'Younger' Boss on What That Finale Cliffhanger Means for Season 5

Darren Star breaks down the "turning point" wedding episode and says he doesn't plan on ending the TV Land series anytime soon.
Courtesy of TV Land (Still); Noam Galai/WireImage/Getty Images (Star)
Charles (Peter Hermann) and Liza (Sutton Foster) in 'Younger'; Inset: Darren Star

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from the season four finale of TV Land's Younger, "Irish Goodbye."]

Younger traveled to Ireland for a supersized finale, capping off its fourth season with a green-card wedding, a cliffhanger of a phone call and some blackmailing on the side.

After what seemed to be a genuine plea from Josh (Nico Tortorella), Liza (Sutton Foster) flew to Tinahely to be the best woman at her ex-boyfriend's wedding. Turns out, Josh and his Irish fiancee Claire (Phoebe Dynevor) need Liza to validate their marriage, both to Claire's excited family and eventually to the United States federal government when Claire returns to the States, new husband in tow. The lovebirds push Liza to lie, passive aggressively threatening her with the reminder of her own age lie if she disagrees.

Begrudgingly, Liza goes along with the plan. But a drunken visit from Josh the night before the wedding, in which he confesses he is still in love with her, nearly derails the big day. The next morning, however, Josh is dressed in his wedding best and tells Liza he needs to put a ring between them. While Liza watches Josh make his vows official, her nearby phone buzzes with an incoming call from Charles (Peter Hermann).

Earlier in the episode, Charles was tricked into announcing on live television that he and ex-wife Pauline (Jennifer Westfeldt) were reconciling. The phone call to Liza, however, proves he is second-guessing. What was Charles calling to say and, more importantly, will it signify the end of a seasonlong push-and-pull between Liza and Charles?

"The Liza and Charles story will be front and center in season five, no question," Younger creator Darren Star confirms to The Hollywood Reporter. Though the love triangle between Liza, Josh and Charles has long been stewing, the simmering tension between Liza and Charles has, as Star says, now boiled over. "There is a lot of story to tell there. As writers, we’re invested in Liza and Charles’ story but at the same time, it’s not an open and honest relationship yet. There’s a lot at stake for Liza being truthful with Charles."

Below, Star explains how the events of the season finale — particularly, Josh being a married man and Charles, still in the dark about her real age, reaching out to Liza — will drive the upcoming fifth season. The show was renewed before the fourth season launched and, in part spurred by a season of stellar ratings, Star says he has no plans to wrap up the series in the near future. Still, Star assures Team Charles fans that Liza's boss will finally get his moment next season — but it's likely going to come with a price: "The question for season five is, how do they feel about each other when all their cards are on the table?"

At the beginning of this season we spoke about how the show is relevant by exploring truth. In what ways is how this season ends for Liza a result of her not confronting her own truth?

In two ways. Josh and Claire put Liza in a compromised position. She doesn’t have a strong stance against lying for them. Her own lie encourages Josh’s lie with Claire, so she set a bad example. Certainly, with Charles, his wife coming in and Liza feeling like she hasn’t been open with Charles all this time, she’s not going to stand in the way of Charles possibly reconciling with his wife. The wife's situation, about a woman who felt a little bit limited in her marriage and wants a second chance, is something Liza can relate to herself. Because she hasn’t been completely truthful with Charles all this time, she’s put in this tough position in terms of stepping up to the plate.

You also spoke about how Liza creates "alternative facts" in her life to keep up her lie. Now, Charles is lying to sell a book and Josh is OK with lying on a federal level just to move on from Liza. Was the lying theme a result of the current climate?

It felt like a natural development in terms of the stories we’re telling. The show is so much about how one small lie can take on greater ramifications. As time goes on, the longer it goes, the harder it is to get out of, the bigger the stakes are and the more damage that can be there.

How much of a hurdle will Pauline's return continue to be for Liza and Charles — is she really going to let him break up his family and pick her?

At some point, everyone’s cards have to be on the table and I think that creates a different reality for everybody. Ultimately, Charles is going to make decisions about what he wants to do and how he feels. I do feel like Liza comes back to why she told this lie — to get back to work and become relevant — and in fact, she’s become successful doing what she loves and I think that’s really been meaningful to her. The threat of it all coming crashing down becomes greater as well. The higher she rises, the farther she has to fall. I think she’s keeping in mind how important the work piece is to her. She didn’t go into this trying to meet men. She went into it to focus on her career.

In the previous episode with Charles on the rooftop, was Liza surprising herself when she told him: Yes, I am also doing this book with your ex-wife for me, because I’m good at it?

