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As the wealth in television is spread — so many channels producing so much original content and so much of that actually being good — the rules on what should be surprising get rewritten.
No longer do certain channels automatically equal a roster filled with quality shows and, even more commonly, no longer does a newbie to the original content business necessarily suffer through a learning curve of 15 terrible shows.
Good creators will take their shows anywhere. It’s a Gold Rush of opportunity. Look at what Marti Noxon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Mad Men) did with Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce over on Bravo; it’s a very strong, fully realized drama with a likable and talented cast that has hummed along nicely in its first season. Prior to Noxon’s show, viewers could be forgiven for hearing “Bravo” and turning away.
Now Darren Star (Sex and the City) has done the same thing for TV Land, which is in the process of shifting its emphasis away from cheaper-looking nostalgia shows and toward content better suited for the hipper segment of its demographic. His new single-camera show, Younger, shot on location in Brooklyn and around other parts of New York, probably shouldn’t be called “surprising” given his background and the strong cast he’s assembled for the show.
And yet, in a really crowded field, a new comedy out of TV Land hardly screams “set the DVR,” so the creative successes right out of the gate with Younger are, if not surprising, then at least impressive.
Star created, wrote and directs Younger, which stars Sutton Foster (Bunheads) as 40-year-old Liza Miller, whose husband gambled away all their money and also slept around. Consequently, her marriage is in a nosedive, and her daughter is off studying in India, trying to save and maybe see the world. As Liza gets back out in the cutthroat world of publishing, she’s being interviewed by 20-somethings appalled that she’s 40 and has been sidelined for so long (you know, being married and raising a kid). After a good-looking, 26-year-old tattoo artist (Nico Tortorella) mistakes her for being the same age as he is, Liza’s best friend Maggie (the wonderful Debi Mazar, Entourage) talks her into getting a full-on makeover (her world view included) and to attempt to pull off being 26.
She gets a job at a publishing company (by dismissing a question about what makes her “special,” the code word for millennial disdain) as an assistant to Diana (Miriam Shor), the bossy and wildly unpredictable head of marketing. She’s also befriended there by Kelsey (Hilary Duff, Lizzie McGuire), who has a bright future ahead of her in much the same way that Liza did years ago. Kelsey and Liza bond, with the former believing she and the latter are roughly the same age.
Now, all of this gives Star, and by extension Foster, a chance to spoof ageism, the annoyances of millennials and the post-35 crowd’s tendency to settle and grow boring. Sure, some of the targets are easy (Liza doesn’t know how to set up a Twitter account and is woefully behind the times in her understanding of both technology and the correct length, if any, for pubic hair), but Younger manages to make even its most obvious comic observations entertaining and the episodes breeze by.
This is thanks in large part to Foster, whose Liza is never quite sure whether she can or even wants to keep up the ruse, and to the believable connections the actress forges with not only Mazar, but Shor, Duff and Tortorella, who has a good-guy charm. The cast, and Star’s breezy but never dumb writing, makes Younger an entertaining half-hour comedy that feels far more mature than most rookies out there.
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