Tuesday, July 10, 2018

REVIEW: 'Younger' - Liza's Secret Once Again Creates Relationship Problems in 'Big Little Liza'

TV Land's Younger - Episode 5.05 "Big Little Liza"

Liza worries about her daughter's online activities. Kelsey's relationship with Jake crosses a professional boundary. Josh contemplates a long-term decision.

"Big Little Liza" is a familiar episode for Younger. Basically in every season, there is at least one episode where someone discovers Liza's secret and decides to blackmail her with it for some nefarious reason. It's a concept that has occurred many times over the course of the series. There is still power from the central secret about Liza's true age. But that only comes from the other main characters discovering it. This season has had a strong and focused start because Charles found out about Liza's secret without her telling him about it. That was a new way for the show to handle that familiar story. However, Charles doesn't appear in this episode at all. Liza and Kelsey are still dealing with their various book deals and business relationships this week. But Charles is off doing something else for the business without being completely preoccupied about this huge betrayal from Liza. Even Diana is barely seen this week. Though that's probably due to Miriam Shor directing this episode which is always a welcome development from any actor on a show. It's an overall busy episode though without those two characters really contributing to the plot. It still revolves around a threat to Liza's secret and whether or not she is still safe. Charles has articulated this year that the company cannot handle another scandal at the moment. That's the reason why he has decided not to do anything about Liza. He is allowing her to continue in this job even though it has altered his relationships with Liza and Kelsey too. He doesn't know how he can trust them any more even though they continue to prove themselves as vital assets for the company. And now, a threat is targeting them once more. It's up to Liza and Kelsey to cut it off before it builds into this huge scandal. That's not uncommon for them to do though. Liza has always been running around fearing that the sky is falling after someone wishes to exploit her secret for personal gain. People have come after her before with this information in an attempt to disrupt the business. But now, it would have been more fascinating if Charles was allowed to have a reaction to this latest threat. Right now, it feels like something the show has already done several times already. As such, there is nothing all that exciting or new about the way it handles things now. That's disappointing even though it factors in Christian Borle's Don Ridley as his relationship with Liza implodes.

As seemed likely from last week's episode, Don Ridley isn't destined to stay around very long this season. Like I said a week ago, boyfriends for Liza who aren't Josh or Charles typically don't last for longer than a couple of episodes. And now, Don comes and goes in the span of just two weeks. That makes it seem like his presence is just to keep Liza busy for the moment so that she isn't pulled into even more drama with Charles and Josh. Sure, Charles was a significant part of her story last week with Don because he refused to see him as someone who genuinely deserved to be employed at Empirical. Don's whole hook as a character was him being a struggling freelance writer who is now just barely scrapping by through clickbait articles. That does form a genuine connection with Liza though. They are both doing whatever it takes in order to make a living in this business. They are faced with a marketplace that is no longer interested in what they have to say. Liza has always contributed that to her age and the huge gap in her work history. With Don, he says that it's because he's a straight white man who is no longer employable because of a push by the various outlets for new and diverse voices. That's such an important thing for the many different publications to do though. Plus, it's still easy to assume that straight white men will find work. The ones who deserve to be published will find a way to get published. Don has achieved acclaim in his career. He is still impressive when Liza first meets him. He was suppose to be seen as a viable love interest for her. And now, that relationship is destroyed because he shows his true colors. He proves that he is always going to be more interested in his career and figuring out a way to stay relevant instead of caring about the harm he is doing to those in his life. Of course, Liza could still be seen through that same perspective. She is being cruel as well. But she never intentionally tries to hurt people. That's what separates the two of them.

And so, Don learns Liza's secret. She drops her purse when she takes a slip on some ice. That proves that this season is apparently set during the winter months. That's a fun way to differentiate this season from the previous four years. I still believe that only a year has actually passed in the show's timeline as remarkable as that initially sounds. But it's also just a nice way to signal the time of year while also moving the plot forward. Sure, it's still incredibly obvious and forced. It hints right away that things are about to change significantly between Liza and Don. She won't be able to keep the truth from him for a long time like she has done with a number of her previous love interests. If they meet her through work, then she has a reason to keep the lie going in order to maintain the lie. But here, she is found out only because she is carrying two IDs. The first is her real one that shares that she is actually 41 years old. The other one is her fake one that maintains her identity as a 27-year-old millennial working for Empirical. As such, there's something clearly going on the moment that someone is confronted by both of them. At first, it seems like Don is completely sympathetic and understanding of the lie that Liza has told. In fact, he sees it as this genius move that only someone like Liza could be capable of pulling off. He would love to pose as someone twenty years younger than he actually is. Because he can't, he believes this could be a ticket back to those social circles that he yearns to be a part of. He sees it as the story that will help him restore his professional career as a writer. It just means betraying Liza's confidence in the process. He is pitching this story to Vanity Fair which has already started fact checking it. That alerts Liza and Kelsey right away that this is a huge story that has the potential of taking down everything that they have built with Millennial. It would be the scandal that would derail the entire company too.

