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Rating : 4 stars

TV Review: Younger Season 6 is as crisp and salty as a bag of chips

Stan is drip-feeding episodes of this addictive lit-world rom-com, and that's Mel Campbell's only quibble.
TV Review: Younger Season 6 is as crisp and salty as a bag of chips

Image: Leading ladies of Younger. Source: STAN.

When romantic comedy TV series Younger premiered in 2015, it tapped into two generations of workplace anxieties. Its story of a 40-year-old woman trying to get ahead in New York publishing by pretending to be 26 is a potent fairytale: for Gen-X workers who feel they’ve been passed over at work in favour of millennials, as well as for twentysomethings struggling to prove themselves.

Created by Sex and the City’s Darren Star, Younger is catnip to those who loved SATC at its glossy peak. It’s the Goldilocks of romcoms: it deftly balances screwball set-pieces, publishing-industry satire and genuinely heartfelt emotional moments. It’s full of affection for its characters while also depicting their weaknesses and the way their choices hurt others. Such fearlessness sets Younger apart from the similarly themed The Bold Type, whose blunt-witted protagonists are always protected from committing any actual boldness.

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Each 22-minute episode is as crisp and salty as a packet of chips – and just as compulsive to devour. Which makes it all the more frustrating that Stan is drip-feeding the new sixth season, episode by episode.

Last season ended as the adorkable Liza Miller (Sutton Foster) finally got together with her boss, Empirical Press’s silver-fox publisher Charles Brooks (Peter Hermann). To head off scandal, Charles resigned from Empirical and renamed the company Millennial Press, after the youthful imprint run by Liza’s friend and colleague Kelsey Peters (Hilary Duff). Kelsey’s been promoted to publisher, with Liza as editor.

But the episode left Liza and Charles in silent, separate contemplation in the street, echoing the famous ending of The Graduate. Now their canoodling, and their fraught declarations of “I love you”, are shot through with unease. As Liza’s best friend and housemate, sassy Brooklyn artist Maggie Amato (Debi Mazar), warns Charles: “sometimes those two people can drag each other down, like anchors.” Has Liza chosen… poorly?

Well, that’s the fun of it. Even this far in, there’s still plenty of power in Younger’s now-familiar engines of narrative tension. Throughout its run, Younger teased its audience with two key reveals: Liza’s real age, and which of her rival love interests she’d choose: patrician, age-appropriate Charles, or spunky young tattooist Josh (Nico Tortorella). While Josh is now preparing for fatherhood with his Irish wife Clare (Phoebe Dinevore), he’s still clearly carrying a torch for Liza, who’d previously shied from having his baby.

Marketing boss Diana Trout (Miriam Shor) – Liza’s former manager – is feeling wrong-footed by the Millennial Press youthquake, and more than a little miffed that Liza nabbed Charles, whom Diana herself once fancied. When Diana threatens to quit, Kelsey and Liza must win her back through the sacred medium of piano-bar karaoke – and it’s fun to see former pop star Duff, and Broadway alums Foster and Shor, paying homage to a classic song about working women’s solidarity.

Causing more trouble is Quinn (Laura Benanti), the angel investor who professed feminist solidarity with Kelsey and Liza. Perusing Millennial’s precarious finances, Quinn warns them of the ‘glass cliff’ phenomenon, in which women are only handed leadership roles when organisations are in crisis. Yet Quinn is also railroading Kelsey and Liza into making her half-baked Lean In-esque memoir – which focus groups already hate – Millennial Press’s first release.

While only the first two episodes were available to preview, they sow the seeds of potential conflict. Zane Anders (Charles Michael Davis), who was introduced in season four as Kelsey’s roguish rival editor and frenemy-with-benefits, is now working with Charles on a secret project that could threaten to overshadow Kelsey and Liza’s work at Millennial.

The ensemble cast remain delightful, their interactions only becoming more relatable with familiarity. It’s always a pleasure to watch 44-year-old Sutton Foster: her gangly physique and expressive face with big brown Bambi eyes make Liza emotionally transparent in both her comedic and dramatic moments.

Herrmann and Tortorella also lend an appealing nuance to the characters of Charles and Josh that makes us understand why Liza loves them both. Charles is sexy because of his shy dorkiness and his respect for Liza, not just his looks or the socioeconomic power he wields. And Josh is a Williamsburg softboy who, refreshingly, is trying to move past his hang-ups and become a good, grown-up man.

Shor has tremendous fun with Diana, a Devil Wears Prada-esque virago who’s really a pussycat beneath her statement necklaces. And Debi Mazar’s Maggie is more than just a wisecracking rom-com best friend: she gets her own stories of joy and vulnerability.

Perhaps the most important relationship in Younger is the generation-spanning friendship between Liza and Kelsey. Foster and Duff really sell the chilly dynamic that sets in whenever earnest, people-pleasing Liza falls out with ambitious, mercurial Kelsey; it feels the way a fight with your real friend feels. Now, is Liza’s relationship with Charles driving another wedge between them?

Anyone familiar with the literary world will also adore Younger’s consistently ruthless, goofy piss-takes of industry trends and scandals. Previous seasons have riffed on nature memoir H Is for Hawk, cult authors Marie Kondo and Karl Ove Knausgård, and – most audaciously – Game of Thrones author George RR Martin. The revolting Edward LL Moore (Richard Masur), whose epic fantasy series Crown of Kings sustained Empirical’s bottom line, provided Younger’s #MeToo moment, ultimately forcing Charles’ hand in the dramatic denouement of season five. I can’t wait to see if this season will tackle now-notorious fantasist Dan Mallory.

4 stars ★★★★

Younger Season 6 is currently screening on Stan, with new episodes released weekly. Seasons 1 - 5 also available.

Mel Campbell

Thursday 20 June, 2019

About the author

Mel Campbell is a freelance cultural critic and university lecturer who writes on film, TV, literature and media, with particular interests in history, costume, screen adaptations and futurism. Her first book was the nonfiction investigation Out of Shape: Debunking Myths about Fashion and Fit (2013), and she has co-written two romantic comedy novels with Anthony Morris: The Hot Guy (2017) and Nailed It (2019).