Younger Showrunner Darren Star on Liza’s Choice, Filming in Ireland, and Team Charles vs. Team Josh

Photo: TV Land

Spoilers ahead for the fourth season of Younger.

Younger went all out for its season finale, with a trip to Ireland that momentarily reignites Josh and Liza’s love story and puts even more distance between Liza and Charles. If you’re on Team Charles, “Irish Goodbye” is a tough way to end the season, but here’s the good news: Younger creator and showrunner Darren Star doesn’t see an end in sight for TV Land’s addictive fantasy-driven comedy. In October, Star and the show’s writers will begin working on the fifth season.

Ahead of the finale, Star spoke to Vulture about the season’s last episode, how the show explores generational differences, whether he’s Team Josh or Team Charles, and his secret to successfully writing female characters.

When you optioned Pamela Redmond Satran’s Younger novel, did you have any trepidation about how its central plot device would work on TV? How you’d make the audience buy into a woman in her 40s pretending to be younger?
Yeah, but first of all, it’s about finding the right actress, which we did in Sutton Foster. When I met with her, I was really surprised that she was actually 40. It was important for me to find an actress that wouldn’t be 35 or something playing 40 or something. I wanted it to feel authentic in that sense. I was a huge fan of [Sutton] from theater and I was stunned that she was the age she was. I thought, “That’s perfect.” She seems ageless. I felt like she was confident she could pull it off and that’s what makes me confident. It comes from inside. It’s not really so much looking at her and examining how old does she look; it’s an attitude she projects.

I went into this thinking that I had never done a series based on a device before, but I thought that this show wasn’t going to be just about a woman pretending to be younger. It’s about the difference between two generations, and what defines age and how you define age. I felt like there were real themes to explore and the device was just a way to get in there. I knew I was looking forward to — and I still am, since I think this show has legs — going completely past the device. But it was a tool for me to explore ageism and the differences between generations.

You have a generation in its 20s that is so different than the generation before them. They’re so valued and important based on their facility with the internet. They grew up with different brains, in a sense. Whenever you write a show, you have to write through yourself somehow, so for me it’s about what’s it like to see a generation behind me. How do you stay relevant as you get older? The device was a way to explore that and what the differences are between these two generations. I also think that it’s an intergenerational love story. It’s a story between people in their 20s and people in their 40s and how they support each other and how they’re different and how they’re the same. I do feel like the generation of social media made the idea of the show much more relevant to me. That aspect wasn’t part of the book because the book was written before the rise of social media in a big way, but I thought that was something that made the generation gap more extreme.

It does seem like the generation gap between X and Y is wider because of how fast technology has changed everything.
There was a revolution in technology just like there was a sexual revolution. It made people who were older feel like, “They’ve got a lot to learn.” I do feel like there are people who have been really good at staying with it and keeping up, but I like the journey of this character who was raising her kids in the suburbs and wasn’t paying attention to it, and then suddenly gets thrust back into it, supposedly as a girl in her 20s who’s relied on by her boss to be fluent in all of this.

Is this something that plays out in your writers room?
Oh, definitely. The fun of doing this show is being in a room with writers in their 20s who bring us so much material. I couldn’t write this show without the experiences of all the writers that we have in the room. They bring us their daily lives and how they define their lives and what’s important to them, and, in some ways, how they live their lives on social media — not to say that the entire show is about social media. You spend every day in a room with writers and you hear what’s going on with them every day and it’s certainly a different world.

Have they’ve introduced you to anything that you never heard of, but then you used it on the show?
Truffle butter for starters. [Laughs.] I think really it’s more about the definition of privacy. It just holds a completely different definition for people who are in their 20s. I don’t want to say it’s that way for everyone in their 20s, but you’re much more open with your life and who you are. That to me is what I see as a big difference: the extreme sharing and everything.

At some point, do you feel that the show could go on with everyone knowing Liza’s truth?
Yeah, because we have wonderful characters and wonderful actors. People love the characters. Hopefully they’re not watching in suspense every week like, “When will someone find out about her age?” There are a number of characters that know about her age. We always go back to the premise, like, “Why did she do this?” She did it to work and have a job. I think this show is a really pro-work show.

This is a show about people who value work in some ways above love and relationships. This is a woman who’s been married, who’s had relationships, but hasn’t had a purpose and a meaningful job and that’s why she’s doing this. I think about the love complications, which are always a part of the story, but ultimately her goal is to be relevant and productive. Even Hilary Duff’s character is really work-focused. There have been other portrayals of people in their 20s where you see them not working, or work isn’t so important. I know a lot of people in their 20s who are really ambitious. That is one thing that has not changed. I think the fundamentals are the same for every generation: They want to be productive, and I think if you live in New York, you want to define yourself. These are people who define themselves by their work more than their relationships.

There’s certainly something to admire in Liza. She is willing to start from the bottom.
I don’t think it ever would have been possible. When I started writing this show, I thought it was relevant because I knew women who dropped out of the entertainment business to raise kids and wanted to get back in 12 years later. It’s really hard.

Let’s talk about that finale. You actually went to Ireland.
Yes, we did. It was great.

Was that a hard sell for TV Land?
TV Land has been fantastic. It was not a hard sell. I think their attitude was, “If you can swing it, we can do it.” We have a fantastic producer in Tony Hernandez who figures things out like this. We were able to make it work. It was like a movie, in terms of the production values you get.

