Film & TV

What ‘Younger’ teaches us about thinking young

If you’re ever looking for a more adult, less neon alternative to The Carrie Diaries — because you’re not a twenty-something Carrie trying to find her voice in New York, but a more mature, accomplished, battle-scarred woman trying to make it through this thing called Life — it might be worth bingeing on episodes of TV Land’s Younger.

A comedy-drama based on a book by Pamela Redmond Satran and adapted for television by Sex and the City creator Darren Star, Younger is pretty much what you’d expect it to be after reading its IMDB page: light, witty and entertaining, but not exactly something you’d end up being obsessed with. In fact, you might find yourself walking around your kitchen, pouring yourself a a glass of wine, while 40-year-old Liza Miller (Sutton Foster) and her twenty-something BFF Kelsey Peters (Hilary Duff), try to conquer the publishing world — in the background.

In Younger, Liza Miller, divorced and mom to 18-year-old Caitlyn, is mistaken for a 26-year-old at a bar by a tattoo artist named Josh. Liza, who’s been struggling to find a job in publishing, her first and true love, after being on a self-imposed hiatus, takes this as a cue and pretends she’s actually 26 to get a job at Empirical. There, she becomes assistant to Diana Trout, the obligatory publishing figurehead who characteristically resembles every editor you’ve ever met: hardass, badass, glamorous from head to toe, unintentionally funny, and with a heart of gold.

She befriends Kelsey Peters, an actual millennial sans the entitlement, and Kelsey’s Jewish, exhibitionist, PR maven best friend Lauren Heller. She also dates the aforementioned Josh as her 26-year-old self. The only person who knows about her secret is Maggie, a 40-something lesbian artist who is also her roommate and closest friend.

If you’re thinking, “Oh, so it’s like Never Been Kissed,” think again. This is not a coming of age (so to speak) story. Liza is not looking to make up for lost time, nor is she on a quest to find herself again — these things, she merely inevitably stumbles upon along the way. She actually really needs the job to send her daughter to school and pay for messy divorce and its consequences. Younger jumps off rather bravely from the premise that in real life, women can’t have it all — she would have to not stop working, ever, to come remotely close to the glass ceiling, which she will never break (Diana Trout herself, has a boss who calls the shots, but doesn’t seem to do anything really, as nice as he is).

From there, the show juxtaposes Liza’s struggles at work versus Kelsey’s. Given that, in everyone’s eyes, they are about the same age, Liza is forced to assimilate the millennial psyche and do as they do. While she navigates the world of hashtags and viral marketing, she also gingerly treads present- day dating — she knew it would be tough, but of course it proved tougher, being that she isn’t actually 26.

In typical Darren Star fashion, the love story angles are particularly funny and dysfunctional, to say the least. It explores the concept of the “40-year-old shoulder” and “whiskey dick” in the most insightful way it can. An added bonus: you’d get the same warm and fuzzy feeling we all got from its portrayal of female friendships, something Star was successful with in SATC. There’s little-to-no scheming (save for Liza’s “little” scam), therefore watching the show is unlikely to induce anxiety or paranoia in the overactive female imagination.

Liza’s likability as a female lead is debatable. First of all, she lies the entire time, but not all lies are borne of bad intentions or without complicated backstories. Her story, like many of ours, is messy — which makes her the perfect anti-hero that you’d want to knock some sense into and root for at the same time (oftentimes for her questionable interpretations of what a millennial would wear).

Dating, friendships and office drama are central themes that Younger explores to uncover the real issue, its core message: the scarcity of real opportunities for women. Of any age.

A 40-year-old who took time off to raise a family would find a hard time getting back on her feet because if she sets her sights high, she would be deemed antiquated. A dinosaur. But if she sets her sights too low, she’s overqualified. A 26-year-old who gets promoted would be taken down online by bashers who would assume she’s either sleeping with someone, coasting on her good looks, or simply “overrated.” A female at-the-top would find it difficult to find a suitable life partner because she is overbearing, bossy, or too old. If a 40-something dates a 20-something, the guy is dismissed by society as her “boy toy.” She is a cougar, in the most derogatory sense — God forbid she also looks like one! Then the relationship is really doomed.

The show makes a statement about how far we’ve yet to go in terms of understanding what women actually want, need and deserve in season two, when a male feminist author goes out with Diana Trout. The well-intentioned writer is the kind who wears fake boobs to know what breastfeeding feels like, and makes completely unnecessary revelations like “I am objectifying you right now and I am sorry.” When Diana suggests that they go back to her apartment after a few drinks, the man puts her in a taxi and sends her home because he refuses to take advantage of an intoxicated woman. That one scene captures the counterintuitive, textbook understanding of feminism that bogs us down and keeps men and women from truly being equals.

The show’s token millennial, Kelsey, is not spared. When she scores her first book, she is seduced by its married Swedish author who also refuses to end the relationship and says so by cutting his hand. Gotta admire Kelsey. Gotta love Hilary Duff. She is the middle-ground that Younger uses to relate to all audiences, a representation of a misunderstood generation, particularly the younger woman, who, while not always above straying from the path of moral uprightness, is genuinely struggling to make it — like everybody else.

Younger makes a powerful statement right off the bat in season one, when Liza gets her assistant job by saying, “I am a grown-up. I don’t think I’m special.” The statement pretty much covers how we see millennials — entitled, privileged, borderline delusional — and, at the same time, points to the exact thing that wrongly evaporates from our lives as we get older. We realize with age that we are all ducks trapped in the same pond, then we die. Liza Miller, however twisted her methods, realizes as she goes through life as a 26-year-old that there’s more than one way to live, even for a duck. You can act old and be old, or you can be your age and still live younger.

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Watch seasons one and two of “Younger” on iFlix. Find the author on Instagram at @chonxtibajia.

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