Yes, that’s part of it. She also said that to be a little brutally honest to Charles, to push him away a little bit. That’s the one part of her that could really be honest with him. As unethical as she’s been about the lie, I think she’d feel worse if she were to come between somebody and his wife trying to reconcile with him and their family. When in fact, he doesn’t know the truth about who Liza is. She thinks that would be one step too far.

Charles quickly went from telling Liza this wouldn’t come between them to letting Pauline move back in. Is he just trying to do the right thing?

I think he’s somebody who is opening the door a little to Pauline. By the last episode, I think that after being rebuffed by Liza he wanted Pauline to have a relationship with the children. I’m not sure that after what happened by the end of the finale how strongly he feels about them getting back together.

Is that what Charles was going to say, if Liza had picked up the phone? 

He definitely wants to talk to Liza and is thinking of her. She left him. By the end of the season, Liza is what’s on his mind.

All he was told was that Liza was chasing Josh around Ireland — not that Josh was getting married. Is this his grand gesture to show he doesn't want to lose her? 

I think, yeah. There’s a lot to explore next season. Definitely the pot is at a full boil between Josh, Liza and Charles. When Liza comes back to New York, we’re going to be certainly exploring that relationship and where that goes. Because I definitely feel like Charles is not giving up on the idea of Liza.

Will you do a time jump, or will we find out what Charles was calling to say?

I feel like a time jump would be, first of all, cheating myself. This is a story that wants to be told in real time, so we won’t be jumping ahead of the story. The seasons are pretty much consecutive. There are not big jumps in time from season to season. Time-wise, they are very consecutive.

Will Jennifer Westfeldt be back as Pauline next season?

I think she has to be, absolutely. She’s recurring. We’ve been thinking about the idea of Charles’ wife coming back for a long time. She mirrors Liza in a sense, in that she felt frustrated in her marriage and didn’t have the career she wanted. She did something drastic to express herself in the same way that Liza did something drastic to express herself: Liza lied about her age to get a job and to be relevant and this is a woman who left her family for almost a year to get her head together and write a book and come back. Liza can relate to this woman and her struggle in what she’s gone through. In some ways, she’s not going to be the person who stands in Pauline’s way.

Some fans have been impatient with the back and forth between Charles and Liza. Do you monitor the response as the season airs and do you take that into consideration when plotting next season?

I look at it sometimes, but honestly, I try to keep a focus on looking at the show from the characters’ point of views, not the audience’s point of view. I really do keep in mind the idea that this is a woman who first of all feels guilty about the fact that she is lying. She is a woman who has a lot of integrity except for this small little lie. She’s gotten emotionally involved with people and she certainly has Charles’ emotions on the line and knows that is a little bit unfair, because he doesn’t know the whole truth about her and maybe the relationship is somewhat of a fantasy. Ultimately, I think she thinks about why she did this to begin with, which was to restart her career and have a career, which is starting to flourish. For the character, it’s not always about Team Josh or Team Charles — it’s about Team Liza.

Is that why she seemed so willing to give it another try with Josh when he came crawling back, because he knows the truth? Or is she really in love with two men at this point?

I think she has an attraction to Josh, but I think she ultimately loves him and wants to do what she thinks is best for him. I don’t think she feels like she’s the best person for him to spend the rest of his life with. I do feel like she feels that age difference is too significant in terms of the fact that she doesn’t want to have kids again and all that. She can have a bigger sense of the future than he can and is just wiser about that. He’s emotional and impetuous and young.

You’ve been hesitant to close the door on Josh and Liza. Does Josh saying he needed to put a ring between them officially shut the door?

I think it is certainly a drastic move on his part. Josh is a character who takes big emotional leaps. And he’s young. He’s 26 or 27 and emotionally he’s a young 26 or 27. He married Claire so she could get her green card and they could see what their life could be and if there is something there to really explore. So, we’ll see. I think Liza’s protective of Josh. That’s something that’s always going to be there. She’s always going to be looking out for him.

Is she going to actually take a step back and let Josh give it a shot with Claire?

She doesn’t have a choice, but at the same time she’s going to be the person that they need to validate their marriage. They’re going to need Liza’s support.

Ahead of this season, we spoke about how Liza's big age secret is no longer at the center of this show. Once Liza and Kelsey (Hilary Duff) made up, her secret really was on the back burner, apart from this finale blackmail. Was that your intention, to move beyond it and have Charles be the last remaining element? 

