I turned on Younger in the middle of unemployment with the explicit purpose of falling asleep. I expected to only watch the first ten minutes, assuming the show had nothing interesting or enticing enough to keep me awake. Then I watched four episodes that night—and housed the entire series within two days.
Younger is unexpectedly addictive, nothing short of extremely soothing and pleasurable to watch. It's a bedtime story that's supposed to lull but is too engaging to ever actually let you doze off. Usually when I binge, there's a hard out when I finally get caught up to real time, entering the headspace of its regular audience and eventually losing interest—but that hasn't happened with Younger, not yet.
Part of what makes Younger's addictive quality so surprising is that it's centered on Liza (Sutton Foster), whose most puzzling feature is that I'm so invested in her. It's a compliment to Foster that her performance turns Liza, whose hobbies include pragmatism and hard work, into a character I've been following so intensely. But Liza does have her spirals into choppy waters: There's a whole thing about hooking up with her boss, as well as the omnipresent fact that she's leading a double life and lying to everyone around her about her actual age.
Liza leads a double life to support herself and her daughter, a situation that's rarely portrayed in an overtly raw way. In one episode, her daughter is in the hospital, but Liza only finds out the details after returning from a long weekend without cell service. We don't see her ex-husband's gambling addiction in action, but we do learn about it through references towards property lost to the addiction—a boat, frequent flyer miles. By not showing the more inherently dramatic elements of Liza's life, Younger maintains a fun, light-hearted vibe even when things get dire.
Sometimes it seems that the only thing Liza can control is her love life. There are many episodes where she bounces between love interests: There's Charles (Peter Hermann), her boss and the man we're supposed to root for; Josh (Nico Tortorella), who we're also supposed to root for but feel guilty about it because Charles is the obvious choice; and there's Jay (Aasif Mandvi), the new guy who knows her secret and thus lives with her in two worlds at once.
Ultimately, Liza's main conflict should be her job and the inner conflicts that come with it—and there are notes of realistic regret and sensibility strewn about the show. But Liza spent her marriage as a caretaking wife raising her daughter, and now she finally wants to be in control of her career. Those things aren't usually mutually exclusive, but Younger treats them as such anyway, making for engaging television and providing another example of a woman having to choose between her career and her heart.
Younger takes the shape of our teen diary entries when they veer into fan fiction—those scenarios in which we engage in what we know we shouldn't do but want to. It's the modern-day Lizzie McGuire, where a younger Hilary Duff led us through her everyday life navigating school, boys, and friendship. In both Younger and our diary, we follow our lovable friends with their irritating quirks and doomed decisions. We live vicariously through what we wish would happen—and on Younger, what does happen. Ultimately, it proves a capable balancing act of complex female characters in a world with low enough stakes that those characters can engage in the riskier side of things.
Follow Darcie Wilder on Twitter.