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Optimistic Take on the Age Game

Tue, 06/04/2019 - 17:51
Peter Hermann and Sutton Foster, center, discussed their onscreen relationship as, from left, Hilary Duff, Nico Tortorella, Miriam Shor, and Darren Star looked on at the “Younger” premiere screening at the Tribeca Film Festival in April.
Jennifer Landes

“Younger,” Darren Star’s delightful indulgence of a series that started off slowly on TV Land but has built its audience steadily year after year, primarily by word of mouth, is back for its sixth season, beginning Wednesday night. 

 Mr. Star’s HBO series “Sex in the City” played up the fantasy of Manhattan. This latest show — in which the young characters live in Williamsburg — has an intriguing if far-fetched premise: What if a newly separated woman in her 40s who could pass for someone in her 20s couldn’t get a job in publishing at her real age? How far would she go to make sure her daughter’s college tuition was paid for and she could support herself in New York City?

As unlikely as it sounds in this social media-saturated moment, when everyone’s life and identity are everywhere, the show’s charming cast, including East Hampton’s Peter Hermann in a starring role, and the writing make it work. On TV Land, a cable channel that previously had not been known for original scripted series, the show has become a certified hit. Last season was its highest rated among adults from ages 18 to 49, and it is the highest rated series on ad-supported cable television among women ages 18 to 49 and 25 to 54, according to Deadline Hollywood.

Mr. Hermann is part of a strong and tight-knit cast that includes Sutton Foster, Hilary Duff, Nico Tortorella, Miriam Shor, and Debi Mazar, with many notable guest stars as well, including authors both real, such as Meg Wolitzer, and imagined, often loosley based on real people.

In April, the Tribeca Film Festival screened the first episode of this season to an enthusiastic standing-room-only audience sworn to secrecy about how last season’s cliffhangers might resolve themselves and the latest plot twists (no spoilers here).

During a conversation with the cast and Mr. Star afterward, it was obvious they really enjoyed their characters as much as one another. Ms. Foster plays the lead character, Liza, and with her age dialed back a decade or two she is soon hired as an assistant at an august publishing company owned and headed by Mr. Hermann.

Things get complicated fast, and the story has evolved over the past five seasons to reveal love triangles, betrayals, blackmailing, and other thorny problems that arise from the series’ central deception. But it is also a show about relationships, most notably female friendships.

As the show has progressed, Mr. Star noted, it is “less about Liza’s secret, more about the challenges the secret has created in the tangled web of relationships” she has developed in this new persona.

The show’s writers, who were asked to stand up at one point to applause, “are sensitive to the fact that these are women who support each other,” Mr. Star said. “Whenever they come into conflict, we’re aware about what that conflict is about and how it’s managed. There is friendship and love between them.” He offered a hint that they will come into conflict more this season than other seasons, but in general “it’s something we think about a lot.”

Mr. Hermann said pulling off the show’s hopefulness and optimism without being naive and maudlin “is such an incredibly difficult thing to do. It’s a credit to our writers” and the characters they created. “We live in such a cynical age. . . . It’s a lazy default setting in an approach to life.”

Ms. Duff said she thought it was sweet how one character’s main motivation is to have her character, Kelsey, succeed, and how Liza is supported by her longtime friend Maggie, played by Ms. Mazar, whose loft Liza moves to after separating from her husband. “Maggie is pushing Liza out the door with confidence,” and then Liza goes to work and wants to give Kelsey that confidence, Ms. Duff said.

“It’s so beautiful to see . . . characters hoping for each other,” Mr. Hermann added. “We do it on the show and we’re lucky that we like each other so much we do it for each other in life. It’s just a great place to work.”

Mr. Star said another prominent theme of the show is the “passion everyone has for work, specifically working in the publishing industry, which is not the most thriving of businesses.” These characters really have a passion for it and want to keep it alive. “The lengths they will go to keep their careers is what this season is about.”

The first episode of season six airs Wednesday at 10 p.m. on TV Land. The series can be streamed from the beginning on Hulu.


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