The hit comedy Younger centers around two women working their way up the ladder of the publishing industry: Liza (Sutton Foster), a 40-something divorced mother who lies about her age in order to get a job, and Kelsey, her 20-something BFF whose career keeps rising while her love life falls apart. It's fitting, then, that Younger writer-producer Ashley Skidmore lands somewhere between the two in terms of her own work-life balance, though as she tells Bustle, she's a bit more of a Kelsey than a Liza.
"I so identify with her and the struggles of rising too fast, or having all of these responsibilities, but then in my romantic life, still being such a f*ck up," the 28-year-old Skidmore says, speaking over the phone. In fact, it's how Younger portrays the dichotomy between women's private and public selves — and the idea of being on top of one aspect of your life while another is a total mess — that's what makes the show so relatable. According to Skidmore, who has written for the series since Season 1, that realistic complexity of women's lives is what Younger is always striving to depict.
"I think that's why Younger has been such a fun job for me," Skidmore says. "I feel right now, this time period is the beginning of a radical feminist theme in television. I think that the next step is really female-centric content."
Through Younger, whose Season 6 will premiere this summer on the Paramount Network, Skidmore is creating the kind of roles for women that she's always wanted to see. "I went to school for acting, and then the first day out of school, I became a casting director," she explains. "Just because the roles out there at the time ... were really disempowering for women our age."
It's true; at the time, female-led films and TV shows at the time — from 2014's stereotypical The Other Woman to 2013's fat joke-filled sitcom Super Fun Night — weren't too great when it came to depicting realistic women. These projects may have provided opportunities for female actors and creators, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they were good roles for women.
So, as a result of their desire to see more complex, relatable women onscreen, Skidmore and a friend created their own web series, Hotmessmoves. The show helped Skidmore earn a job on Younger, after the duo were invited to punch up dialogue on the pilot.
And now, several years into the show, Skidmore has the opportunity to finally show the messier sides of life, specifically in regards to young, working women. "That's the funniest thing about Kelsey. I'm always pitching these insane stories where she's like, vomiting on the subway, because your girl has lived that," Skidmore says with a laugh, "But we always have to [remember] now she's the head of the company, so it's like, curbing her f*ck ups with her being a boss bitch."
Skidmore credits Younger creator Darren Starr for fostering an environment where she has the ability to be imaginative and take risks. "When I was like, a little baby writer in Season 2, and Darren Starr pitched us that Thad was going to be killed by a beam, I was like, 'What the f*ck?'" the writer recalls, laughing. "I couldn't believe the freedom we had to just literally do whatever."
Seeing the success of those wilder storylines has also given the writers on Younger more freedom to tell the stories they want to see on the small screen, like those about the LGBTQ community, says Skidmore. An episode that she wrote last year, for example, featured a gender queer character as assistant to Lauren, the pansexual PR agent played by Molly Bernard. Says the writer, "I felt like I got to sneak in all of these messages that America wasn't really talking about necessarily, and disguising it in comedy was a real treat. It's a benefit of this show that we get to disguise all of these cutting edge messages within these characters' dialogue."
Though the episode highlighted Skidmore's determination to represent the LGBTQ community, Younger earned some backlash after it aired for having Liza compare her struggle against ageism to a character's identity as gender queer. Overall, however, most of the series' more complex storylines have been well received by audiences. "We have so much more freedom to be like, 'We can complicate this relationship and Kelsey's not gonna be disliked by America if she makes all of these mistakes,'" Skidmore explains.
In fact, she adds, writing for Kelsey specifically — a character who often says no and stands her ground — has encouraged her to let go of her own fear of being disliked. "As a young woman, it's really easy to be like, 'I need to be a people pleaser and play along with the game and make sure that everybody knows I'm easy to work with and I'm a yes woman,'" Skidmore says. But "I think I've made a pledge of [reminding myself], 'No, just really stay true to Ashley Skidmore,' and what I actually feel even if it's going to make me unlikable."
After all, Kelsey doesn't care about being unlikable, and she's managed to take charge of a major publishing house. Clearly, we can all learn a thing or two from Younger's "boss bitches," both onscreen and in the writer's room.