When you hear the name Darren Star you’ll think of particular television shows depending on your own generation.
If you’re someone who grew up in the 90s, then “Beverly Hills 90210,” its spin-off, “Melrose Place” and possibly the short-lived “Central Park West” were your shows to obsess over. Late 90s/2000s were all about whether you were a Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte or Miranda since “Sex and the City” was a huge hit on HBO.
It’s not a surprise, then, that Star’s current success is a show that appeals to that “90210” audience as well as a younger audience. In “Younger,” a 40-year old woman, Maggie (Sutton Foster) gets away with being a 20-something and sees the advantage to being younger in a society that values youth over experience. The first season of TV Land’s latest hit was all about Maggie’s deception at work and with the hot, young guy, Josh (Nico Tortarella) she starts dating. In the finale of that first season, Maggie’s secret is revealed to Josh so the second season will pick up where that bomb left off.
In sitting down with Star at the Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour recently, the second season of the show came up but we also touched on the plethora of gay characters he’d regularly put into all of his show, including “Younger” where he has Debi Mazar, Maggie’s BFF, Liza, is a lesbian.
A lot of your early work was soapier with “Beverly Hills 90210” and then “Central Park West” but was there any kind of creative evolution for you as far as getting to “Sex in the City and to this kind of show sitcom wise?
Darren Star: I think “Sex in the City” was definitely this marriage of a half hour comedy but with continuing storylines and I wouldn’t call Sex in the City soapy. It had continuing relationships, continuing storylines, relationship drama that continued despite the fact that it was a comedy and I think that was something that I was really consciously doing.
When it came to this show, "Younger," I think one thing we always talked about was how do you keep a viewer engaged on a show that's airing every week? You do need not necessarily a melodramatic cliffhanger, but you need stories to keep the viewers engaged. I wanted to make it like "Sex in the City," a show where you can watch it, you can just drop in anytime you want and get it but if you're really following it week to week, the storylines really do unfold and it's a bingeable show.
Safe to say that season two is going to be a lot about the relationship changing now that Josh knows that Liza is 40?
DS: Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s a complication and also just the complication of what are the honest differences between someone who’s 40 dating someone who’s 26? It’s not about keeping a secret but it’s about how to navigate the waters in terms of the age difference.
I love the fact that Maggie and Lauren are going to have a little love connection this season.
DS: Lauren’s character is very fluid sexually and it’s really just about her attraction to Maggie. I think we teased it a little bit in season one and then we just sort of felt like, “Wow.” There was a fun quality about sort of inadvertently having Maggie having engineered this thing a little bit [and] Liza suddenly getting a taste of it also.
And there is an age difference between the two women, too…
DS: I just feel like Lauren literally is the kind of character that could care less. That doesn’t become their issue as much. It’s not exactly a parallel story.
Talk to me about the fact that you can get away with a lot on a cable show like Josh saying ‘Whiskey D**k’ and things like that.
DS: We get to do what we want to do and I’m feeling we’re not breaking new ground. We’re not trying to shock people but at the same time we get to be real and frank about these characters, what their lives are like and how they get to talk and behave. We don’t have to censor ourselves so I feel like we’re not looking to try to think about, “Wow. What can we get away with?” But at the same time, we don’t have the network really censoring us at all in terms of the stories you want to tell.
Starting out from creating a gay character on "Melrose Place" and fighting for the right to have him kiss or hold hands with another man to now doing a show where it's like the network is just completely open to any kind of love between characters. It's kind of amazing and I even forget sometimes like, "Okay. Wow." It's encouraged and as long as it feels truthful and real for the characters, we do it and it's great.
You can have two women kissing or know they’ve been to bed together and it’s just a moment. It doesn’t take over everything. 20 years ago, maybe 10, it would have been everything.
DS: Totally not. It’s very matter of fact and it’s not the issue. It’s nice to write about characters that really doesn’t have any kind of attachments in respect to their sexuality. It’s not an issue on the show but it’s never been an issue for them so it’s nice to write those characters where they’re not coming into who they are sexually with any kind of baggage attached to it.
Throughout your career, you’ve always had mainstream shows that have had gay characters to different degrees. What do you think of shows that are more gay-centric? Do you think we still need that or is it better that they’re kind of peppered throughout.
DS: Personally, I think everyone’s going to be attracted to different kind of shows. For me, I like a more diverse cast, I guess more reflective of my life but yet there’s a show like “Queer as Folk” or “Looking” and I feel like it’s very representative of the lives of those characters, too, and it’s great to have the spectrum of the shows.
Outside of “Younger” what’s on your bucket list?
DS: I’m really enjoying doing this show right now and we just got our third season order so it’s fun to be kind of hands on and writing the scripts and directing subsets and being on the set and being around the lot. I’m just looking forward to doing this next season right now and looking forward to people watching this season.
“Younger” airs Wednesdays at 10pm on TVLand.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.