I love a big kiss, especially when it’s the culmination of months of buildup, romantic moments, and will-they-or-won’t-they tension. For two seasons now on Younger, Liza (Sutton Foster), a 40-year-old divorcée with a college-age daughter, has been pretending to be 26 in order to re-enter the workforce as an assistant at a fictional publishing conglomerate named Empirical. The company is run by Charles (Peter Hermann), an extremely handsome divorcé and father-of-two in his late 40s. Liza and Charles are obviously perfect for one another, and the writers have slowly built this up through various interactions of the type that a low-on-the-totem-pole assistant really wouldn’t be having with the head of a major publishing house. For example, in the penultimate episode of season 2, Empirical’s most important author, Edward L.L. Moore (Richard Masur), a complete clone of George R.R. Martin, comes to New York for the big launch of the final book in his obvious Game of Thrones-clone series, Crown of Kings. He takes a liking to Liza and decides she should dress up in an extremely body-baring outfit to play Princess Pam Pam in his saga for the midnight launch of the book. When Charles sees Liza in the costume (which resembles every Google Image result for “sexy cavewoman”), his eyes practically bulge out of his head. I’m making him sound like a bit of a lecher, though, which he isn’t. It’d be hard for anyone’s eyes not to bug out of their heads upon seeing a coworker in this costume. Charles thanks Liza for really going above and beyond for her job. He even rescues her from the real lecher in the situation, Edward L.L. Moore, who keeps repeating that since he told Liza the ending of the novels before anyone else, he now has to eat her. Edward even gives Liza a key to his hotel room, intending to make good on that promise. Charles whisks Liza off to a candlelit bar, where the two have a very professional conversation about her career trajectory at Empirical. Just kidding! A 26-year-old assistant and the CEO of a major corporation start having the kind of third-date conversation that, if Sex and the City has taught us anything, normally leads to a romantic walk through New York City, followed by kissing on someone’s stoop before an “I really want to invite you up...but you’re my boss’ boss’ boss’ boss.” moment. On Sex and the City, another show from Younger creator Darren Star, the invitation would be accepted, and a night of passionate lovemaking would ensue. But this is Younger, and Liza and Charles aren’t technically on a date, even though it sure feels like one. Liza asks Charles what he would do if he didn’t have to run the publishing company his grandfather started, and he could completely start his career over. He looks wistful, as if no one has ever thought to ask him that before. He’s always been this privileged man who was just handed a publishing company (poor guy!), and now this 26-year-old assistant with whom he feels a deep connection is asking him about his actual hopes and dreams. She gets him, you know?
But alas, Liza must run off to deal with her usual emergency on Younger, which involves someone finding out her secret. This time, it's her friend and coworker Kelsey’s (Hilary Duff) cheating fiancé Thad (Dan Amboyer). Liza wants Thad to tell Kelsey that he frequently cheats on her, but Thad threatens to tell Kelsey that Liza’s really 40. They fight, and then a construction crane falls on Thad, killing him instantly. In the final episode of the season, Liza comes clean to Kelsey about why she and Thad were fighting (the cheating part, not the “this is 40” part). Rather than thanking her for being a good friend and for trying to stop her from marrying a lying asshole, Kelsey lashes out at Liza for trying to fight her battles for her. Liza responds more like a 26-year-old than a 40-year-old. She tells her boss Diana (Miriam Shor) that she received an offer from a rival publishing firm and that she has to leave instantly. She doesn’t tell anyone where she’s going, because she’s actually going to work at the Nordstrom in Garden State Plaza — here just an unnamed store in the “Paramus Mall,” but you can’t fool someone from Bergen County, New Jersey, watching this show, Younger producers. I know my mother’s favorite store when I see it. Kelsey, Diana, and Charles are shocked that Liza is gone, and they basically drop whatever it is they’re doing to find her. Maybe this is why print is dying; because everyone stops work to locate flighty 26-year-olds who quit without giving two weeks notice. They eventually locate her, and Charles volunteers to be the one to journey to the wilds of New Jersey to convince Liza to come back. I’m sorry, but I have to call bullshit on this. Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit. I realize that television is about escapist fantasy. I understand that Younger writers have been setting up this “they understand each other like no one else” dynamic between Liza and Peter for two seasons now. But let’s be objective about this for a second here. A publishing assistant quit her job. It happens. The freaking CEO of the company would never travel across state lines to her new job at the mall to ask her to come back.
Don’t worry, though, it’s about to get even weirder. After Charles gives his “here’s why you should come back to work” speech, it seems like he’s going to leave. Nope. He turns around and says something along the lines of, “Oh, and if that doesn’t convince you, there’s one more reason.” AND HE KISSES HER. I know that we, the viewers, are expected to swoon at this. It’s so unexpected! The level-headed Charles is acting completely with his heart, finally demonstrating our dream that Liza and Charles would be such a great couple! But please, let me show my age, cynicism, and practical side for a second. This kiss is not appropriate. Sure, at the time, Liza isn’t his employee, but Charles is asking her to come back and work for him again. If she does, are they just supposed to sweep this grand romantic gesture under the rug? Every time she sees Charles at the office, are they going to shoot covert glances at one another, yearning to be together? Are they going to to go HR and disclose their relationship? Does Charles really want it to get out to the public that the head of Empirical publishing is dating an assistant? I don’t say this with disdain of any sort; I just mean that objectively, it’s not the strongest message for an executive to send. It’s very retro in a way, sort of like Don and Megan Draper on Mad Men. I know that in the Younger world of blue-sky television, true love is supposed to conquer all. But that’s not how it works in real life (sorry to blow that beautiful notion out of the water). As I watched this kiss, the show went over the tipping point of escapist fantasy. It turned from a TV show meant to see the world through rose-colored glasses to one that came crashing back into the harsh realities and practicalities of real life. Suddenly, the kiss wasn’t some beautiful moment. It occurs while Liza is on the clock at her job, so that’s a little odd for her to be kissing a customer who then doesn’t appear to buy anything. Even in the realm of the show, how can this possibly work? If they were going to kiss, couldn’t it have happened independently of Charles begging Liza to come work for him again? Because now the power dynamics are all muddled together. Plus, if Liza is now going to get closer to Charles in a personal relationship, that means he has to find out her big secret. He seems to be someone who values honesty above anything, and even though learning that Liza is actually 40, divorced, and has a daughter means that they have even more in common than Charles previously thought, I don’t think he’s going to like the fact that she’s been deceiving him this entire time. And if you think disclosing to HR that you’re a CEO dating an assistant is going to be a process, just wait until you have to tell them that the assistant has been lying about her identity during her employ. Something tells me no one in this situation is going to be quite as forgiving, and that’s why this UNEXPECTED kiss (as TV Land promoted it in press releases and Younger trailers) just feels wrong on so many levels.