The final season of Darren Star’s series overcomes cast departures and some shoddy subplots to still end on an appealing high note.
At face value, the original premise of Younger seems destined for a short run. After all, a story about a woman in her 40s who pretends to be 26 to get a job in publishing seems more at home as a Lifetime Original movie than a long-form series. And yet the comedy has lasted six years on TVLand, with the show never losing its charm and heart. While the seventh and final season has the series moving from TVLand to Paramount+, it still manages to keep the same spirit that won it so many fans.
The season finale for season six ended with the characters more or less at a high point in their lives. Liza (Sutton Foster) has been “outed” as a fortysomething and weathered the controversy while managing to snag her heartthrob boss Charles (Peter Hermann). Her partner editor Kelsey (Hilary Duff) has been made a stakeholder board member of Empirical Press. Her ex Josh (Nico Tortorella) is a new father and her best friend/roommate Maggie (Debi Mazar) is experiencing a resurgence in her art career.
Of course, the good times don’t last. Charles has asked Liza to marry him, but her previous poor experience with matrimony leaves her reticent. Thus the seasons-old “will-they-won’t-they” plotline is restarted, with Liza gaining a new romantic rival with Quinn Tyler (Laura Benanti), a billionaire and former investor for Empirical who has her eyes set on the dashing publisher.
The rest of the cast isn’t faring much better. Almost immediately, Kelsey begins regretting not leaving Empirical when she feels that Charles doesn’t take her seriously. Maggie finds herself canceled over an offensive title of a 25-year-old show, and Josh has to navigate the pitfalls of single fatherdom.
Thankfully, one thing that the cast doesn’t have to deal with is COVID, which isn’t mentioned at all (it’s not stated, but I assume this season takes place in 2019 like the sixth season). It’s refreshing to see a modern show that doesn’t tackle this subject, but that doesn’t mean the disease hasn’t affected this season.
Both the acerbic marketing exec Diana Trout (Miriam Shor) and Kelsey’s lover/business rival Zane (Charles Michael Davis) are reduced to digital cameos due to their actors not being able to film due to scheduling/COVID reasons. Trout’s marketing role is replaced by Kelsey’s friend Lauren Heller (Molly Bernard). While Bernard’s portrayal of the flighty and social-climbing Lauren is often hilarious, I couldn’t help but miss Shor’s icy charm and dry humor.
It’s not “prestige television”, but damn it, watching these crazy kids (and Gen Xers) get into all sorts of hijinks is more satisfying than watching most serious dramas.
While Shor and Davis’ departure leaves a hole that can’t be truly filled, the cast still maintains its extraordinary chemistry. Although Younger started out as Liza’s story, it has truly become an ensemble piece, and the cast acts accordingly. Everyone is on their A-game, playing off each other with the natural ease that over half a decade of working together creates. They’re so likable and charming that it’s impossible not to root for the characters, even when they may make some morally ambiguous choices.
This likable cast is the key to the show’s success. Throughout its tenure, Younger has been the platonic ideal of comfort TV with all the hallmarks that show creator Darren Star (Emily in Paris) is known for: loyal friends who are driven and smart with glamorous careers and a killer wardrobe, a romanticized version of a big city (in this case NYC), and, of course, lots of sexual and romantic tension.
It’s pure fluff, but it works because these are characters that we’ve grown to care about. It’s not “prestige television”, but damn it, watching these crazy kids (and Gen Xers) get into all sorts of hijinks is more satisfying than watching most serious dramas.
While the fluffy plot is mostly a boon, it backfires whenever Younger tries to get “topical”. This is most egregious in Maggie’s “cancellation” subplot. She is effectively canceled when a vindictive colleague uncovers a show of hers titled “Gypsies, Tr**nies, and Thieves”, which is leveraged to call her transphobic.
Though there’s a place for discussion about how what used to be groundbreaking and compassionate can now be offensive (despite its title, the show was a love letter to New York’s LGBTQ+ community), Younger is not a show that’s equipped for said discussion. Instead, the storyline comes across as smug and a little try-hard when Maggie leans into her “I’m canceled” status.
This subplot is the only real misstep of the season, which otherwise sticks to what it knows best: romantic and career drama. Just about everyone gets a romantic interest, but the main tension is whether Liza and Charles will end up together. While Liza still loves and cares about Charles, she chafs against his “my way or the highway” attitude while Charles feels that he’s given up enough for Liza that it isn’t too much to ask for a relationship on his terms.
This leads to some additional romantic interests: Liza with a sexy surfer/author and Charles with Quinn, who is writing another book. The Quinn/Charles/Liza triangle is the best part of this season as it gives it some much-needed tension while also humanizing Quinn. In previous seasons she was a cartoonish billionaire, but in this storyline, Benanti is allowed to show some vulnerability. It’s enough to (almost) make you want Charles and Quinn to get together.
The career drama is less prominent but still compelling. Watching Liza and Kelsey go behind Charles’ back in attempts to innovate the brand often leads to the funniest scenes in the show. Lauren trying (and failing) to take Diana’s place in Empirical is also hilarious, as the dissonance between Lauren’s inexperience and her self-promoting ego is the most millennial thing on Earth.
While enjoyable, these plotlines don’t feel like an “ending” to Younger. Rather this season feels “business as usual” as opposed to a series finale. At first, I was disappointed by the lack of stakes, but upon further review, this really is fitting. Darren Star and the cast of Younger gave us a show that is comforting, and part of its comfort is the idea that it won’t end. Honestly, I love the show and I’m sad that I won’t get to see these characters in any new stories. But, at least the show is ending on a high note, and that is a comfort all its own.
Younger dresses itself up for its final bow on Paramount+ and Hulu April 15th.