Yes and no. I like the basic existence of a show whose premise is, “How is it that the older and more experienced you are, the less desirable you become?” This is the lament of Foster’s 40-year-old character, Liza, back in the workforce after taking more than a decade off to raise her daughter. A newly single empty-nester, she passes herself off as 26 to re-start a career in publishing — as assistant to a Miranda Priestly-ish boss, Diana Trout (Miriam Shor, of “Hedwig and the Angry Inch!”). As Foster put it in a recent interview, “It’s like ‘Tootsie,’ but with age.”
Adding to the credentials of “Younger” — based on the book by Pamela Redmond Satran — is Debi Mazar, one of my favorite actors who doesn’t work enough. (As I recall, she told me in an interview once that she liked not working so much, as she has two kids, but I can’t quote myself on that.) Here she plays — as she does so often — the sidekick with personality. As Liza’s lesbian best friend, Mazar’s Maggie helps her achieve a full Forever 21 look (short skirts, bare legs, highlights) for the new job.
The cast is rounded out by Hilary Duff as Liza’s millennial, supposedly same-aged co-worker Kelsey, who’s really, really into being in her twenties. “Enjoy it! Before you know it,” she tells Liza with horror, “you’re going to be in your forties, living in the house in the suburbs with a husband who watches TV all night while you’re in the bathtub, spritzing your shower hose on your special place!”
Important to note: this is a show from Darren Star, creator of “Sex and the City.” And much like “SATC,” I feel like “Younger” has a real love-hate relationship with its female characters. It makes some good points about the business of aging in a culture obsessed with youth, newness, and constantly updated technology. (I sympathize, being unable to bring myself to understand Snapchat).
In fact, “Younger” sometimes closely echoes the laments of Carrie Bradshaw, who often found herself trying to pass for younger than her years in a culture that fetishized youth. (Little surprise, then, that the costume designer is none other than Patricia Field, who gave Sarah Jessica Parker so many of her iconic looks.)
The wisdom that comes with not being in your twenties — and the idea that it is something to be celebrated — is front and center in the developing friendship between Liza and Kelsey. When Liza observes Kelsey being treated shabbily by her banker boyfriend, she encourages the younger woman to stand up for herself and initially gets shot down in return. “I like doing things for my man,” Kelsey snaps. “Lighten up, Judge Judy.” (Ooh, burn!) But you can see the cracks in the relationship developing from there, as Kelsey starts to put her career first and her horny boyfriend second.
The show also skewers the dating double standard in New York. Liza goes on a blind date with a recently divorced man, who ends the evening by telling her, “If I wanted to be with a 40-year-old woman, I would have stayed married.”
A scene in a locker room, in which Kelsey and her friend cringe in horror at Liza’s non-Brazilianed pubes, felt like a literal re-run of something I’d seen in “SATC,” but no matter — pubes are a perennial humor source, and Liza’s take on the state of hers is pretty funny: “I call this the Wisconsin.”
But the dialogue in “Younger” can stray into lazy stereotypes and, occasionally, just head-scratching randomness, as demonstrated by Diana’s rant about how critics are no longer instrumental in marketing books: “The only way a good review by Michiko Kakutani could sell books is if her twerking ass caught fire!” That’s not good dialogue, Star — that’s just stringing together some catchy words.
I felt similarly creeped out by Liza’s reaction to a 26-year-old hottie (Nico Tortorella) grabbing her iPhone to enter his info. “I think he raped my phone,” she says to Mazar’s character. Um, no.
More broadly, the show has, in its first episodes, a lot of fun at the expense of Liza’s boss, a humorless single woman in a position of power who, at 43, is considered completely pathetic by her underlings. I assume there’s a moment of cross-generational understanding coming up eventually, but it’s hard not to cringe as Shor digs into making Diana Trout a caricature of a hard-driving female boss.
“Younger” is not a heavy lift. But if it can illuminate the stupidity of our culture’s distaste for aging, that’s a worthy goal. If it can do it with as much dignity and humor as “Tootsie” did with gender, that’s — well, that’s impossible. But I’m — mostly, anyway — enjoying watching Sutton Foster try.