Wednesday, October 5, 2016

REVIEW: 'Younger' - Empirical Gets a New Investor as Liza Worries About Her Secret (Again) in 'The Marshmallow Experiment'

TV Land's Younger - Episode 3.02 "The Marshmallow Experiment"

Liza's identity is under threat by Thad's laptop and Kelsey being exposed to the truth. A Silicon Valley billionaire invests in Empirical.

Three seasons in, Younger is still producing episodes where the main story focuses on Liza worrying about her secret identity being exposed. It really is a precarious con for her. And yet, she always manages to keep her secret intact. Sometimes that's been because of silly plot contrivances. Other times, it's more extreme like when Thad was killed to keep the core premiere of the series alive. The secret is no longer as important as it initially was. However, the show is still doing episodes where Liza is wondering just how serious things should get between her and Josh as well as her running around town determined to tell Kelsey the truth but then not doing so in the end. It's a formula the show has gone to over and over again. It was fun and charming in the early going. But now, it has just gotten way too repetitive. There can still be situations that threaten exposure for her. But the threats she faces in "The Marshmallow Experiment" just feel too familiar to be all that effective yet again.

Of course, the episode opens with the Empirical team congratulating Dr. Jane Wray on how successful her book is doing in pre-sales. It was a big deal last season when Liza decided she needed therapy. It was a huge step forward for her. It was a mature decision. And then, nothing ever came from it. Apparently, she has still been going to sessions. They've just been happening offscreen. Liza has shared enough for Jane to write an entire chapter about her in her book. But it doesn't seem like Liza's made any progress in her life. The point of therapy is to help with complicated mental and emotional issues. Liza's situation sure is complicated. That's the word that can best define so much of what's happening on the show at all times. But no progress has been made at all thanks to this therapy. So, it largely feels like something the show says is important but isn't that interested in exploring for fertile storytelling possibilities. Right now, it's just suppose to be funny when Ellen DeGeneres wants both Jane and Liza on her show which causes Liza to freak out a little bit because she still wants to maintain her secret.

And yet, the mere fact that Jane returns at all is hopefully a good scene that the show just isn't completely forgetting about Liza in therapy. It was a good episode last season. But it was just a story for an episode. If it didn't want to focus too much on Liza in therapy, the show could have done so by just never bringing Camryn Manheim back as Jane. Instead, the show has opted for her to put in another appearance. It's tied to the launch of the book. This book is still the only prominent piece of material that the Millennial Imprint really has. It's a launch that Kelsey and Liza are very excited about. They have big plans for this book. Sure, it's largely a case for the show to recite a bunch of buzzwords in order to seem hip and cool. It really loves Buzzfeed and listicles. But what are the actual stakes of this story? The book is popular enough that Ellen wants Jane to come on her show with Liza. But then, Charles makes a comment that the pre-sales aren't doing well at all - which Jane overhears and doesn't like too much.

Of course, all of this could just be sly setup for the reveal that Empirical isn't doing well as a business. This doesn't seem to be the kind of show that can offer an insightful conversation about the death of old media. The show has been very into the new social trends of the last few years. But it's also centered around a publishing house that still focuses on making print. That's a dying art form. So, it's appreciated that that is at least recognized here. Of course, it only sets up an even bigger divide between the old and new media. A Silicon Valley billionaire, Bryce Reiger, comes in to become a new investor in Empirical. Charles needs Bryce's money in order to keep Empirical afloat. It's a somewhat weird story because the show plays it as Charles acting weird because Liza didn't show up to discuss their kiss. Diana notes that Charles hasn't acted like this since his divorce happened. It seems like tension deeply rooted in romantic interest. Charles had genuine feelings for her. And now, it seems like he's lashing out because she chose Josh instead of him. Of course, that's not what's happening at all. He's just worried about his company. He's hoping Liza and Kelsey will be able to make enough of a pitch to win over this new investor.

Bryce certainly is an interesting new character. The show plays a little bit too much into the awkward, nerdy stereotype as a way to define people who break out in Silicon Valley. Bryce is constantly commenting on how he's "on the spectrum." That's a statement that can be made once to define character but when it's mentioned multiple times it's just annoying. This is clearly a new world the show is hoping to mine for laughs. The episode builds to an epic party happening at Bryce's loft. It's a party he only invites Liza and Kelsey to. He ultimately decides to invest in Empirical largely because they are there and know what the future looks like. He doesn't care for Charles and Diana at all. He sees them as the older generation who's out of touch with what's happening in today's world. That's certainly the case to an extent. Kelsey and Liza are always the ones coming up with new ways to promote new books. And yet, Liza is from the same generation as Charles and Diana. She just appears younger and is more willing to adapt to this changing world. She's had to do that to keep her secret identity intact. She can change and is excited for the future. However, she's still afraid that this life will end just as quickly as it started.

The party is also a way for Kelsey to finally get into Thad's laptop. That has been an important plot device ever since Thad was killed. It was a dangling threat for Liza. As soon as Kelsey got into the computer, she would learn the truth about her best friend. Liza knows she needs to tell Kelsey the truth. Their friendship means so much to her. And yet, she only contemplates doing so when her secret is at risk of being exposed. During times of peace, she's not worried at all. But as soon as some new complication comes up, she has a moment of clarity determined to tell Kelsey the truth. She has yet to follow through on that impulse though. Here, she doesn't need to open up to Kelsey because she's furious at Thad for making his password "deeznuts" - which he called Kelsey's favorite snack. It's totally in line with who Thad was as a person. Kelsey has tried revising history a little bit by remembering him more fondly in death. But ultimately, both Thad and Chad are creeps who Kelsey should run away from as fast as possible. She does that by throwing the computer into the pool. It puts an end to this latest threat to Liza. But it also serves as a liberation for Kelsey. She can finally move on now. What comes next should be exciting for her.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Marshmallow Experiment" was written by Dottie Dartland Zicklin & Eric Zicklin and directed by Steven Tsuchida.
  • The episode gets its title from Liza telling Josh what the marshmallow experiment is. She wants to take their relationship slow because they still have their issues that they need to work out. Plus, she wasn't totally committed to starting things up again because of her feelings for Charles. Those haven't completely gone away either.
  • Of course, Liza does end the episode by sleeping with Josh again. She's motivated by Kelsey's empowering speech about being with the people you love because you don't know when they'll be gone.
  • It's a pretty amusing detail that Maggie knows what every sexual slang term means. She helps explain to Liza and Lauren what the technical term is for what Chad did to Kelsey in the barn.
  • Chad is a much better person than Thad. He's gone on humanitarian missions. He speaks a couple dialects of Mandarin. And yet, he's just as creepy and perverted with his near constant obsession with Kelsey.
  • Bryce also happens to be a big fan of Josh. That revelation is largely a way for Liza to share that she and Josh have gotten back together. And yet, that connection could really inform story moving forward and bring Josh into Empirical in a bigger way.
  • The dynamic between Diana and Bryce seems a little forced though. He hates her immediately because of the perfume she's wearing. Meanwhile, she doesn't get how anyone could love termites so much that he'd get a tattoo of them on his arm.