As such, the majority of the main story is spent with Liza and Kelsey just trying to continue lying their way through this story in the hopes that it will all just go away. It comes when they are poised to have another meeting with Reese Witherspoon's production company. This partnership deal could be absolutely huge for both businesses. But Don has already reached out for comment. Now, this is where things get interesting and potentially problematic. Reese Witherspoon has always been an outspoken advocate for creating opportunities for women of all ages. That's a core mission statement for her production company. She is supporting projects including films, television shows and movies that champion new voices. It's important for her. So, would it ultimately be a big deal that Liza is actually running this company alongside Kelsey as a 41 year old woman? In fact, that could be a story that these executives may actually be interested in because it's so strange and unexpected. This episode plays it as this huge scandal that signals that Millennial can't be trusted because they are more than comfortable lying to the marketplace. They are billing themselves as a company run by young women in their 20s. And so, Liza's true age would completely destroy their reputation around town and probably affect their sales numbers. Or it could also build excitement and intrigue in the company. The fallout of this story could really be any number of things. Liza could probably write a fascinating book about her year at Empirical lying about her age. Charles and Diana may even publish it knowing just how smart and capable a writer Liza actually is. She is a part of the family. And for now, she is able to maintain her secret. Yes, it ruins her relationship with Don. But she expertly gets to tell him off as well by simply saying that he's an asshole who doesn't deserve to be hired by anyone because of his lack of morals and standards.

Elsewhere, Liza continues to deal with friendship struggles alongside Josh. She wants to prove to him that she will always be a part of his life even if they are no longer together as a couple. She wants to be there for him as a supportive friend. She cares about what happens to him. She wants him to know that he has roots in the city. He shouldn't leave just because he has been hurt too many times in this place. There are still so many opportunities for him here. Right now, he is only having this existential crisis because his landlord has asked him to either sign a ten year lease or leave the tattoo parlor. Of course, that has to be seen as a significant boost of confidence as well. This landlord loves having Josh in his property enough to offer him this deal. It just means that Josh has to make a significant investment in his future. He has to be willing to make this ten year commitment. That's him essentially saying that he plans in being in the exact same place a decade from now. That's scary and daunting especially for someone who is still exploring what exactly he wants in the world. He believed he had clarity over his life when he was with Liza and Claire. Instead, they only broke his world apart more. Now, he's questioning everything. He wants to make commitments but is finding it very difficult to do so. He continues to be tempted by his past vices that have only hurt him. He thinks it would just be easier to pack up everything and move across the country. He figures that he can get a chair at any respectable tattoo parlor throughout the country. There is nothing inherently keeping him in New York. Instead, he comes to the decision that his own parlor is his actual dream. He wants to commit to that. Of course, it's a decision he makes long before Liza storms into the apartment to tell him why he should do it. But that's still a very rousing moment because it signals that Liza has every intention of sticking around for Josh no matter what. No one knows what the future holds. Neither Liza nor Josh know if they will ever get back together as a couple. But this moment proves that they will always be friends who care about what happens to each other. That's very rewarding as well. 

Some more thoughts:
  • "Big Little Liza" was written by Ashley Skidmore and directed by Miriam Shor.
  • Caitlin plays a significant role in this episode as well. In fact, it continues to highlight the generational differences of the world. That's a mold that the show has always operated in as well. It has always been confused and questioning the new standards and slangs of the next generation. Here, Liza and Maggie are absolutely horrified to learn what bread-facing is and that Caitlin is doing it in order to make some extra money. Of course, all it takes is Liza doing it to get Caitlin to stop.
  • Moreover, Liza and Maggie learn what it means to be genderqueer. Lauren hires an unpaid intern to help her with her business. That also proves that she is willing to do whatever it takes to ensure that her friends are educated about which pronouns are appropriate to use. She wants everyone to be sensitive now that Tan is working for her. Of course, Tan doesn't really care at all. In fact, they mostly just have contempt for millennials which is a new look for the show to portray.
  • Of course, Liza does say something problematic and offensive. She mostly explains her lie to the Hello Sunshine executive by saying that she is age-queer. She intends it as meaning that it shouldn't matter how old or young she is. She has great ideas that are worth hearing about and getting made. She tries to make it into a pointed statement. And yet, she's using the reference point of something real and genuine in order to continue selling her lie.
  • Kelsey and Jake kiss. That was a moment that seemed inevitable the moment that they saw each other's profiles on that exclusive dating app when they first met. But now, it actually occurs. That could be Kelsey crossing a huge professional boundary. She is kissing a writer whom she is working alongside. She is his editor. She is judging his work and telling him how to make it better. As such, she will have to be very careful working through this relationship.
  • How worried should Kelsey, Zane and the audience be about Jake missing the deadline for the first chapter of his book? He is able to explain it away by saying that he has been busy and is going to start writing the moment he gets back to D.C. the next day. However, the show would also only include that detail if it was bound to build into a major complication that Kelsey and Zane will have to navigate at some point.