Sutton Foster deserves a great, long-lasting television vehicle. She is more than capable as a performer — as evidenced by her two Tony Awards — but so far she’s had trouble transitioning that success to television. ABC Family’s Bunheads, a sweet and funny ballet-centric teen drama from Amy Sherman-Palladino (Gilmore Girls), was her first starring TV role, but it never made it to a second season. That wasn’t for lack of quality; Bunheads was praised by critics and adored by fans, an immediate inductee into the Brilliant But Cancelled Hall of Fame. Foster’s latest TV attempt is Younger, premiering tonight on TV Land. And unlike Bunheads, it’s an unfortunate waste of Foster’s talents.
In Younger, Foster plays Liza, a 40-year-old woman who took time off from her job to raise her daughter. When the series begins, her husband has left, her daughter is abroad in Mumbai, and Liza is finally ready to reenter the workforce. However, while interviewing for jobs, she encounters one huge snag: at 40, Liza is suddenly too old to get the entry-level positions that she desires. So how does she get the job? She goes younger, of course, and pretends to be 26.
Liza doesn’t have to change much about herself in order to “be” 26: she gets some highlights, references One Direction in conversation, wears shorter skirts, starts dating a younger guy, etc. She gets a job in publishing as an assistant to a hellish boss, Diana (Miriam Shor), because hellish bosses are the only kind of sitcom bosses, and alongside a young editor, Kelsey (Hilary Duff). Created by Sex and the City‘s Darren Starr, Younger goes for the easy jokes. For one, Liza doesn’t understand technology! On her first day of work, she’s tasked with running a Twitter account and actually runs to Bing — Bing! — to search how to do it. It’s a major stretch that she wouldn’t know how to do this, even at 40 (which isn’t ancient), but that’s the humor we’re working with here.
Some other great jokes from this Sex and the City alum include two young girls gawking in horror at Liza’s pubic hair (“That looks like my Mom’s vagina!”) and basically shaming her into waxing for her new, younger guy; and a woman spontaneously taking off her shirt during an outdoor lunch in New York City in order to tweet a topless selfie for #ToplessTuesday… which then leads to a topless-centric Joyce Carol Oates Twitter campaign. Subsequent episodes (I watched four) do get slightly better, especially as they begin to focus on Liza’s new romance (and her insecurity about it) and introduce Kelsey’s workplace dilemma (her flirtation with an author whose book she’s releasing). But Younger, while marginally better than the vast majority of TV Land’s offerings, especially because it shows the network is actively trying to skew “younger” and step away from multi-cams centered on once-famous actresses, doesn’t ever quite become great.
Of course, it’s too early to say that Foster is doomed — one very good short-lived show and one mediocre sitcom that may very well last a few seasons certainly doesn’t add up to a curse — but it’s fair to say that her transition to television has been rocky. She fit in well on Bunheads by standing out (and since the show was about dance, it was a natural segue from Broadway), but Younger isn’t a sitcom that showcases Foster’s talents as well it could. She does her best, remaining charming and enthusiastic with a script that is lifeless and tame (but believes it’s edgy), and her performance is the one reason to keep tuning in. But with her talents, and with Bunheads still so fresh in fans’ minds, I’d rather see Foster find a better-written show than get stuck on TV Land for a few years.