The new TV Land series about a 40-year-old-woman who pretends she's in her 20s is called Younger, but a lot of the time it feels like it should be called Dumber.
Immediately after informing us that she's a Dartmouth graduate and a "great reader," main character Liza (Sutton Foster, who's 40 in real life), asks: "Did you know you can't call it Bombay anymore? When did it become Mumbai?"
Sure, there are smart people who don't know the city in India’s name changed in 1995. But it defies belief that this particular Dartmouth grad not only hadn't picked up a paper at some point in the last two decades or watched the Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire, set in Mumbai, she also missed that her teen-aged daughter spent months planning to go there.
Throughout the two Younger episodes that have aired so far, similarly sloppy jokes damage the sporadically likable show because: a) they're not especially funny and b) they make it difficult to tell what Younger is trying to say about getting not-younger.
The Show’s Premise
The set-up for the show, which combines elements of The Devil Wears Prada and Sex and the City (the latter of which was created, like Younger, by Darren Star), is fairly simple. About to be divorced, Liza tries to re-enter the workplace, only to learn that New York publishing houses covet 25-year-olds, not 40-year-olds with noticeable gaps in their resumes. So, she goes vintage-clothes shopping, enlists the aid of a make-up savvy pal, subtracts 15 years from her graduation date on her resumé and scores a gig as the kilt-wearing, twentysomething assistant to a cruel, 43-year-old publishing exec.
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Along the way, Liza learns about other things the show seems to think baffle anyone born before 1990 including Twitter, One Direction (which, by the way, is more apt to appeal to 16-year-olds than twentysomethings, but whatever), Lena Dunham and Taylor Swift.
Eventually, I'm guessing Younger will add Tootsie to the classics from which it borrows, with Liza, like Dustin Hoffman's title character, realizing that the experience of walking a mile in someone else's shoes can make one a better, more-comfortable-in-one's-skin person.
A Mixed Message
While we wait for Younger to get to its Tootsie moment, though, its message is a muddle.
What is the show trying to say about 40-ish people when all of its characters in that age bracket are either: hateful (Liza's boss), desperate (Liza's pals, who come to New York for dinner and are depicted as dolts because they're eager to try the latest food fads), rude (the guy who takes Liza to dinner and ignores her while he texts with other, presumably more compliant, women) or puzzling (as played by Debi Mazar, Liza's BFF comes off as weirdly enthusiastic about Liza's return visit to her 20s)?
Long story short: There isn't a single 40-ish person on the show who is OK with being 40, and that's not cool.
It's worth noting, I suppose, that the younger characters don't come off much better. Liza's smooth-skinned colleagues are either trend-obsessed freaks, like the one who tweets weekly photos of herself topless, or amoebas who need experienced Liza to advise them on handling careers and boorish suitors.
Since it airs on the older-skewing TV Land channel, the goal of Younger is probably to assure middle-aged people that they wouldn't like going back to being younger even if they could. But that's a tough message to put across when the show makes being in your 40s seem so unappealing.
(MORE: 6 Ways to Avoid Adding Years to Your Body)
Hope For Improvements
Still, between "Kids these days" and "You old fogies" jokes, Younger does muster some humanity. Most of it is courtesy of genial, quick-witted Foster, who — to cite a reference the Younger creators would probably think you'd have to be a centenarian to understand — recalls Mary Tyler Moore in her 70s prime.
Early reviews have lauded the two-time Tony Award winner's nimble comic skills while wondering how long the undercover premise can be sustained. Will Liza still be passing for 25 when Younger ends its 12-episode first season? Will Season 2 find Liza enlisting her make-up pal to swing the other way so she can qualify to live in a retirement villa? Or will she split the difference and decide that being older, smarter and more comfortable is not a bad thing?
I'm hoping for the last, because Foster, and the show that surrounds her, are both better when they act their age.
Chris Hewitt is a movie and theater critic who has written for MSNBC.com, Today.com and The History Channel magazine and whose reviews have run in newspapers across the country.
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