When Younger returns for its final season, viewers will be treated to a COVID-free New York City.
In the fall of 2019, the sixth season of the Sutton Foster-starrer wrapped with an open-ended marriage proposal from Charles (Peter Hermann) to the show’s central character, Liza (Foster). In the timeline of the TV Land favorite, that cliffhanger took place months before the characters would have been affected by the global coronavirus pandemic — which was long enough for creator Darren Star to decide to wrap his series on what he calls a timeless note.
“We had discussions about possibly including COVID,” Star tells The Hollywood Reporter of the conversations around the final season, which was readying production when the pandemic sent TV productions to a halt in early 2020. “We mapped out some story directions. But our timeline picked up where we left off — which, in the real-world timeline, was at least eight months before COVID would have affected the lives of these characters. We would have really had to jump time to catch up to when the pandemic hit and we would have been playing a guessing game about how things would develop, and I didn’t want to do that.”
Star says he learned a lesson from Sex and the City, which he also created, about how they handled the tragedy of 9/11 on the HBO series. “We didn’t include 9/11 in terms of it specifically affecting the lives of the characters; we didn’t reference 9/11. And I think that was also a really good decision,” he says, recalling how the classic NYC-set series, which ran from 1998 through 2004, approached its 2002 season.
Now, years later, when presented with the option to end Younger on the streets of an escapist version of the city, instead of as a COVID epicenter, Star seized the opportunity. “Younger is timeless. This a series you can watch years from now. And COVID, to me, instantly stamps it,” he explains of the fictional publishing world Younger has created. “Ironically, this final season became the most beautiful, biggest-looking season in terms of our production values and that’s really due to the amazing crew, our directors and how they were able to pull off the COVID-free, beautiful Manhattan that you see on the streets this season. To me, it’s a dream of what I hope New York will be looking like again soon.”
That optimism — which Star says he wants to focus on as a pandemic-era storyteller — will be infused into the final 12 episodes of Younger, which release first on Paramount+ and will air later this year on its original home of TV Land. Younger launches with its first four episodes before moving to a weekly rollout on the ViacomCBS streamer, which rebranded when it launched early March, and will close the book with an extended series finale. When presented with the idea to pivot to streaming for the final season, Star, who is also behind Netflix’s Emily in Paris, says it was an easy decision. “I just felt like there was no choice. The world is moving on. Streaming is where it’s at. This is where Younger is going to be living in the future,” he says of Paramount+ now housing all previous seasons of Younger. “This is the way we’re all watching series now.”
With the support of the new team — “they’re fans of the series and that’s really nice” — Star says he felt how invested the streamer was in Younger by how they marketed the final season as part of the Paramount+ launch and when it came to filming the final episodes. (The streamer is now offering one month free for Younger viewers.) “The budget became bigger because of COVID and they’ve been wonderful in terms of giving me what we needed to make the show we wanted to make,” he says of the result.
Making the show in the era of COVID came with a fresh set of hurdles. “It was cold!” notes Star of filming outside as much as possible during the winter months and juggling weather delays. Delivering a satisfying series finale under any circumstance comes with its own set of expectations, and to be doing so amid the pandemic added an extra layer. “It increased the pressure, because it was a tightrope act in terms of thinking, ‘How are we going to get this done?'”
Perhaps the biggest impact was in scheduling conflicts due to production delays. Miriam Shor, who has long played female boss Diana, will only appear in a final season cameo; and the same goes for Charles Michael Davis, who has orbited around Hilary Duff’s publishing up-and-comer, Kelsey, as Zane for three seasons. As a result, Star says they had to “reengineer” a lot of the scripts, which would go on to mean more screen time for Molly Bernard’s Lauren, Debi Mazar’s Maggie and for relative newcomer Clare, who is played by Bridgerton breakout Phoebe Dynevor. “Molly Bernard had a great opportunity to shine this season and it’s just so much fun to watch,” he says.
As one of the first New York productions to get back to work, Star notes there was no playbook. So they used the on-set safety measures and protocol as their guide. “Shooting is difficult as it is, but throwing COVID on top of that, and all of the PPE that is necessary, makes it very arduous,” he says, “but the cast and crew were all on board and game to come back to work. We jumped back in, not really knowing how and if we were really going to get through the season, and we did. There were bumps along the way, but everybody made it through very safe and healthy.”
Ultimately, when viewers are reunited with Liza, Kelsey, Josh (Nico Tortorella) and the rest of the ensemble, they will be swept away into the familiar Manhattan set of Empirical Publishing, the Brooklyn digs of Inkburg and everything in between. In expanding Younger‘s cast of characters in later seasons, the series has moved beyond the show’s central conceit of Liza’s lie — the 40something pretended to be in her 20s in order to re-enter the publishing world after a divorce — but it doesn’t forget. The final episodes will continue to explore Liza’s personal life as she and Kelsey continue to work for the careers they long envisioned for themselves.
As for Star’s plans to continue on the Younger franchise with a Kelsey spinoff, the creator teases that the series finale will be a “launching pad” for that story, should it come to be. “Right now it’s about developing a show that we’re really excited about,” he says of the idea with Duff’s character. Now, as he prepares to tie up all of Younger‘s stories, Star shares his intent: “I hope they leave the series feeling like they’ve spent seven seasons with these characters and that their time has not been wasted, and that all of the characters have been given really satisfying endings.”
The final season of Younger releases with the first four episodes April 15 on Paramount+.