First things first. “Younger” does the world the great favor of returning Sutton Foster to television, and only two years after the cancellation of “Bunheads.” Ring bells, sing songs, blow horns, beat gongs.
Created by Darren Star, of “Sex and the City” fame, it’s the first single-camera comedy fielded by TV Land, where it premieres Tuesday. It is therefore its most modern, while still remaining, true to the network code, essentially old-fashioned.
It is not “Bunheads,” “Bunheads” fans — that was very much an Amy Sherman-Palladino affair — but it sets off Foster splendidly. (As splendidly, that is, as anything that does not give her the opportunity to sing or dance.) Do not hold its difference or comparatively conventional ambitions against it.
The premise is at once somewhat dubious and, in a general way, familiar — a comedy of disguise. Sutton is Liza, a 40-year-old divorced mother who passes herself off as 26 in order to find work, which, yes, has probably really happened somewhere sometime. And it’s not hard to imagine Foster, who is in life a miraculously coltish 40, pulling it off. (It’s just a matter of letting the hair down for her, and slouching a little.)
Apart from the odd dropped and quickly recovered reference to “Punky Brewster” or someone remarking upon her barely perceptible crow’s feet, you never think, when Liza is chillaxing with her new twentysomething peeps — that’s right, isn’t it? — “Why can’t they tell that this woman is old enough to be their, like, aunt?” The only suspense comes from what Liza herself might feel compelled to confess, and to whom, and when, and if.
An editor at Random House before she quit to raise her daughter, and before her now ex-husband lost all their money and quadruple-mortgaged their house gambling, Liza has faked her entry-level way back into publishing as an assistant to Diana Trout (Miriam Shor), called “Trout Pout” behind her back.
Hilary Duff’s Kelsey, a junior editor, is the new friend she makes there, someone her own invented age; Nico Tortorella is Josh, a tattoo artist who starts a, you know, a thing with Young Liza. And Debi Mazar, another favorite of this department, who can tell you what New York was like in the ‘80s, plays Maggie, the keeper of Liza’s secret, the agent of her makeover, and her Brooklyn roommate.
The series tries a little hard at first. You can hear its knees creak, its joints pop. It makes too many not-quite-credible generational jokes, as if Liza had not only been on a break for work, but perhaps had been trapped in a bunker with Kimmy Schmidt.
She fumbles with her smart phone, has to ask who Lena Dunham is, how to open a Twitter account. (The suburbs will do that to you, I guess, if you never turn on a TV, or leave the house, or have a conversation with your child.)
But once we are out in open water, things improve; the show grows across its 12 first-season episodes into a comfortably familiar and appealing sort of TV-season-length rom-com. As Liza’s new world becomes her real world, and matters move beyond “kids nowadays” and hot sex with a kid young enough to not inappropriately date your daughter, the tensions grow more complex, more character-based. You can tell where it’s going sometimes, but shocks and curveballs are not what you’ll watch this series for — or watch anything on TV Land for, for that matter.
At 53, Star is pretty much at the dead center of the TV Land demographic, and the thrust of the show is definitely one of experience looking back at innocence. The junior players bring a fair degree of dignity to their assigned cluelessness, while their energy and enthusiasm are regarded with indulgence and even admiration.
Foster is sweet, wistful, conflicted, exhilarated and exhilarating; she lets the viewer see the 40-year-old inside 26-year-old, but also the 26-year-old unleashed within the 40-year-old — she’s an aspirational goofball, grown up and growing up again, getting it together and letting it go.
This kind of liberation is not uncommon in comedy, but the part is an especially good fit for the player.
Where: TV Land
When: 10 p.m. Tuesday
Rating: TV-14-L (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14 with an advisory for coarse language)