Wednesday, October 19, 2016

REVIEW: 'Younger' - Liza and Kelsey are Confused by YouTube Stardom in 'A Night at the Opera'

TV Land's Younger - Episode 3.04 "A Night at the Opera"

Liza has to bridge millennial divides in the workplace and in her personal life when Empirical's new investor tasks her with signing YouTube stars.

This hasn't exactly been a great start to a season for Younger. The novelty and charm of the central premise has definitely worn off. The show has quickly bounced back from the seriousness of the end of last season. It's returned to its silly self that mostly finds humor from the weird generational divide of modern society. Again, it's a premise that has worked in the past. But after three seasons of it, it's no longer as effective as it once was. The show can still use this tone and story to its advantage. It's sneaking in a serious conversation about the death of the publishing industry while also focusing on the silly shenanigans of YouTube stars. But there's still too much focusing on maintaining the status quo. It's an episode of quick bursts of laughter that come from outrageous situations. That's paired with longing looks of sexual lust. Again, these are things the show has done many times over the years. But there hasn't been a whole lot of actual growth. The characters have evolved over time. They are different now versus when the series started. But the way the show itself is telling stories really hasn't changed all that much which is starting to become very problematic.

It's not an inherently bad idea for the show to tackle the social media stardom of the modern world. Whether one likes it or not, it's a huge part of the culture of the moment. This series has always found so much success in stories about getting different authors to sign with Empirical. It has been a stable business throughout the years. But now, it's coming under hard times. Those difficulties are very real. The publishing industry isn't what it used to be. The world is changing constantly by the allure of digital. It is ruining and corrupting a piece of the world. The rise of the digital age has been very good for bringing people together. It has also changed industries and the way people view the world. YouTube stars who do stupid things online to get views wouldn't necessarily be seen as the next big authors. And yet, it's understandable that publishing houses would be reaching out to them in order to have a hit book. Their subscribers can't be discounted. They have a social reach that is far more impressive than so many things in the modern world.

Of course, it is problematic that the show treats YouTube stars as a bunch of stupid kids doing crazy stuff on the Internet. It's taking the subject matter and blowing it up to its broadest possibilities. Sure, it still describes one corner of this new business model. But it doesn't cover everything that is so great and special about this medium. It's not all about stupid stuff and weird situations to get a laugh for a minute. It's not just about over-the-top productions and selfies. There can be genuine conversations online. Ones that bring people together. The show only seems to be suggesting that the dumbest things online are the most popular. Again, that's far more common than most people are probably willing to admit. Stupid can sell a lot. But it's not all that this industry has to offer. So, Bryce wanting Liza and Kelsey to sign the Stupid Girls to write a book is just a weird story. Yes, it does dig deeper than that. Taylor wants to be seen as more than a stupid girl on the Internet who pees on camera and waxes her friend's eyebrow off. Those are some extreme scenarios. Of course, the dichotomy of her also being an accomplished writing who went to the Writers' Workshop at Iowa and has a historical fiction novel is perhaps too extreme as well. This is a show that lives in the extreme. It's where it finds its comedy. Pushing everything to that point though isn't always the best.

In the end, none of this ultimately matters though. Liza fights for Taylor to get this book published because she's reflecting some of her own feelings about being one's true self. The show never digs all that deep with that inner struggle with Liza. She's out to Josh and Maggie but that's still it. She's still just lying at work and awkwardly trading romantic glances with Charles. She wants Taylor to be herself and break free of this weird YouTube life. Liza and Kelsey feel so alienated at the YouTube convention they go to. They don't understand how this is a thing. It's their job to be in touch with youth culture. They are the ones who need to market books to young people. So, it's somewhat surprising to see them so shocked like this. It's even weirder when they try selling this book idea that has nothing to do with why Taylor is famous. She may not treat her job as YouTube star all that seriously. It's not the life she wants to be living. Again, that's a huge criticism of that lifestyle. But YouTube stardom can be very rewarding - both personally and financially - for those who put the time and effort in to make it big. Taylor just wants to escape it because she doesn't want to be crazy or stupid all the time. But again, her novel wasn't going to sell well even with her name attached to it. So, it's largely just a story about Bryce declaring that Empirical will be cutting jobs soon. It's a major concern. And yet, it also just feels like a tacked on ending here.

It's much more important to focus on Liza and Josh's night at the opera than examine what Bryce's big declaration actually means. Liza wants to talk with Charles about it. And yet, their awkward sexual dynamic keeps them from having a successful professional one. It's weird. Again, their longing looks at one another has a lot of value. They are a potential couple that could still work incredibly well. But there needs to be more than longing looks. Liza blew her chance with Charles because of her secret. It's good that he's moving on with this new woman. However, it plays as this other woman, Radha, and Josh just being the latest obstacles standing in the way of Liza and Charles being a couple. The longing looks are still happening. The show should cool off on them because Liza made her choice. It's going to be hard to take either of these couplings seriously if Liza and Charles can't work together as platonic co-workers. If the show tries keeping the love triangle alive, than it could ultimately make the end result feel less earned. A romance can't be the only thing that defines Liza and Charles' dynamic. And yet, it's looking like it is. She wants to talk with him about Bryce wanting to fire people - like Diana - but she gets too distracted by him zipping up her dress and his beautiful date joining the conversation.

All of this happens just so it's rewarding that Liza and Josh have sex at the end of the episode. Normally, that wouldn't be a big thing at all. Liza and Josh have had no problems when it comes to sex. That's something they are both great at in their relationship. Their problems come from elsewhere. But here, Liza suddenly becomes more of a prude because she's on her period. She doesn't want to have sex with Josh during those days. It makes her seem like an old woman. She's surprised by how open everyone younger than her is about the subject. It's a weird conversation to have throughout the episode. But again, it's whole purpose is to make it a big deal that she and Josh have sex after their night at the opera. It plays as Liza throwing herself into this relationship in order not to doubt it and think about Charles. Again, that's not healthy at all. She should have sex because she's into the guy she's having it with. That hasn't been a problem before. But here, she flings herself into the situation even though she's not totally comfortable with it because of her feelings for Charles. This is only going to become more complicated before it gets better. Hopefully, those complications and resolution are better than what the story has been over the last few episodes.

Some more thoughts:
  • "A Night at the Opera" was written by Grant Sloss and directed by Tricia Brock.
  • Charles bringing a date to the opera really isn't important either. Radha is barely given any kind of introduction. She's just there to catch Liza off guard. It's because of her that these feelings for Charles stir up again and keep her from really doing anything.
  • Diana's subplot is great though. It's just fantastic to see her actually get some sex for once. Most of the time, she's saddled with awkward stories that never actually give her sex. Here, she gets some from a hot guy and is happier at work because of it. This doesn't need to be a recurring story this season but it is wonderful in this episode.
  • Lauren and Max's relationship still seems to be defined mostly by sex. She talks about blowing him whenever he gets a minute of free time. He pops up quickly before running back to work. So, it basically seems like there's nothing really there except for sex - which isn't all that different from Lauren's last relationship with Maggie.
  • Liza meets Max as well. It's just for a brief second. But that introduction is out of the way. So, he has at least met Lauren's friends. That's suppose to build the importance of this relationship. But again, it's such a brief moment.
  • A new investor coming in and making a bunch of changes to a business is a solid story idea in theory. It's execution here has been a little too wonky. Most of that is sadly because of Bryce. He's just too off-putting which the show explains away by saying he's "on the spectrum" at every possible moment. That means less and less the more it is said. It's just lazy writing.