Spoiler alert: The post below reveals storylines from the seventh season of Younger.
Literary industry cable series Younger wrapped up a successful seven seasons this summer. Though racial and ethnic diversity took a backseat to the storylines, the show still put diversity and inclusion in the forefront of an industry struggling to fulfill its promises.
Created by Sex and the City and Beverly Hills 90210 visionary Darren Star, Younger follows a 40-something White woman named Liza Miller, played by Broadway veteran Sutton Foster, who knocks her age down to 26 to get her foot back into the door of the publishing industry after raising her daughter and divorcing her husband. Based on Pamela Redmond Satran’s 2005 novel of the same name, the show started on TV Land in 2015 and moved to Paramount+ this year.
The show featured diversity markers, mainly with age and gender, in a fictional publishing scene made to look obscenely glamorous. Recent data from Lee & Low Books finds that the literary industry as a whole is 74% cisgender female, but when it comes to executive leadership positions, the number is down to 60%. On Younger, the main female characters are striving to retain and maintain leadership throughout the series to elevate works by women.
Amplifying younger voices
After lying about her age, Liza earns the coveted job of an editorial assistant at traditional publishing powerhouse Empirical. To make matters more complicated, Liza is paired up with actual 26-year-old Kelsey Peters, played by Hilary Duff, whose ambition oozes to make books more appealing to millennials.
This eventually leads to the two creating an imprint called Millennial, not only multiplying books by Gen Y authors but also taking a focus on female authors in the age group. As they are underestimated by Empirical and the industry at large, Liza and Kelsey build a behemoth of an imprint that in its final season begins suffering from hits by Empirical’s old White male investors.
This motivated the pair to create Inkubator, a spoken word event series featuring promising millennial authors ready to have their work published.
Women supporting women
Helping Liza and Kelsey on their literary adventures and misadventures are editor Diana Trout, known for her brusqueness and over-the-top statement necklaces, who is played by Miriam Shor who did not return for the final season; Lauren Heller, the carefree bisexual social media enthusiast played by Molly Bernard who replaces Diana’s presence in the Empirical office as an assistant; and Maggie Amato, the lesbian artist played by legend Debi Mazar who owns the fabulous loft they all seem to live in at one point in the series.
They become this unbreakable group, along with one man—Liza’s millennial ex, Josh, played by Nico Tortorella, a tattoo artist entrepreneur with a heart of gold. Liza goes back and forth with Josh and Empirical’s editor in chief, Charles Brooks, the well-meaning head honcho who is age-appropriate for Liza played by Peter Hermann. Having sexual relations with the boss while editing his ex-wife’s novel is one of the situations that comes up with the ill-begotten romance between Liza and Charles. This novel leaped offscreen onto our bookshelves as Marriage Vacation reviewed by she lit.
With all the drama mostly involving Liza’s back-and-forth relationships, the girl group feeds on their mistakes with men and women. The girlboss-in-making Kelsey seems to be pick the men who want to compete with her success in one way or another, with one ill-fated relationship leading to a death by scaffolding (very NYC) and an evil twin (very soapy). As Liza and Kelsey lean on Maggie, Lauren, and Diana, they also support female writers with some of the most familiar scenes of the series occurring in the closed office session with a new writer who is revolutionizing the newer subgenres, e.g. sick lit, teen environmentalist memoir, and boomer erotica.
Shelving racial diversity
The show’s cast is all-White, which is normal on TV shows to have an entire cast of the same racial makeup, but it resonates with the real-life publishing industry, unfortunately. The show failed to right this diversity and inclusion oversight with its choice of guest stars in earlier seasons.
Charles Michael Davis, who played Kelsey’s frenemy lover Zane Anders for three seasons, added much-needed melanin as a regular cast member, but he and his character had to depart in the final season due to his commitment to NCIS: New Orleans. As his character left the script, the show featured two writer characters who contributed to Millennial’s next phase.
Dylan Park, played by Yeena Sung, appeared in “The F Word,” the episode that introduces Inkubator. She is a future author with a novel that Kelsey and Liza try to get published through Empirical since Millennial by this time has been absorbed into the publisher thanks to the investors’ wishes. But editor in chief Charles is not interested, so Kelsey and Liza have the novel published by a release of a chapter every week in The Cut. Though an Asian American millennial female author is brought into the storyline, she only makes one appearance, failing to become a substantive character while her book really becomes the character.
The final season then brings in another author of color, Azealia King, played by De’Adre Aziza, a Black woman who has won the National Book Award. She’s so impressive that Charles wants to publish her next book. Her character appears in the last two episodes, almost as if the writer’s room realized they didn’t have enough female authors of color featured throughout the series.
Out of an industry that is 74% cisgender female, publishing is 76% White, according to the Lee and Low Books’ report. Numbers for professionals of color are broken down by 7% Asian descent, 6% Latino/Latina, 5% African descent, and less than 1% Native American and Middle Eastern.
Despite the diversity successes and failures of imagining the cutthroat Manhattan book publishing scene into an addictive summer TV series, the show still gives feel-good vibes and is expertly written with relatable moments. Live or relive the half-hour series on Paramount+ and Hulu.