The Unicorn Scale: Younger

10/29/2018

A few weeks ago I was home alone and looking for a new show to binge. I’m all caught up on The Good Place  and was in the mood for another half hour comedy. I decided to give Younger a try. I admit, I went into it full of doubts. Hillary Duff still makes me think of the Disney Channel and all I knew about the story is that it follows a 40 year old woman pretending to be 26.

Many hours later I stepped away from the TV pleasantly surprised at what I thought was going to be a deeply objectionable show. I was also shocked that it was inspiring me to write another Unicorn Scale. For those of you unfamiliar with our Unicorn Scale, here’s how it works.

From here on out there will be SPOILERS! Proceed at your own risk.

Liza Miller (played by Sutton Foster) is a 40 year old woman who is freshly divorced, broke, and has a daughter in college. She hasn’t worked in 15 years and is attempting to get back into the publishing industry. Her artistic-best friend-lesbian roommate convinces her to pretend that she is 26 in order to get a job and thus a half hour comedy is born.

The next 5 (yes, 5 and still counting) seasons follow her as she tries to navigate the two worlds of being an up and coming millennial and a woman in her 40s.

Along for the ride are her two swoon-worthy romantic interests, Josh (played by Nico Tortorella #oneofus) and Charles (played by Peter Hermann); her best friends Meg (played by Debi Mazer) and Kelsey (played by Hillary Duff); her career woman boss, Diana Trout (played by Miriam Shore); and an assortment of whacky characters.

What I Liked

This really is a show about women. Yes, they are all are absurdly gorgeous, long-legged, successful, white women; however, Younger really does address a lot of the realities of being a woman in the 2000s. The very premise of the show tackles the difficulty of being taken seriously when you’ve been out of the workplace for 15 years.

The show is not afraid to talk about sexual harassment, sexism, age discrimination, double standards, etc. These are not always the most in-depth dives, but I was pleasantly surprised at how well a half hour comedy managed to integrate these issues without devaluing or oversimplifying them.

It’s also an incredibly sex-positive show, which I always love.

The reason Younger made the cut for The Unicorn Scale is Lauren Heller (played by Molly Bernard), Kelsey’s best friend.

Lauren is openly bi, she talks about the fact that she is bi, she dates men and women, and values both of those relationships. No one tries to erase her bisexuality, no one claims that her attractions aren’t real, no one tells her she doesn’t exist.

Even as I write this I am a little shocked. Her bisexuality is never an issue, it’s simply a fact. There’s no coming out narrative, no trauma, no difficulties; Lauren is who Lauren is and everyone, from her parents to her coworkers to her lovers, just accepts that. Clearly this is a work of fiction, but it’s a marvelous fiction that I wish there were more of.

I also love that the same-sex relationships aren’t just there to titillate the viewer, but they also aren’t prudish. These women have exciting, interesting, complicated sex lives. They have kinks and preferences and bad days and good days. As the viewer, we mostly learn about this through the characters’ conversations, not a series of gratuitous “girl on girl” scenes.

In addition to Lauren, Liza’s lesbian roommate, Maggie, is also there to represent the queer ladies. Maggie is possibly my favorite character with the most amazing style. She is a vibrant, free spirited, sexy artist. She has a brief, healthy, fun relationship with Lauren and also never questions Lauren’s bisexuality.

Maggie and Lauren

To create contrast between the young millennial women (and one fake millennial), there’s also Diana Trout. She is the head of marketing and at first seems cold and mean. In fact she is the other side of Liza. She is the woman who has no family, but fought her way to the top. She certainly has a prickly exterior, but she is also committed to helping the younger women succeed.

Just by showing so many different women, this show is remarkable.

It would have been so easy to either have the 40 somethings of the show be two dimensional, technologically challenged, buffoons or the millennials be shallow, attention seeking dilettantes, but Younger actually creates real characters in both age groups.

That makes the major romance of the first few seasons possible. Liza has a relationship with the young tattoo artist downstairs, Josh. Although she initially lies about her age, eventually she comes clean and they continue to date. They talk about a lot of the realities of having a significant age gap, like the fact that he might want a family someday and they have an awesome relationship. Somehow they make this December May romance not a gimmick, which is truly impressive.

What I Didn’t Like

Initially, it felt very much like Lauren’s bisexuality was part of creating a millennial image. She works in PR, she is Instagram and Twitter crazy, and she is always trying to be a little scandalous. I worried that her bisexuality would just be one more way for her to shock people. However, as the show went on, this became less of an issue for me. She never uses her bisexuality in that way, nor does she ever disavow it.

I would love more bi characters, always. I feel like Lauren is very much the token bi. The show embraces all sexual orientations, and so it feels a little bit like they had to check the “B” box. Then again, with so many shows choosing not to check it, I’m also just delighted to have such a positive representation.

The Rating

I was a little surprised to find that I really enjoyed this show. I enjoyed the sex positivity, that it was centered on a variety of female characters (and not just their dating dramas), and that there was a truly happy bi lady representing. I would love to see some more bi characters (especially a dude), but I also have faith that that character may still happen. Fingers crossed for season 6.

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Talia Squires
Talia Squires is Editor-in-chief of bi.org. Talia has a degree in German Literature from Bryn Mawr College and a Master's in Critical Studies from the USC School of Cinematic Arts. She's obsessed with good food, fantastic wine, and trashy television. She lives in LA with her husband and fluffy Lhasa Apso.