I do plan to move beyond it, but it is the one obstacle with Charles and Liza in that he doesn’t know about her age. We’re going to get to that in season five. I guess the question is, at what point is her job at stake? If she’s found out to be lying all this time. Forgetting even what her relationships are going to be like — if there is even a relationship with Charles after that — what is at stake for her career?

Does that mean you will finally give Charles and Liza their chance?

I feel like the pot is going to boil and you can’t put the lid back on the pot at this point. I don’t think the intentions have been to tease the audience, but instead to really say. "Look, this is a guy who has had a wife out there." There’s issues of abandonment and Liza has always been there. It’s nice to find out some of Charles’ backstory and life because there’s still a fantasy element to this relationship. I think the question for season five is: How do they feel about each other when all their cards are on the table?

How many more seasons do you envision going? Do you have an endgame?

I don’t think the show is ending anytime soon and that’s because the characters are really rich and there’s great stories to tell. As the characters get deeper, that’s what this show is about. It’s about them. From Kelsey to Diana [Miriam Shor], Liza, Charles and Josh, they are all interesting characters with relevant stories to tell.

What else do you hope to expand on next season? More of Kelsey, professionally and personally? More in the personal lives of Lauren (Molly Bernard), Maggie and Diana?

I love all the characters getting their chance to shine because they are so great to write for. I love writing Kelsey. I think we all love telling Kelsey’s story about an ambitious twentysomething where sometimes her ambition gets the better of her. I love Zain (Charles Michael Davis), I think he’s terrific. Having someone in the office who Kelsey has a real physical attraction to who is also in a way not good for her and that they’re competitive is interesting. We like telling stories about the workplace, it keeps the workplace exciting. Diana had a great arc this season, she learned a lot about herself and what she is willing to settle for and not settle for and what her standards are. I think it opens her up. If there is another relationship, her bar is different. She would rather be alone than with the wrong person.

Are Kelsey and Lauren going to support this green-card wedding when Josh and Claire return?

We’ll have to see how Claire behaves!

What was it like filming in Ireland and do you hope to shoot more on location next season?

We filmed for a week in beautiful locations and it was really terrific. We filmed with a wonderful crew that had been on the show Vikings who came over to do this with us. The show is actually airing all over the world and we found fans from Younger there. As long as a good reason to do It, I love to move filming. Organically, we have to find a reason to take the story there and we discussed the idea of having Josh marry someone for a green card. The dream was, "Let’s go to that country rather than do it here." It’s fun when you can take your characters out of their element.

Did you debate other finale endings? 

We were always thinking about Josh marrying Claire. I always like to bring every storyline to the cliff and then sort of step it off the cliff. Josh is an impetuous guy. Sometimes he makes bad decisions, which people do when they are young — and when they’re old! I do feel like his decision and how extreme it is was, in some ways, was driven as a reaction to his relationship with Liza. He hasn’t really gotten over his heartbreak.

Does this season and how it ends feel like a turning point in the series?

Definitely. I feel like there is a lot to come back to for next season in terms of where these stories are picking up. We’re not going back and having to reinvent the wheel. It’s similar to how last season ended where Kelsey found out Liza’s secret and the question was: Where is it going from there? When we come back next season, there are certainly a lot of complications there that Liza has to deal with and that a lot of the other characters will be dealing with. You want to open other doors, storywise, and feel like there’s something exciting to go back to work on and have stories to tell. You also want to give the audience something to think about and feel like there’s different avenues in terms of where the stories can go. Certainly, it does as much for us as it does for the audience.

You infused the real world into this season in a few ways, one example being Kristin Chenoweth's Kellyanne Conway-inspired character. Is there anything you have been jotting down to take on next season? 

I'm not thinking about it so specifically. I feel like the world moves so fast that by the time we get back into the writers room in October, we’ll see what’s going on then. (Laughs.) But I do feel like the whole idea of alternative facts and creating your own truth is something that really put the show in the zeitgeist in a sense. The question of: How important is truth? Can we define ourselves any way we want? Can we just completely recreate our own story or does truth have some intrinsic value? I feel like those are questions we are all thinking about right now.

Is that what do you attribute the high ratings to? This season has delivered the most viewers in both live and live+3 ratings of all seasons. And does that mean you won't be ending anytime soon?

I really think it’s word of mouth. It was always a thought that this is a show the audience is going to have to find. If it were Netflix or HBO, the audience would be there right away but on TV Land they had to find it, which they have. Now that the show is airing on Hulu I think that’s a bonus for us. The first three seasons are on there and the fourth will go on later this month. I do think it continues to accrue an additional audience. We’re not thinking about ending the show. We don’t have an end date or a finale in sight at the moment.

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