Wednesday, June 6, 2018

REVIEW: 'Younger' - Allegations of Sexual Harassment Rock Empirical and Liza's Dynamic with Charles in '#LizaToo'

TV Land's Younger - Episode 5.01 "#LizaToo"

Liza returns to Empirical hoping to resume business as usual, but Charles announces a new project that spurs several unsettling revelations.

Younger has always presented itself as a fun, pleasurable show. It's light and breezy in the best way possible. The humor and characters are well realized. Each episode seems like it just goes by as quickly as possible. It's a show that knows exactly what it is. But now, it appears as if the show has had to adjust itself in order to continue working in the #MeToo era. That means having to take a good hard look at the realities of some of the workplace dynamics. It's important for the show to address this head on in the premiere. It presents a new way forward that is absolutely bold and surprising. The story has long outgrown the premise of the series. Liza no longer needs to be lying about her age. Her relationships with the other characters would only become more complicated and painful the longer she kept that secret. The show even demonstrated just how destructive it could be learning the truth last season with Kelsey becoming aware of Liza's real age and experience in this industry. And now, it appears as if the show is finally ready to blow up its premise in its fifth season. The fact that it happens in the premiere gives the show a new jolt of energy as well. The fourth season started off so extremely well with several of the best creative episodes the show has ever produced. But then, it mostly went out with a whimper by focusing too much on Josh and his new girlfriend whom he eventually married in Ireland. It felt like one complication too many that pulled focus away from what the show did best. It's a solid workplace and relationship show. And now, the series is realizing just how complicated and problematic those dynamics can be. The characters have to sit through sexual harassment training in this premiere after their most lucrative author, Edward L.L. Moore, is accused of harassing a woman with lewd comments. It's timely but it's so much more than the show producing an episodic story that reflects the changing culture throughout the world. It's taking that new perspective as the initiative to blow up the one relationship that became fraught with so much melodrama as of late.

The show has been teasing a romance between Liza and Charles for a long time now. It was particularly agonizing throughout last season because it was clear that things were completely over between Josh and Liza. Josh was willing to walk away from her completely. It was only after some time that he was ready to forgive her and be friends again. He only met Claire because of Liza. He has this new life that he is eager to explore because of her. And yes, that was depressing for Liza because she still has so many personal feelings for him. She didn't want to hurt him. She wants to spend more time with him and keep him from making a big mistake that he'll regret for so much of his life. But last season also featured just a lot of back-and-forth between Charles and Liza where it seemed like they were on the verge of having sex but it never happened. Something always got in the way. And now, the show is selling that as a good thing by exploring the many ways in which this dynamic is actually inappropriate. It's bad in the workplace because Charles is Liza's superior and this relationship could be seen as him abusing his power no matter what it may actually become later on. She may feel the need to give him what he wants simply because she's afraid of losing her job. Liza and Charles both know that it's more than that. Their feelings are real and genuine. But the optics aren't great. It could create such a big scandal for the company and ruin their careers if they acted upon it. Moreover, any relationship Liza has will never be true and genuine if she is lying about her age. That was such a nasty and off-putting element of the first season. Liza was lying to Josh and it hurt him in a deep and personal way after learning the truth. She was asking him to lie for her even when he wasn't comfortable doing so. That put so much stress on their relationship. Plus, Liza was always sure that they were in two completely different places in their lives. And yet, Charles has always presented as the more sensible and age-appropriate love interest for Liza. But after five seasons, he still doesn't know the truth.

Well, all of that changes in this premiere. At first, it appears as if Charles is asking Liza for an update on their relationship and their feelings for one another after her trip to Ireland and his morning show appearance helping Pauline sell her book. It's important for them to address those feelings too. Charles was pulled onto that show against his will. And yet, Liza wasn't on set to see that happen. All she has is the viral clip to believe that Charles and Pauline are giving another go at their marriage in order to be the family their children deserve. Liza doesn't want to get in the way of that. Of course, it also sent her right back to Josh who couldn't give into that temptation again either. So, she was still torn between two guys who could never ultimately give her a relationship that was actually real. She spurts out all of these feelings upfront before learning the true reason that Charles wanted to talk with her. Edward L.L. Moore has been accused of harassment. That's not surprising at all given his previous appearances on the show. In the past, the story has propped him up as this brilliant author who was able to create hit after hit for whatever publisher was working with him and releasing his content. There was even that time in which it appeared that he was able to compose the young female voice better than those actually in that demographic. That was so strange and surprising to Liza and Kelsey. But now, the show is ready to seriously tackle these issues and just how inappropriate Edward L.L. Moore has always been. He can no longer hide behind the rationalization of him just being a pervy old man. His words and actions can still inflict damage. Liza doesn't want to make a big deal about her past interactions with him. And yet, it's all there in his work that showcases his oppressive and condescending views towards women.

