I have always been a fan of Darren Star’s work. I watched 90210 in high school, Melrose Place in what should have been college years, the entire run of Sex and the City. It sometimes surprises people when I can quote entire swaths of the latter, complete with episode numbers and titles (Side note: My favorite season is Season 2, although I appreciated Seasons 5 and 6 more as I grew up. and I am Team Aidan, since he isn’t creepily old like Mr. Big. I realize that is supposed to be sophistication but yeesh. )
It should therefore come as no surprise that I am a huge fan of Younger, the TV Land series produced by Star and costumed by Pat Field, the SatC wardrobe mistress. It is the story of a forty year old divorcee, Liza Miller (Sutton Foster), who, after being a SAHM her whole adult life, finds herself not only on her own, but with no assets due to her husband’s gambling debts. Liza doesn’t even have a roof over her head after losing her New Jersey suburban home. She goes to stay with her dear friend, artist Maggie (Debi Mazar) who owns a loft in Williamsburg she bought in the 90s (SLIGHTLY PLAUSIBLE). Liza attempts to go back into the workforce in her old career as a book editor, but soon learns she is unhireable after being out of the industry for sixteen years. It is only when she starts lying about her age and says she is 26 that she secures employment as an assistant to the marketing lead of the fictional Empirical Books, Diana Trout (Miriam Shor). (Note that this addresses every mother’s worst fears: that staying home will kill our careers.)
The clever premise of the show is the way that this lie, while created for work, extends to personal. Through the inadvertent friendships and relationships she forges along the way, Liza must keep up the facade of being 26. The show is therefore ultimately about relationships and trust, and the stress it places on the former when you lack the latter.
Trust – or lack thereof – is not the part I find relatable though. What I do find relatable is the need to be young in New York City. Los Angeles thrived on youthful appearance as a commodity; New York seems to thrive on the cultural aspects of being young, or rather, it is a city that emphasizes the culture that one cares about most while young. Fashion is the most obvious: the street style here is amazing no matter the age of the person wearing it. There’s an expectation though to know the best restaurants, bars, neighborhoods, music, art, plays – all these cultural touchpoints that most people stop paying attention to when they reach a certain age, that in New York are still as relevant to a 26 year old as a 40 year old.
Perhaps I am biased in that regard, since I work in an industry that is extremely heavy in millenials. Still, I feel like there’s more opportunity here to keep the most culturally dialed in parts of one’s 26 year old self. When I was 26, I cared about all of the things 26 year olds care about:seeing indie bands at Spaceland, shopping in Venice Beach boutiques, going to parties at MOCA. In New York, I still care about those sort of things. I may not actually do those things, but I know they are there in a way that I might not if it wasn’t always a possibility to engage with culture. Perhaps it says something about American culture in that, when one gets older, one is supposed to stop caring about fashion and music and art, but in New York, those things are so perennially important that they can’t be abandoned as one ages.
It’s also the access and option to participate in so much youth culture that conflicts with my responsibilities as an almost 40 year old. There are always going to be club nights I want to go to, new restaurants to try, trendy fitness classes to do – things I might have had time and energy to do at 26 but not at almost 40. More than Los Angeles, I feel younger here myself: having access to this much ageless culture makes me feel like I am caught. I’m torn between having the same enthusiasm I had for being in the Big City in 2004, and being the responsible adult I am in 2017.
So that’s why I empathize so much with Younger. It isn’t the emotional premise, as it was with SaTC, but rather, the cultural premise. Liza’s character dresses like a millenial for work, a pronounced difference between her image and her boss’. She lives in Brooklyn(!) Her friends go to House of Yes. She goes out to parties and rooftop bars in Manhattan. She does all these things that are age appropriate for 26 – but are still so available to those of us who are almost 40.