tv review

Younger Goes Full Rom-Com in Its Farewell Season

Hilary Duff and Sutton Foster in the final season of Younger. Photo: Nicole Rivelli/TV LAND

The central question of Younger — what happens if everyone finds out that book-publishing upstart Liza Miller (Sutton Foster) has been lying about her age? — was answered in season six. After skillfully drawing out the reveal that Liza Miller was actually a 40-something and not a 20-something, that information finally became known to Diana (Miriam Shor), the woman who originally hired Liza as an assistant, and to the broader public. Once that happened, the consequences Liza faced for having helped steer Empirical’s book-publishing imprint, Millennial, while faking her own millennial-ness seriously reverberated for … roughly one episode. Fine: maybe an episode and a half.

Consequently, Younger begins its seventh and final season with its primary source of narrative tension resolved, and its focus shifted mostly to rom-com matters. Will Liza say yes to the marriage proposal that Charles (Peter Hermann), the head of Empirical and possible love of Liza’s life, dropped on her in the previous season finale? Does she still have feelings for Josh (Nico Tortorella), her young tattoo-artist ex? And how will the decision by Kelsey (Hilary Duff), Liza’s colleague and close friend, to cede her job as publisher back to Charles impact the influence she and Liza have on the business?

While sorting out answers to these and other questions, Younger skims across provocative topics, such as cancel culture and the stifling nature of corporate expectations. The key word there is “skims.” While Younger has never been anything close to a probing drama, it did engage with the issues raised by its youth-versus-experience premise a bit more thoughtfully in its earlier seasons. As the series takes its final bow, it has shifted all the way into fun and frothy mode. Which is fine. Anyone grappling with pandemic fatigue — which is to say, most of us? — will relish some fun and froth at this point, and Younger offers plenty. And for the record, no, I am not just saying that because Vulture figures into a major plot point later in the season, whose first four episodes land on Paramount+ and Hulu today. (Later this year, the episodes will show up on Younger’s original home, TV Land.)

The cast and crew of Younger had to film these final 12 episodes, 11 of which were provided in advance, under pandemic protocols. But the New York City depicted in the series remains COVID and mask-free. That is wise, since Younger has always been a fantastical representation of what it’s like to live in Brooklyn and work in book publishing. In a flight of romantic and literary fantasy, there is no life-threatening global epidemic. There should only be a timeline where the pandemic never happened and sexual chemistry can still be generated, and acted upon, with no concern about staying six feet apart.

However, due to reasons that have been described as schedule- and COVID-related, both Shor and Charles Michael Davis, who played the ultra-competitive Zane, were able to do only the briefest of virtual pop-ins, which is a big loss, especially where Shor is concerned. Diana was central to the show from the very beginning, and Shor’s simultaneously dry and showy portrayal of her was one of the great joys of watching Younger. Her absence is definitely felt.

The way that showrunner Darren Star and the writers work around that absence is one of several details that don’t totally track in the final season. With Diana on her honeymoon — one that stretches on for several months because Diana is enjoying herself and has more than 200 unused vacation days — the social-media-savvy Lauren (Molly Bernard) takes over Diana’s job as Empirical’s head of publicity. Which is semi-believable. But the fact that Lauren is suddenly sitting in on pitch meetings and offering guidance on whether to pass on certain titles seems like more than she’d be doing as a fill-in. Other moments strain credulity as well, like the fact that Liza and Josh act like the goodbye letter she wrote to him at the end of last season never happened, even though it was a very big deal; or the way that sparks fly between Charles and Liza’s nemesis, Quinn (Laura Benanti), remarkably quickly; or the entire storyline involving a young environmental activist that Liza and Kelsey are interested in publishing. That young activist — who is named, I swear to you, Fupa Grünhoff — is clearly a send-up of Greta Thunberg, but one that paints her with such harsh strokes that it registers as a punch down more than anything else.

Fortunately, Younger’s continued riffs on the publishing and media world are much more clever elsewhere in the season. Both Liza and Kelsey are excited about a novel from a New Yorker science writer that they’re planning to publish. Its title: Little Women in Space. Quinn, who is writing a book about her failed Senate campaign called The F Word, ends conversations by saying that Nancy Pelosi is calling, then immediately answers her phone with: “Hey, girl.” Younger, bless it, is the only show on television that would make a joke about Longreads and also the only show on television where that joke kills.

In the aforementioned romantic spirit of this final season, every major character gets at least one love interest side plot. Many of the recurring characters from the show’s run are welcomed back for one final appearance, including Lauren’s wonderfully wild parents, played by Kathy Najimy and Josh Pais, as well as Liza’s completely oblivious ex-husband, David (Paul Fitzgerald), and her college-age daughter, Caitlin (Tessa Albertson). The main cast, led by the luminous Foster, is as appealing and attractive as they’ve ever been, and every one of them owns more outfits than a normal person’s closet should allow. And of course, there are plenty of glitzy soirées to vicariously enjoy at a time when most of us haven’t even gotten together to drink ginger ale with a handful of friends.

In its final episodes, Younger remains as fizzy as the Champagne that gets poured at all those rooftop parties that Liza & Co. get to attend. The show’s connection to the real world may be extra-tenuous, but the truth is, most of us never came to Younger for reality. We came, season after season, to escape. Despite some uneven spots, it’s still a pleasure to let it sweep us away again for one last time.

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Younger Goes Full Rom-Com in Its Farewell Season