TV Land’s dramedy “Younger” exists in a strange place within the “peak TV” landscape. With four seasons under its belt and critical acclaim, the series has that inexplicable aura of a hit show — except that many people have never heard of it.
Regardless of the ratings (around a million per week, not counting streaming or on-demand), it’s a bona fide success for TV Land, which recently renewed it for a fifth season — the fourth season finale aired on Wednesday night. So, in the era of hundreds of TV shows vying for attention, it raises an important question: How did this series manage to cut through the noise?
An easy answer is that it feels like watching “Sex and the City.” HBO’s iconic hit and “Younger” share a creator in Darren Star, and lots of people have already pointed out the similarities between the two shows. It’s not only the New York setting and impressive fashion and frank talk about sex and relationships. While “Younger” centers on Liza (Sutton Foster), a 40-year-old who pretends she’s 26 to get a job, she’s often with her three close friends who could easily be compared to the Carrie-Samantha-Charlotte-Miranda group.
But I have a (possibly wildly controversial) theory that “Younger” also resonates because it rings similar to another deeply nostalgic show aimed at female viewers — and that would be the WB’s “Gilmore Girls.” Really! And no, not just because of the quick dialogue peppered with pop culture references, or that Foster starred in a project (“Bunheads”) from “Gilmore Girls” creator Amy Sherman-Palladino. The show has a few other important elements in common:
1) It’s a show that celebrates books.
“Younger” is about Liza’s lie and how it snowballs to impact every area of her life, but it all starts when Liza can’t get a job as a publishing assistant at age 40. (She took a 15-year break from publishing to raise her daughter, and needed to get back in the workforce after her ex-husband gambled away their life savings.) Just like Rory Gilmore, one of the most beloved bookworms on television, Liza’s genuine love of literature drives many plotlines, from her actual career to how she connects with her boss and eventual love interest, Charles (Peter Hermann).
While “Gilmore Girls” has many serious literary shout-outs, the characters occasionally make jokes about authors — such as how Lorelai, Rory’s mother, could never get through Proust’s “Swann’s Way.” “Younger” also takes a few gentle digs at the publishing industry, such as a very committed parody of “Game of Thrones” called “Crown of Kings,” which features an eccentric bearded author named “Edward L.L. Moore.”
2) A mother-daughter (or mother-daughter-esque) relationship.
Of course, on “Younger,” Liza isn’t really Kelsey’s (Hilary Duff) mother. Kelsey is her 26-year-old co-worker. The two of them bond immediately after Liza is hired at Empirical Press as the assistant to the demanding marketing director, Diana (hilariously played by Miriam Shor). At first, Kelsey has no idea that Liza is 14 years older and eventually recruits her to help run an imprint called Millennial — and given that Liza has an actual daughter not that far from Kelsey’s age, her maternal instincts kick in whenever Kelsey is about to make a questionable decision.
Their closeness brings to mind Lorelai and Rory, who were technically parent and child, yet the premise of the show is that they’re more like best friends than mother and daughter. (Lorelai had Rory when she was 16, which is Rory’s age when the series starts.) Like Liza and Kelsey, they talk about everything and go on adventures, and eventually, the age gap doesn’t seem to matter at all. The relationship between the two women is the most important of any dynamic on the entire show, which leads us to …
3) A solid love triangle.
“Gilmore Girls” knows the power of a good love triangle — especially when the choices are the guy who seems perfect for you but would never work in the long term (Dean) and the guy who shares your interests but comes with a ton of baggage (Jess). The Rory-Dean-Jess battle that took place in early seasons is still a much-discussed plot between fans, especially when it came back for a four-episode revival last year.
“Younger” deploys one such triangle with Liza, who falls for a 26-year-old tattoo artist named Josh (Nico Tortorella), who initially thinks she’s also a 20-something. They have a spark immediately and fall in love … except Liza is afraid she’ll hold him back from life experiences, so she knows they have no future. At the same time, Liza and her age-appropriate boss, Charles, develop quite the flirtmance, sparked by a shared love of books … only Charles is recently separated with two kids, and his ex-wife made very clear this season that she wants him back. (And he still thinks Liza is 26.)
Anyway, while this is certainly the first time anyone has compared Charles to Jess Mariano, if you take a close look, the DNA running through both shows is more similar than you might think.