TV Land’s fan-favorite comedy Younger is surrounded by an endless number of fun, made-for-Twitter questions. When will Liza Miller’s (Sutton Foster) massive, age-based deception be uncovered? What makes Diana Trout (Miriam Shor) so fabulous? Josh or Charles? That final question always seemed to have an obvious answer: Charles Brooks (Peter Hermann), the successful, thoughtful, wildly dashing publishing executive vying for Liza’s heart. Yes, Josh No Last Name (Nico Tortorella) is sexy and interesting and cares deeply for Liza, but these two are simply in different stages of their lives. Now Charles and Liza on the other hand? They’re a match made in same-age, book-loving, kid-having heaven (when you remove all of Liza’s mounting lies).
I believed this outlook was an undeniable truth until a friend here at Refinery29 pointed out just how creepy Liza and Charles’ love story could actually be viewed. After all, that handsome book executive barely found an issue with the sexual harassment nightmare waiting to happen that is pursing your supposedly much younger, wide-eyed corporate underling. It seemed Younger itself was too taken with its romantic flights of fancy to grapple with this fact. That is, until Tuesday night’s season 5 premiere, “#LizaToo,” where the breezy summer confection faced its complicated past head-on. And, the Darren Star creation is now all the better for its very own #MeToo moment.
Somehow, Younger’s fifth season opener manages to investigate a long list of its own possible sexual harassment sins in a matter of 22-and-a-half minutes, which is the only detail Starr teased to his star, Sutton Foster, before 2018 filming began. At the very top of the episode, Liza and Charles are forced to question their own romantic history and whether it was problematic. During a "Who’s On First" type situation, Liza confirms in a lynchpin of a conversation she never felt sexual coerced by Charles, despite the fact Charles was actually asking her opinions about author and creep Edward L.L. Moore (Richard Masur). Moore is a writer who previously harassed Liza and continues to in the episode. Then, Moore is revealed to be a Harvey Weinstein-type alleged sexual predator, who has harassed nearly every woman he has come in contact with, especially when they’re wearing the fur bikini costume his Pam Pam character is famous for.
By the end of the episode, Moore is left dangling from the ceiling in a faux flaming moped. Yet, as a reminder of why women often keep their stories of harassment or assault to themselves, Moore retaliates by dragging the names of all of his accusers through the mud. This is how Liza’s secret — you know, how she is a 40-something-year-old divorceé and mom instead of a single 20-something — is revealed. Somewhere in all of this tension, even Diana explains her own long history with sexual harassment in the workplace, all while getting very specific about the number of unwanted penises she has been forced to see in the office.
“It’s really important to look at it from every perspective — to comment on it,” Diana’s portrayer Miriam Shor, who directed an upcoming season 5 episode, told Refinery29 during a New York press event for the series. “And, if we can use humor to provoke thought, that’s great.”
The show takes itself to task on the way that [it], and all of us, regarded a man’s behavior and excused it with, ‘He’s of a different generation ... Or, any of the other steaming piles of horse shit we use.
Cleary, the rest of the cast’s thoughts have been stirred following “#LizaToo,” which was filmed in February 2017, about four months after the #MeToo movement began unmasking the long line of predators hiding throughout the upper echelons of society.
“It’s elegant how the show takes itself to task on the way that [it], and all of us, regarded a man’s behavior and excused it with, ‘He’s of a different generation. Or that’s just how men are. Or he’s just having fun. Or, any of the other steaming piles of horse shit we use to excuse men’s behavior,’” star Peter Hermann explained to R29 of his own character, Charles, and his long-condoned possible misdeeds, adding critically the publisher wasn’t “unaware” of his attraction to an underling.
“It [was] great to come back after this seismic shift in the culture and to be able to have a writers room that looks back at a show through a new lens and with a new cultural awareness.”
Herman’s on-screen romantic rival and real-life co-star Nico Tortorella has a similar outlook on why the season 5’s honest look at Liza and Charles's past is so very important. “Their relationship on screen, outside of the context of the show, is problematic. It fetishes this idea of the boss being in power, attracted to the assistant,” the actor and writer said, confirming an episode like the premiere shows “growth.”
“Would Charles have been attracted to Liza if he knew from the beginning? We don’t know those things. We can’t know … But since the landscape has changed so much, we get to look back at it be like, ‘Oh, fuck, we’re part of that. Whether we like it or not.’”
While Liza's alter-ego Sutton Foster reminds viewers the Liza and Charles pairing never “traded off” of their imbalanced power dynamic, she is pleased to revisit her character’s L.L. Moore-forced Pam Pam costume. Although the skin-baring outfit started off as a gag to get the actress in a ridiculous fantasy epic-friendly bikini while standing in the middle of Times Square, she now sees there are more layers at play. “It’s just not right,” Foster explained. “Even having it back on, I’m like, ‘Oh jeez. Man, what are we doing?’ It was fascinating that [the writers] dove right into all of that.”
It sounds like the Younger scribes will continue to avoid making things “easy” for themselves, as Foster put it, going into the rest of the cable comedy's 2018 run. “This is a very exciting season because all of these [difficult] conversations, the show doesn’t shy away from any of them,” she teased for the future of Younger, which has already nabbed a season 6 renewal.
“I can’t wait to talk to you again after the finale … the mirror is reflected back on all the characters and all of the decisions and all of the choices.”
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