At times, the show has presented Edward L.L. Moore's work as a spoof of Game of Thrones where it appears that the fantasy series is only successful because of how scantily clad the women are. Liza was uncomfortable when she had to dress up as the female protagonist in Times Square. It's a very revealing outfit. And yet, she did so for the fans and wasn't going to give Edward L.L. Moore what he actually wanted. And now, she's back in the costume. She's back to being the vision of his dreams for the character. He is so consumed with lust for her interpretation of the character. He appreciates the physicality she brings to the role. And yet, Edward L.L. Moore trying to suggest that he wrote this female character this way so that she could be empowered through a feminist message is complete bullshit. He wrote her that way because it was arousing to him. In his novels, women still need to be described by the way they look. Sure, they can also be important and pivotal characters in the story. But their physical appearance needs to be important at all times too. This character isn't only popular with Edward L.L. Moore either. The fans of this book series are ready for a prequel centered around her. Empirical is so willing to finance it in the hopes of a successful trilogy being able to pull the company out of debt. Only after Liza talks with the other princesses about their past interactions with Edward L.L. Moore, Charles makes the decision to pull the plug on their working relationship. He can no longer tolerate that kind of behavior in his business. He wants to run things very professionally. This is a scandal that will cost the company so much money. And yet, it's the morally right thing for Charles to do. He has to support these women because he knows exactly what kind of man Edward L.L. Moore is.

However, it's clear that this story about sexual harassment and the accusations against Edward L.L. Moore will remain an important focus for the season. In the immediate aftermath, the characters are just noting all of the revenue streams that will suddenly dry up because Netflix cancels the series adaptation and Amazon pulls the books from their service. It allows an even more significant push for Pauline's book where she gets the big three-day advertisement in Times Square. But it also sees Edward L.L. Moore fighting back by trying to discredit the women accusing him of inappropriate behavior. It's such a powerful story because it is so different from anything Younger has done before. Whenever the show has let a new person in on Liza's secret, it was her choosing to share it with that person. It didn't always go well. It always created more complications for her life. But it was her choice based on how she was feeling at that specific time. And now, her secret is outed to Charles by Edward L.L. Moore. That's such a stunning reveal that takes Charles by surprise. It immediately shades his understanding of Liza with new contempt and confession. Edward L.L. Moore refers to Liza as a con artist. And now, Charles may actually believe him because this is the kind of deceit that only a true mastermind would create. Of course, the audience knows better than to fall for that trick. But it should be very interesting to see what Charles does with this information. He may confront Liza about it. He may put even more distance between them because he doesn't want a scandal to erupt for the company. Or he could continue to pursue things in the hopes that her feelings are genuine and sincere. There is so much potential for this story. Liza wasn't going to tell Charles anytime soon. And now, this officially rips the bandaid off and it's very exciting.

Some more thoughts:
  • "#LizaToo" was written by Darren Star and directed by Steven Tsuchida.
  • It's truly surprising that Liza doesn't have more accidental run-ins with Bob, Charles' friend and the father of Caitlin's roommate Rose. The show introduced that connection early on in its run. It's the reason why things didn't work out for Charles the first time around. She was scared and ran away because of that awkwardness. And now, Bob actually appears at Empirical as the lawyer talking everyone through inappropriate behavior. But the focus is more on Liza and whether she will get caught once more.
  • There continues to be a lot of back and forth over whether Pauline's book will be released by Empirical or Millennial. Kelsey and Liza have been the team working on the book and making sure that it is perfect ahead of the release. They were on a tight deadline but they were proud of the work they did together. And now, it appears as if Charles and Zane are swooping in to steal it right before Liza comes up with the solution that seemingly saves the day.
  • Of course, there is still plenty of awkwardness around Pauline as well. Liza is happy for her regarding the book. She is very proud of the story and the release schedule. She's just upset about the potential of Pauline and Charles getting back together. But there's also just an awkward line where Pauline notes that a year ago she couldn't trust herself around box openers. That could be set up for some kind of tragic and surprising twist. But would something like that actually work in this show?
  • Meanwhile, Kelsey and Zane are still trying to figure out how they can work together. Their story ties into the animosity between Empirical and Millennial regarding Pauline's book. Zane is just so boastful of how smart and capable he is. And yet, it's important for Kelsey to get in a couple of good zingers as well. But it's also clear that they don't really come up with a solution to dealing with their intimate past.
  • Liza is the only person from work who actually went on the trip to Ireland in last season's finale. So, there is a lot of talk of Liza apologizing for the short notice given to Diana and Charles while also catching Kelsey up on everything that happened over there. Kelsey was expecting the marriage to be called off. And now, she's apparently roommates with newlyweds. That's bound to get complicated - especially with Liza also being asked to lie for the couple once they return to America.