‘Younger’ Is One Of The Best Shows About Female Friendship On TV
It's the perfect antidote to the nastiness of 'Girls'.
One of the benefits of the recent boom in scripted TV is that there are shows for almost everyone — from fantasy epics like Game of Thrones to small and inventive shows that re-work old concepts like Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. After a ‘golden era’ that was dominated by male antiheroes with nagging wives, our streaming services are stacked with ‘Strong Female Leads’ and shows that revolve around complex or nuanced women.
One of those shows is Younger, a comedy now entering its third season, starring Sutton Foster and Hillary Duff about a woman who goes back to work after her divorce. It follows Liza Miller (Foster) as she has trouble finding a job as a 40-year-old who has been out of the workforce for nearly 20 years. After being asked out by a handsome 26-year-old at a bar who thinks they’re the same age, Liza is convinced by her friend Maggie (Debi Mazar) to pretend be 26 so she can get a job. She quickly lands a position at a New York publishing company, starts dating the 26-year-old guy, and meets Kelsey Peters (Duff) — the company’s junior editor. They form a close friendship and Liza’s web of lies becomes more complicated.
Younger goes to ridiculous lengths to keep its main character’s age a secret, which is a shame because that storyline is actually the least interesting aspect of the show. Younger is funny, smart and sexy, but where it shines best is in Liza’s friendships with Kelsey and Maggie. These women would do anything to help each other, and their relationships are some of the most realistic portrayals of female friendships on television.
An Understanding Of ‘Girl Code’
Liza’s double life is ultimately a chance to be in her twenties again — to see what her life could have been if she hadn’t married and had a child young — and she also sees her younger self in Kelsey. Despite the differences in age, Kelsey and Liza are alike; they’re ambitious, caring and passionate about their profession. Rather than competing against each other to get ahead, their friendship makes them a great team, and they spend increasing amounts of time together outside of work.
When one of them wants to sign a writer they believe has talent, they work together to achieve their goals. They celebrate when they sign an author, and they’re there for each other when a deal falls through. When Kelsey sees Liza’s heartbreak, she goes to her friend’s ex-boyfriend to try and help, because it hurts to see her friend in pain.
Liza and Kelsey’s friendship isn’t perfect; they argue, but it’s usually about things that matter because they want the best for each other. Kelsey doesn’t know that Liza is actually 40, and the difference in age means that Liza often comes off as overly judgemental when she criticises the behaviour and Kelsey and those around her.
At the end of the second season, Liza’s criticism of other people leads to an argument with Kelsey that nearly ends their friendship. They don’t speak for a few days, and they’re as miserable as they’ve been through any romantic breakup. Liza and Kelsey apologise because they love each other, and they value their friendship too much to let it end with an argument.
The other friendship that is central to the show is between Liza and Maggie. Maggie is her oldest friend, and the only person around whom Liza can truly be herself. Younger establishes the emotional stakes of Liza’s double life in its fifth episode titled ‘Girl Code’, which is one of the best episodes in the show’s early run. It’s also one of the few episodes that doesn’t feature any of the main characters’ love interests, instead focusing on how Liza and Maggie’s friendship has become strained since Liza began pretending to be 26.
As part of Liza’s cover story, Maggie has become the older roommate she met on Craigslist. And, as Liza spends more time with Kelsey and Lauren, her relationship with Maggie deteriorates. When Maggie confronts her friend, she accuses Liza of prioritising her new friendships over her existing ones. The comment hurts because Liza knows Maggie is telling the truth, and realises that she needs a way to let Maggie that she values their friendship.
The Right Way To Do A Fight
The fight that Liza and Maggie have in ‘Girl Code’ is reminiscent of the fight between Leslie Knope and Ann Perkins in the third season of Parks and Recreation.
For its first few seasons, Leslie and Ann’s friendship was the core of Parks and Recreation. They met when Ann attended one of Leslie’s town meetings to complain about the pit across the road from her house, and they formed a close friendship. In the third season of the show, Ann and Leslie grew apart as Leslie became interested in her boss Ben, and Ann started dating casually after a difficult breakup.
These frustrations culminated in an episode titled ‘The Fight’, in which Ann and Leslie get drunk and finally say everything that’s been building up for the past few months. Leslie and Ann both say things that they know will hurt the other, because the people that know you the best are able to pinpoint your insecurities. But, most importantly, they move past it.
Like Leslie and Ann, Liza knows that everything Maggie says to her in ‘Girl Code’ is true, and it’s not until the next day that she realises that she’s been selfish to the expense of the person who has been there for her the most.
These depictions of female friendships on Younger and Parks and Recreation are refreshing because many shows have portrayed friendships between women as competitive and toxic, including in Lena Dunham’s Girls. The four main characters start the show as friends, but drift apart over the series, particularly Hannah and Marnie. Hannah and Marnie began the show as roommates, and constantly told everyone they were best friends, but they never made time for each other, and their friendship deteriorated in the first season.
Marnie was similar to Maggie in the way she felt that she had been neglected by her best friend. But, when Marnie confronted Hannah, their fight quickly devolved into a game of one-upmanship, as the two of them argued about who was the good friend and who was the bad friend. Each woman was so absorbed in their own problems that they were unable to sympathise with the person they called their best friend. This argument was a turning point in their relationship, and resurfaces throughout the series. Hannah and Marnie are so focused on their own problems that they never make an effort to properly repair their friendship.
Like Parks and Recreation, Younger is a comedy, and there’s an understanding that everything will work out okay in the end. While these women argue, they will also go to extraordinary lengths to help each other out. They share in their victories and defeats, both professionally and personally. When Maggie stops talking to Liza in ‘Girl Code,’ Liza knows she has to do something big to get her friend back, and Kelsey helps her figure it out.
The best relationships on Younger aren’t between romantic couples, but platonic friends who can’t stand to see each other hurt, especially when they’re the cause of that pain. Those friendships are as important (probably more) as whoever the women on Younger are seeing at any given time.
Younger is available to stream on Stan now and the third season is being fast-tracked every Thursday.
Leah Rocke is a Melbourne-based critic who writes weekly streaming guides for DeciderTV. She tweets about reality television and Game of Thrones theories @forthejokes.