The final season of Younger has arrived on Paramount+, and it’s hard not to draw comparisons with creator Darren Star’s other current show, Emily in Paris. On the surface, both seem similar: glossy, stylish, escapist comedies about professional women in gorgeous, glamorous cities. In reality, though, they’re very different shows, and, in fact, Younger is very much the show that Emily in Paris tried (and failed) to be.
The fundamental difference between Younger and Emily in Paris is its heart, plain and simple. Even in the early seasons, where Liza was deep in her escalating web of lies, there was, paradoxically, an emotional honesty to it all. Even though Liza lied to everyone, the show took pains to make it clear why she did it and to build sympathy for her situation. Her love for her friends and her love interests was real; the only thing about it that wasn’t real was her lie about her age. The show’s heart always has come before its humor (although there’s plenty of both); Emily in Paris often seems too afraid to be really vulnerable, and the result is a show that feels emotionally shallow, even – or especially – when it’s trying to be emotionally deep.
The other big difference? Younger seems to care, first and foremost, about its characters, whereas it’s hard not to feel like Emily in Paris is about the aesthetic more than anything. Younger, like Star’s Sex and the City before it, is a love letter to the glamour of New York City and women who live there. There’s no shortage of beautiful, Instagram-perfect locations as the impeccably dressed characters stroll through the city, but it never overshadows the characters and their journeys. Emily in Paris always feels like it’s more interested in exploring the “Paris” part than the “Emily” part, which leaves us with characters who are difficult to like when their bad decisions take over the plot.
Younger, on the other hand, has managed to craft a set of characters whose flaws aren’t annoying, but deeply human. The final season explores these in more depth, with the “issues” and themes being addressed closely tied into the characters’ journeys, rather than just being plopped in there for relevance or edginess. When two characters come to an impasse over the very concept of marriage, it’s understandable where both of them are coming from, and heartbreaking that they can’t see eye-to-eye. The flaws in all these characters – Charles’s stubbornness, Kelsey’s trust of the wrong people, Maggie’s carelessness – all come home to roost, but it never makes them unlikeable. Why? Because the show takes care to make them three-dimensional characters and to really struggle. They don’t giggle and brush off criticism with a self-deprecating quip, as the heroine of Emily in Paris tends to do. Instead, they mess up and lash out and get called out and figure their stuff out, all with the help of the people who love them. That’s why it’s so satisfying when, as the season draws to a close, these characters are able to move towards the happier futures we’ve been rooting for all along.
That genuine sense of love is, perhaps, what makes Younger‘s brand of escapism so special. Younger is a show about love: love for one’s true self, love for friends, and, yes, romance too. It’s the real love between characters that makes the show’s betrayals really hurt instead of just feel like twists the writers thought would make for good “OMG!” moments. We’re shown that they love each other, rather than just being told. More than ever, that’s what the final season is about, as friends support each other through personal and professional trials without a second thought. Gone are the days of secret-keeping and lingering hurts; this is a group of people who genuinely love each other.
The show’s gal-pal-comedy-meets-rom-com vibe provides some of the final season’s best moments – it’s tropey, but in a playful, heartfelt way, rather than trying too hard to check off “relevant” topics (and, condescendingly, failing to accurately depict any of them – see Emily’s “surprise influencer” storyline in Emily in Paris). That’s what great escapism is: comfort food, something fun and warmhearted and stylish, but something that also depicts the kind of life you can fantasize about. Sure, I’d love to live in Emily’s Paris, but I’d much rather live in the world of Younger‘s characters and have a loyal, loving support system like they do.
Let’s be fair, too: Younger does have some of the same cracks in its escapist gloss as Emily in Paris. There’s definitely something to be addressed here about how this particular brand of glamorous, glossy escapist fare is more often than not focused on nearly all-white casts, and that’s something that can and should change. But when it comes down to it, escapism shouldn’t just be about the aesthetic – it should be about the warmth and joy of the characters and the stories, and that’s where Younger shines and other would-be escapist shows should take note.