Review: Sutton Foster plays ‘Younger’ for TV Land

“Younger” debuts tonight at 10 on TV Land with back-to-back episodes. It's created by Darren Star (the man behind “Melrose Place” and the first season of “Sex and the City”) and stars Sutton Foster from “Bunheads” as a 40-year-old divorced mom struggling to return to the workforce after years away. When every potential employer dismisses her as being too old for an entry-level position, a friend (Debi Mazar, who has very little to do) convinces her she could pass for 26, and one makeover later, she's working as assistant to publishing executive Miriam Shor, and becoming besties with young editor Hilary Duff.

I love Foster from “Bunheads,” from Broadway, and even from her brief stint on “Flight of the Conchords” (where Bret and Jemaine had no idea they had cast a great musical performer, and thus sang at her, and not with her). She's a very warm, appealing performer, and if she doesn't exactly pass for mid-20s even in the youthful outfits costume designer Patricia Field puts her in, she comes close enough with all the energy she brings.

If you're a Foster fan, however, I would strongly advise skipping over tonight's first episode, which indulges all of Star's worst tics as a comedy writer (there's a long, awful running gag about the condition of Foster's pubic hair) while also painting the generation gap between Foster and Duff in the broadest, dumbest of terms. (When Foster is asked to set up a fake Twitter account for a long-dead author, she goes to Bing – BING! – to search for instructions on how to do it.) The whole episode made me feel bad for Foster, and for everyone else involved.

TV Land sent critics the entire first season, and I'd heard from someone close to the show that it got better over time, so I watched the second episode and then two from later in the run. There remain problems – it's one thing for Foster to lie about her age for the sake of a job, but she also gets into a relatively serious relationship with a young tattoo artist who thinks she's his age – and Star's vagina fixation never entirely goes away, but it does indeed get better. I came very close to laughing at something Duff tells a Swedish author, and after a while I could just enjoy Foster being charming and doing her best with the material. It's in no way essential, but if you like the performers involved, you will be okay if you pretend that the pilot doesn't exist.

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at