“Younger” is finally beginning to show its age and is better off for it. In the series’ fifth season, the careful world constructed on one major lie is shaken, which forces the story to mature in new ways. Frankly, it’s about damn time.
For the previous four seasons, TV Land viewers watched as 40-something divorcee Liza (Sutton Foster) stuck it to our ageist society by posing as a Millennial in order to get hired at the esteemed publishing house Empirical. This premise proved entertaining for the first few seasons, but as the show wore on, it began to feel ridiculous. As fit, luminous, and well-preserved as the Tony winner looks, Foster’s ability to pass as a 26-year-old was beginning to stretch viewers’ suspension of disbelief. Over time, the only way it made sense for Liza to maintain her secret was with the help of friends who were in on the deception.
Season 5 pushes the show to confront the inevitable passage of time by shifting the show’s tone and storytelling into a more mature phase. The episodic “silly book parody of the week” structure was cheeky and fun, but ultimately kept the show stagnant. That formula was dropped halfway through last season to make way for more character-based storytelling, and this year the trend continues.
The show’s fake George R.R. Martin character Edward L.L. Moore (Richard Masur) returns to wreak havoc at Empirical. He may look like the “Game of Thrones” author — complete with bespectacled visage and jaunty hat — but he’s far, far lustier. Previously, he’d been revealed to be the writer of some steamy erotica under a nom de plume, and he’d also made some lewd remarks to Liza when she dressed in a fur bikini to portray his “Crown of Kings” character Princess Pam Pam. As the “Younger” writers’ room began to ramp up for the fifth season, the #MeToo movement was in full swing and could not be ignored. Edward L.L. Moore would have to face up to his creepy dirty old man behavior.
Zach Dilgard/TV Land
While the reckoning plays out in the season premiere, the importance of its message becomes muddled and the machinations are clunky in the rush to propel the story forward. The show’s usual wit is sacrificed, and when the dialogue resorts to a literal poop joke — that is neither funny nor clever — it appears that “Younger” may have lost its way. Fortunately, that’s temporary. As rough as this first episode is, it’s an instrument of change for the rest of the season.
Power through that beginning, and in the next two episodes, “Younger” feels rejuvenated with a brand-new dynamic and a restored sense of humor. The tension eases, the double entendres fly, and Molly Bernard and Miriam Shor not only steal every scene, but their characters create an instant new ‘ship when they meet for the first time.
Armed with the knowledge that the show has been renewed for a sixth season that was announced Monday, viewers can watch knowing that early hints of shifts in Liza’s love life have time to develop. To say more would be giving away spoilers, but just a reminder that the show had set up a half-hearted love triangle for Liza between the youthful ex-boyfriend Josh (Nico Tortorella) and the more age-appropriate but work-inappropriate Empirical boss Charles (Peter Hermann). Season 5 picks up with each of the men unavailable after Josh got married in Ireland and Charles began to reconcile with his estranged wife.
The freshest storyline comes in the form of Hilary Duff’s character Kelsey, who’s torn between fellow publicist and ex Zane (Charles Michael Davis) and former White House speechwriter Jake Deveraux (“The Magicians” star Jason Ralph), a thinly veiled version of the real-life speechwriter Jon Favreau. While love triangles aren’t anything new, the new chemistry and dynamics add much-needed vitality to the veteran comedy.
“Younger” has always delighted in pointing out the absurd in our society — the judgment that is laid upon women’s looks and abilities, the definitions of who or what is appropriate in relationships, and how people market the stories they tell about themselves. As the show (and Liza) grows older, it’s comforting to see it shake off inertia but still be able to offer insight in a loving, laughable way. Judging by the first three episodes this year, “Younger” shows promise in being able to adapt and grow, no matter what its age.
”Younger” Season 5 premieres on Tuesday, June 5 at 10 p.m. ET on TV Land.