How did that come about?
You know, it was really driven by the characters. It wasn’t like, “Where can we go that we will love to visit or go on vacation?” We talked a lot about Josh [played by Nico Tortorella] meeting a girl from overseas and leading to a green-card marriage and what that would mean. We thought about doing it in Brooklyn. Last year, we were going to go to Cuba and instead we ended up in the Hamptons because of Zika, so I guess we had it in our heads that we wanted Younger to go overseas. So instead of doing the green-card marriage in Brooklyn, we thought, “Let’s do it in Ireland.”

Did shooting overseas present any new challenges?
I have to say it was surprisingly easy. We had a fantastic crew that just came off the show Vikings. I don’t want to say it was effortless, but it was a lot of fun and that was due to the excellent crew we had working for us in Ireland. We filmed there for four days and got so much great material. It’s a beautiful country and it was great to showcase it a little bit. I had never been there and I just loved it.

Why did you decide to revisit the Josh-Liza love story? All season, we’ve seen a distance between them. Do you see the Liza-Josh-Charles love triangle as a fundamental part of the show?
I guess you can define it as a love triangle, but she has separate relationships with each of those men and I think Josh sees Liza as the love of his life. If Josh were ten years older, he would be the perfect man for Liza. I do feel like she loves him so much, but is always looking to protect him in a way and wants the best for him. I just feel like there are some relationships that have a magnetic pull and these two characters have that. With Charles, I know there are certain segments of our audience that would just love them to get together and be happy. But I don’t think it’s that easy. I feel like there’s a lot of fantasy in that relationship that hasn’t been hit yet.

It was heartbreaking when Josh tells her he has to put a ring between them.
In a way, that story is about when a person is just not good for you and you have to do something drastic to move on.

When you say that Charles and Liza are in a fantasy world, does that mean we’ll never see them together?
I won’t say we won’t see them together, but I would just say that there are further complications down the road to them being together. At some point, Liza does have to be honest with Charles. I guess the question is: How is he going to feel about her at that point?

Is there a Liza-Charles-Pauline love triangle now? His story line with his ex-wife Pauline (Jennifer Westfeldt) and her book about their marriage revealed a lot about him. He’s more than the debonair, successful boss.
That was a story we had thought about for a couple of seasons, actually, and just hadn’t really had a good chance to do it. What I like is that it’s a way to know more about Charles. We really only see him through rose-colored glasses. At some point next season, we’re gonna have to see a little bit more of the reality of him. And at whatever point he finds out about Liza, we’re gonna see a realer version of Liza in relation to him. Whenever you have real feelings for somebody, but there’s dishonesty involved in the relationship, it’s a hard bridge to cross. We don’t know what’s on the other side of that yet. Next season is about finding out what’s on the other side.

It’s so complicated because there’s the business reaction and then there’s the personal reaction.
Absolutely. And it is a big lie because the longer a lie goes on, the harder it is to get out of it. But also the longer a lie goes on, the more hurtful it becomes to those that have been lied to.

Are you personally Team Charles or Team Josh? 
I always say I’m Team Liza. I don’t think her happiness is dependent on either of those guys. I think her happiness is dependent on finding a way to just be her authentic self in the world and still have a job.

Diana’s story this season was empowering. We really got to see what she’s made of. She wants love, but not at any cost.
You know, we really wanted to see a vulnerable side of her. We didn’t want to feel like she’s like this eternal spinster because I don’t believe she is. I think she’s somebody who definitely has her work front and center in her life, but she’s open to relationships and it’s difficult for strong women in their 40s to be single. I don’t think she’s ever gonna have an easy road. And Miriam Shor is such a terrific actress, so I think part of it is a desire to see more of her — more material and dimension to her character and seeing her away from the office. I just think it’s a terrific character. She’s someone who’s strong and also insecure at the same time. I just love that.

But you didn’t give her the happy, romantic ending. You gave her a strong ending in terms of where she stands with herself.
I think in the long run, she’s happier. It’s better to be alone than to be with the wrong person or a person who is taking advantage of you. I think she just realized that.

Do you know how many seasons you want the show to last?
I don’t. We’re doing 12 episodes a season, so I’m not putting a limit on it. I think it’s about where do the characters take us, and what their stories are. When you’re in love with the characters, you want to keep telling their stories. I don’t think that there is an expiration date for that.

When you did 90210 on Fox and Sex and the City on HBO, both of those networks were small players at those times. Now you’re at TV Land. Is that part of the attraction?
Definitely. I wanted to do this at TV Land because I really had my best experiences with fledgling networks that were ready to support something new. It’s a really competitive world out there in terms of television. I felt that they would make the show important to them and be supportive, which they have been, 100 percent. And I like the challenge, quite honestly, of doing something at a small network.

That makes sense. Have you figured out why you’re so good at writing women?
No! Well, first of all, I would say I think of them as people, not women.

That’s probably the key right there.
I just think I’m writing people and I think women are more open than men about their emotions and feelings in general. I think they’re funny and I think they have close relations with each other. So I do live vicariously through all that, for sure.

Younger Showrunner Darren Star on Team Charles vs. Team Josh