'Younger' Is Cornering The Romance Market Like No Other TV Show
Rare find: a love story that's nuanced, fulfilling and all grown up.
A fierce battle has waged online in recent weeks, aided by hashtags, spicy GIFs and compelling arguments from fierce punters desperate to have their opinion validated. There are two sides, both with valuable points and ample evidence to back up their assertions -- but only one can win.
That’s right, I’m talking about #TeamCharles versus #TeamJosh.
If you’re a Younger fan, you’ll understand immediately to what those fateful hashtags refer. It’s a battle of brains versus brawn, of literary versus artistic, of sensible versus soulful, of young versus... well, not so young.
These are the two fictional men (played by Peter Hermann and Nico Tortorella respectively) who are fighting for the attention of one Liza Miller (the effervescent Sutton Foster), the centerpiece of Stan’s hit romantic-comedy series Younger. The series, which Stan has imported from the US since 2016, premiered its fifth season earlier this week to an intensely thirsty crowd.
Here’s what everyone’s gaga over: Liza (Foster) is a fortysomething divorcée who needs to return to publishing STAT after a 15-year-long hiatus. The catch is: no one will hire someone her age into an entry-level position. So, Liza manages to pass herself off as a 26 year old and get an assistant job at a millennial-focused imprint at Empirical Press -- run by charming fortysomething publisher Charles (Hermann).
Over the past four seasons, Liza has managed to fool her twentysomething boyfriend Josh (played by the stupidly handsome Tortorella), a gaggle of millennial besties, led by her colleague Kelsey (Hilary Duff), and her glamorous boss at Empirical, Diana Trout (the peerless Miriam Shor), as well as dozens of others into thinking she’s just a carefree gal in her mid-twenties.
As bizarre as Younger’s central conceit is, the show leans confidently into its high-concept hijinks -- and has successfully wrung four (soon to be six) seasons out of the ridiculousness.
And although Liza’s gotten herself into her fair share of absurdist scrapes, at the heart of the series is the story of a clever, kind woman who desperately wants to work hard (a rarefied gem in TV land) and will do anything to get there.
There’s a lot to love in Younger, and the series has proven its worth by building a steady following over the past few years, both back in its native US and here in Australia, where it’s one of Stan’s staple series (The service streams Younger weekly, in time with its US release and the rabid fan demand).
Critics have raved about the show’s focus on female friendship and its on-the-nose interrogation of contemporary notions of adulthood. But few written raves bother to delve into the show’s juiciest and most bankable aspect: the romance.
It’s not considered especially sophisticated these days to centre upmarket adult entertainment on romance, not since the death knell of the romantic comedy sounded throughout the late 2000s. Besides, romance is a genre for women -- so much so that in books, contemporary romantic-comedies and melodramas are simply called “women’s fiction”.
Despite the fact that women are the primary spenders a majority of households, and despite increasingly overwhelming evidence that women will latch on to absolutely anything aimed at us, few entertainers bother to offer us nuanced, fulfilling entertainment. Younger was clever enough to see the value in aiming directly for an audience of adult women who wished to be told a grown-up love story.
And it’s doing a rather impressive job of it, primarily by subverting some stale romance tropes. Yes, Liza is caught in a love triangle -- a tale as old as time itself, or indeed as ancient as the triangle shape -- but this is one of substance and sustenance.
Too often the love triangle relies on the basic principle that one man is the Good Guy while the other is the Bad Boy. With Josh and Charles, you can take your pick of kind, dashing, handsome men who simply adore our heroine.
Do you prefer the goonish good looks and vigorous charm of a crazy-hot tattoo artist? Josh is your man. However, if you’re like me, you long for the buttoned-up, reticent intellectualism and the craggy good looks of Charles, who reminds me of an Austenian hero in the mould of a Mr Darcy or Captain Wentworth. Because Younger respects its heroine -- and its audience -- it doesn’t condescend to us by giving us a fool’s choice between a goodie and a baddie. It’s simply a matter of taste.
Australian producers and content creators should be taking notes from Younger, a series that’s taken the temperature of TV’s biggest spenders and served up a series to make nearly every viewer salivate.
Now, to sit back and wait for an onslaught of clever, comely Australian rom-com tailor-made for the sophisticated women who pick the TV show every night.