Darren Star: 'Younger' Tackles Today's Youth Culture

The showrunner previews his new female-driven multi-generational comedy
TV Land

Sex and the City's Darren Star returns to cable television with another female-driven comedy set in New York. And, just like his experience with HBO, TV Land's Younger is going to help define what the Viacom-owned network does.

Younger comes at a time of reinvention for TV Land. The network will say farewell to Hot in Cleveland — its first-ever scripted series — when its current sixth season ends and, in its place, the cabler will dive head first into single-camera fare including Younger and its upcoming Jim Gaffigan comedy, among others.

TV Land has always been aimed at the 40-something demographic, but today's 40-somethings are not baby boomers; they are Generation X, or as former network president Larry W. Jones — who greenlit Younger — likes to call them, the "original MTV generation." That's where Star and Younger fit in. The comedy centers Liza (Sutton Foster), a 40-something who pretends to be in her late 20s in order to re-enter the workforce after a decade-plus hiatus spent raising her daughter.

"There is pressure, but it's also nice," Star tells The Hollywood Reporter of being part of the network's reinveniton. "When Sex and the City aired its first season, people didn't know about HBO as a place for original series. People weren't saying, 'Oh I've got to watch Sex and the City!' They found it later. In some ways, it helped change what people thought of HBO. And the way people watch television has changed so much over the last few years: people think of shows first; the shows are what define the networks they're on."

Younger, like Sex and the City, also boasts a strong female ensemble. Representing both generations alongside Foster are Hilary Duff, Debi Mazar, and Miriam Shor. Here, Star talks with THR about Younger's themes, characters and the balancing act Liza has to perform in the first season.

Foster has a lot on her plate here: portraying a woman who can physically pass for being significantly younger than she is as well as embodying the spirit of someone having grown up during a different time.

I don't know that we would have done this show without Sutton. I don't know that we could have. In the same way as Sarah Jessica Parker in Sex and the City, I don't want to think about the show without her. That was always the question going in: "Is there somebody we're going to believably cast?" I didn't want to cheat in too big a way; I didn't want to cast a woman who was 33 or 34, that would be too much cheat for the audience to play 26. But I think she is a stand in for women — at any age — who don't feel their age. It's not just how you look; it's how you feel.

Liza's professional world on Younger is publishing, but the commentary and what she has to do to get the job feels very meta for the way the entertainment industry values youth culture.

That concept is baked into the show, but I think it's more about what are those generational differences? I do think it's in every industry, not just entertainment, and I know a lot of women who have said they're going to take time off, and then when they want to go back into the workforce, no matter what your industry is, if you take 12 years off, no one's looking to rehire you. I think a lot of it is just perception. Anyone in their 20s is just going to have the facility and the ease and the grammar of the technology. If I'm hiring an assistant, yes please, I want to hire an assistant who's been raised with it, rather than having to learn it. And I think that generational difference between the skill set is being shown now. Now, people in their 20s are being valued higher, and I think that's really interesting. 

How caught up will Liza become in this new world? Experiencing the world of 20-somethings today is very different from 20 years ago, which was when Liza actually was a 20-something.

What I love and what's really fun to write about this show is how age is like a construct in your head and what you bring or project to people. It's how the idea of a number allows you to behave. That's something that people can relate to. Surely, I can relate to it! It's just a number, and part of what the show is about is blurring that distinction, but at the same time, there are real generational differences between women in their 20s and women in their 40s, and we tackle those head-on comedically.

The culture of the girls in their 20s is a big culture, and the show is all about how she's able to navigate it [even with] the culture clash. It's great to dip your toe back into — especially in this time that we're living in. But at the same time, there are also some things that are terrifying, and [Liza] is put in those positions, too.

Sometimes she does go too far, and she can sort of get confused about what's real and what's not real. I think she does get carried away by some of the craziness of being in your 20s, and we talked about it in the writers room of, "OK, she's doing this for a job [so] how far does she really have to go?" We do keep that in mind, but there are moments where she's actually having fun and letting herself have experiences that she never got to have when she was actually in her 20s. She had her daughter young [and] didn't really get to experience her 20s in this kind of way [so] this is her time to do it. It's where she is in her life.

Liza does have a daughter who could be dipping her toe in the same world. How much story comes from that kind of shared space?

It's not a mother/daughter show. I will tell you that the daughter does not play a big role in the first season. That's not where we're going, and that's just not what this is designed to be. This is designed to be much more about a woman in her 40s who is awakened by having to live in this 20-something world but still has to hold onto her identity at the same time.

Liza was in the publishing world years ago, and now she has re-entered with her same name but a new date of birth. It's a small industry with a lot of potential for her to run into people she knew from back in the day. How long can she keep her secret?

We have to live in the reality that she would run into people from her past, and it's another conflict. The edge of every episode is not trying to keep her secret. It definitely comes into play, but it's not what drives the series. It's also not really a workplace show, though we do spend about half the time with her there.

What is the balance like in each episode between stories of Liza at work versus with her new friends versus with her longtime friend Maggie (Mazar)?

The blessing and the curse of the 22-minute episode with so many great actresses and characters, you want to take so many different directions, but you have to focus on your lead in a big way. I would say you see a lot of Hilary Duff's character and her world, and her friends as well. We have a terrific actress named Molly Bernard who is relatively unknown playing Hilary's best friend. She pops up in the pilot, and she's in the first season a lot; she is kind of an unofficial series regular. Maggie is there to be her anchor in terms of back to adulthood and reality. She is the keeper of her secret and someone who has known her the longest. She's a force Liza can lean on.

In the pilot, Liza meets Josh (Nico Tortorella), who seems to be the only real male perspective in the show. What does that relationship add to the show?

A lot of the emotion [of the show] comes from the connection [Josh and Liza] make. It becomes increasingly more of a dilemma, also just being in a relationship built on a lie. Certainly, that's an issue for her. And [Josh] is immature in some ways and surprisingly emotionally mature in other ways. Their relationship actually grows into something very real. Nico is a find; he is so good! We exploit him to death!

The television industry has changed a lot recently, and every generation — every demographic — watches differently these days. How do you want Younger to be viewed?

It's definitely got a serialized aspect, and we are conscious of staying one step ahead of the audience when it comes to storytelling. I kind of feel like this show is the perfect show to be binge-watched. It's certainly designed that you want to watch them one after another, hopefully in an addictive way.

Younger premieres March 31 at 10 p.m. on TV Land. Will you watch?

Twitter @danielletbd

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