Younger, a series in which Liza, a 40-year-old divorced single mom (played by Sutton Foster) pretends to be 25 in order to land a job at a large publishing house in NYC, has been on the air for five seasons now. It’s one of those shows that’s had a slow and steady rise to popularity — at least amongst my friends! — possibly because it airs on TV Land, a relatively random network with few recent hits.
I personally have been watching the series since the very first episode, mainly because I got an early press preview of Season 1. And also,
Lizzie McGuire Hilary Duff is life. (She is my celebrity mom crush, and I am proud to admit “Wake Up” will forever be my jam.) But from the get-go, I found myself — a Jewish, female New Yorker who wishes I wasn’t as old as I am — relating to these characters in unexpected ways. The show isn’t as inherently or outwardly Jewish as, say, Transparent or The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel or even Broad City, but its clever little nods to Jews and Judaism make it worth watching.
Take, for instance, Lauren Heller, who is the BFF of Hilary Duff’s character Kelsey Peters. She’s not technically a main character — though actress Molly Bernard, who’s Jewish IRL, did get promoted to series regular status in Season 3. Lauren will undoubtedly remind you of that girl you grew up with. You know, the one who’s kind of annoying and overly chatty yet super funny and sort of pretty and you want to be her friend because you know she’s always a good time?
You’ll really want to be Lauren’s friend in Season 1 when she throws herself a “hot mitzvah,” essentially a bat mitzvah party do-over, but better, because she’s a more confident, better-looking adult. Can we please make this an actual thing? (Bernard herself has admitted she never had a bat mitzvah — so there’s one more reason to keep the “hot mitzvah” thing going.)
Then there’s Lauren’s mom, Denise, played flawlessly by Kathy Najimy (unfortunately in a paltry five episodes thus far). In an especially relatable Season 1 scene, Liza gets bedbugs and stays at Lauren and Kelsey’s apartment… which it turns out is Lauren’s parents’ apartment. Denise, like all Jewish moms, is happy to have the guests. She offers the girls red wine and snacks, and engages in their dating conversations as if she was a millennial herself.
Lauren’s also got serious drive that only that type of Jewish mother could instill in her daughter — late last season, for instance, she quits her lucrative job as a fashion publicist to start her own firm. Come on — was this not the professional pipe dream of at least half the Jewish tweens with whom you grew up?
For much of Season 3, Lauren dates Max Horowitz, her old-camp-friend-turned-medical-intern who she randomly runs into at a bar. She ultimately ends things when she concludes he is too studious, safe, and boring for her liking — disappointing her parents who wanted their little girl to marry a Dr. Horowitz, one might assume — and wants to try dating women instead (more on that in a bit).
Then there’s Debi Mazar’s on-screen counterpart Maggie, a tatted-up lesbian artist who lives with her longtime friend Liza in a loft in Brooklyn. For a chunk of Season 3 she dates Malkie, an Orthodox clothing designer slash boutique owner who takes her for a dip in the mikvah, teaches her the rules of Shabbat, and informs her, among other things, that an “Orthodyke” is a real term.
Maggie and Malkie fizzle out by season’s end, after which Maggie has a short rebound fling with (you probably called this one…) Lauren. Yes, these characters’ storylines are relatively minor in the scheme of things, because the main appeal of this show is if protagonist Liza will end up with her hot 26-year-old tattoo-artist boyfriend Josh, or her 40-something separated publishing boss Charles who doesn’t yet know she’s lying about her age. Yes, we’re five seasons in and this love triangle is still the show’s bread and butter.
Plus, some of the show’s references to Judaism are inaccurate to those of us who know better. (Are we really supposed to believe Malkie and her friends would eat off of Maggie’s traif dishes at a Shabbat dinner, even if the food itself is purchased at a kosher grocery store?) Nonetheless, it’s refreshing to see such diverse Jewish characters get significant screen time on an otherwise “unaffiliated” show: the Orthodox lesbian, the stereotypical overachieving Jewish med student, the jappy “pansexual” you feel like you know.
There are also more subtle nods to Judaism throughout the series. On the most recent Season 5 episode, for instance, Pauline, Charles’s ex-wife who wrote an autobiographical novel, Marriage Vacation, about their on-and-off marriage, does a reading of her book at a local synagogue.
“What a special treat having you here at Temple Israel,” the host tells Pauline as she asks an audience full of middle-aged women if they have any questions. Audience member Fern Hirsch is all of our moms and aunts and family friends when she asks one ballsy question: How can I get back with my ex-husband?
It’s as if the series’ Jewish creator, Darren Star — best known for Beverly Hills, 90210 and Sex and the City — purposely leaves nuggets of Jewishness sprinkled throughout, perhaps like he did when SATC made Charlotte York’s husband, Harry, a Jew played by a Jewish actor (Evan Handler).
Then again, when your show is based in one of the most Jewish cities in the world, it may be hard to avoid making such references. And when you’re a Jewish gal watching a ton of TV, it’s pretty easy to pick up on such references, am I right?
Header image via Younger on Facebook.