Note: This post contains plot details from the Season 5 premiere of “Younger.”
On another show, the #MeToo subplot that drove the Season 5 premiere of TV Land’s “Younger” might have come off as a contrived attempt to weigh in on a hashtag.
But “Younger,” Darren Star’s dramedy about a 40-year-old posing as a 26-year-old while she navigates Manhattan’s book publishing circles, isn’t just any show. Tuesday’s premiere (titled “#LizaToo”) was everything that makes “Younger” a delight to watch: whip-smart, funny and insightful. And the episode deftly used a story line about sexual harassment to drop a bombshell that viewers have been waiting for.
At the start of the episode, we learned that some troubling allegations had been made against Edward L.L. Moore, an eccentric fantasy author with a skeevy flirting habit. Liza (Sutton Foster) is asked by her boss (and love interest), Charles (Peter Hermann), whether she has any concerns about Moore. The possibility was there: Moore has been known to say questionable things to Liza, and has asked her to wear a fur bikini to portray one of his marquee characters: Princess Pam Pam.
Liza tells Charles that Moore is just a “flirty old man” and declines to make an official complaint about him. But concern spreads around the Empirical office, spurring awkward seminars about “safe touching” in the workplace. Liza quickly ducks out of the seminar when she recognizes Bob, the lawyer brought in to discuss what constitutes sexual harassment. She tells Kelsey (Hilary Duff) that he’s the father of her teenage daughter’s roommate. Bob knows her as a 40-something divorcée, not a 20-something book editor.
Over the last few seasons, we’ve seen Liza’s bombshell secret effectively end her relationship with Josh (Nico Tortorella) and jeopardize her close friendship with Kelsey. She can’t risk Charles finding out that she lied to get her job and has been lying to him ever since.
“Younger” stays true to its frank and funny self as it contemplates the often gray area around workplace dating and flirting. In one scene, Zane (Charles Michael Davis) tells Kelsey that her skirt “isn’t safe for work.” She shoots back a pointed quip about his form-fitting pants. When Liza runs to the bathroom after seeing Bob in the seminar, her prickly, self-styled mentor Diana (Miriam Shor) rushes in and asks: “Were you … triggered?”
Ultimately, Moore gets his due when several other Pam Pam models come forward with disturbing stories about the author making lewd comments. Charles interrupts a promotional event to inform Moore’s fans that his forthcoming book release has been indefinitely postponed because of the recent allegations.
“That’s absurd,” a stunned Moore growls. “We have a contract … you’ll pay for this!”
In the end, Moore makes good on his promise, digging up information about Liza and revealing the truth about her to Charles. It’s a genius move for the show because we’ve long been waiting for Charles to find out about Liza, and Moore’s actions make sense in the context of the retaliation that often comes along with reporting sexual harassment.
And it’s quintessentially “Younger,” too. After all, Liza isn’t just pretending to be 26 for the fun of it. It’s a means to an end: She couldn’t find a decent job in publishing as a 40-year-old woman, so her deception is as substantive as it is quirky. And like the show’s approach to sexual misconduct, there’s both humor and social commentary in that.