician.” Luckily when she met Foster she said it wasn’t hard to make her believable as a 20 something through wardrobe. Field, who just announced that she’s closing her Bowery store, an institution for underground types for 50 years, citing health concerns and a desire to pursue other opportunities, is not known for her costuming subtlety. Here she tends to overdo the Brooklyn hipster look for this part IMO.

Hilary Duff with Pat Field

The thinking behind Liza’s wardrobe, according to Pat Field, is that, if Liza were a real person, she would be borrowing items from her daughter’s closet as well as shopping in thrift stores as she doesn’t have a lot of money to spend on clothing. In the show she tends to wear a lot of “non-outfits” mixing patterns and prints with loose pullover sweaters, plaid shirts tied around her waist, army boots and berets (perhaps as a nod to a hipster version of Mary Tyler Moore). The effect ends up looking a bit disheveled in a collegiate, Free People, Boho, “I just picked this up off the floor” way which I find slightly disturbing. I keep waiting for “Trout Pout” to tell Liza to clean up her act in every episode.

One Noteable Exception to Liza’s  Inexpensive Wardrobe
The Sold Out Burberry Cape

By contrast, Junior Editor Kelsey (also 26) looks much more professional, toned-down and put together. She wears age appropriate yet fashionable work clothes including blazers and short skirts along with natural looking makeup as opposed to Liza whose makeup seems wrong — noticeably blue or green eye shadow and bright pink lipstick is more befitting a real housewife. What’s missing is some of the drama shown in “Jane By Design” as Jane was always rushing around having to change her “look” between school and work whereas that has rarely happened with Liza (other than a quick change of letting her hair down or removing a jacket) in” Younger.”

Perhaps the character with the most aggressive wardrobe is boss Diana who buys herself a Judith Lieber bag in one episode and poses with it for an online dating service profile photo to an inauspicious outcome. Her “Devil Wears Prada-type” character is always in an eye-catching print or embellished dress accessorized by an over-the-top costume-y statement necklace which makes her a bit of a caricature of a book or fashion editor. When Kelsey declares that its pathetic that Diana who is 43 lies about her age claiming that she’s 41, Liza recovers quickly agreeing that it is “Totes pathetic. #PATHETIC!” demonstrating that she is down with the lingo.

The entire concept of ageism is played nicely by the ensemble cast with Liza occasionally “mothering” the Millennials, making a too-old reference, and identifying with her generational boss. Some critics have complained that 40 year olds are not really that clueless and naive of popular culture today (Liza doesn’t know who Lena Dunham is; asks if IRL is in Queens) especially since she has a teenage daughter (albeit one studying in India) but I would say that many of these foibles are exaggerated for a laugh.

Naturally, there is an age appropriate love interest for Liza, an executive who lurks in the publishing house wings; a story line that I’m willing to bet will become more important in Season Two, creating more controversy since Liza’s divorced boss “Trout Pout” is avidly pursuing (read: throwing herself) at him.

To watch full episodes of Season 1:  http://www.tvland.com/shows/younger/watch-younger-now

– Laurel Marcus

Laurel Marcus

OG journo major who thought Strunk & White's "The Elements of Style" was a fashion guide. Desktop comedienne -- the world of fashion gives me no shortage of material.

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