ATX Television Festival: YOUNGER And UnREAL

The casts and creators of two hilarious, feminist shows represented at ATX this weekend.

Two of my favorite current shows represented at ATX Television Festival this weekend, two smart, frank and funny series about a host of amazing women: TV Land's Younger and Lifetime's UnReal

Younger is on summer hiatus, so we rewatched the brilliant Season 2 finale before a hilarious Q&A with creator Darren Star and cast members Sutton Foster (Liza), Debi Mazar (Maggie), Miriam Shor (Diana), Nico Tortorella (Josh), Molly Bernard (Lauren), Peter Hermann (Charles) and Dan Amboyer (Thad/Chad). Everyone was there, essentially, except Hilary Duff, who sadly couldn't make it. But the cast spoke warmly about her character Kelsey, whom Sutton said repeatedly is Liza's "number one priority," and that Liza and Kelsey's friendship is "the beating heart of the show." That's absolutely why Younger is such a wonderful show: the female friendships are by far the most important storylines, with the romantic entanglements a distinct second. (That said: Team Charles forever.) Foster, Mazar and Shor were all hilarious and gorgeous on the panel, a trio of geniuses who seem to have enormous respect for one another. They have such long and amazing careers, on Broadway and in Hollywood, and it was an honor to be in the same room as them.

Some highlights: 

Amboyer will be back in a regular capacity as Thad's twin brother Chad in Season Three. This is the most hilarious, soap operatic development and I can't wait to watch it unfold. When asked how he came up with that crazy plotline (no spoilers!), Star said, "We were talking about breaking Kelsey and Thad up, and that just seemed a little...mundane." We will be seeing Single Kelsey in upcoming episodes, and Star teased that "Hilary Duff will finally and forever shed Lizzie McGuire."

Everyone voted on Liza's love triangle, while Shor said coolly, "Can I just say, it's 2016. Why does she have to choose?" Brilliant. Though later an audience member suggested that Hot Josh and Diana Trout get together, and I have to say, I LOVE THAT IDEA. (So did Shor.)

Mazar said of Maggie and Lauren's relationship: "We're not girlfriends. We just really like having sex." Bernard added that "Lauren and Maggie are just two women who love each other and love themselves. They both have confidence and ambition, and they're drawn to that in one another." She reminded Mazar that Lauren wanted to be Maggie's girlfriend, and Mazar said, "Yeah, but you have threesomes and shit. Maggie's not ready for that." Bernard just shrugged, "Millennials." 

When asked how Diana will react to learning Liza's secret, Shor said it'll be something like the terrifying episode where Oprah had James Frey back on her show after discovering that he was a fraud. She also joked that after finding out that Liza's 40, Diana should reveal that she's 27. 

Regarding whether Younger can continue after everyone learns Liza's secret, Star said, "I think there's a world, with this wonderful ensemble, that this show works as just an intergenerational friendship comedy...but we're not going to get there that quickly." 

An audience member asked if any of the cast had done something crazy to get a job, like Liza (great question!), and only Debi Mazar had an answer. Fortunately, she had enough answers for everyone. She once faked being a dental assistant and was found out when she didn't know the name of any of the instruments during oral surgery. She once straddled a co-star and yelled "Fuck me, rock god" to audition for an Oliver Stone movie (she got the part). And she once pretended to be a hairstylist and cut Andy Warhol's hair, and they both ignored the fact that it was a wig.

A couple more: 


The UnReal Q&A wasn't quite so juicy, unfortunately, although we did get to watch the second episode of Season Two, "Insurgent," a few days early. The episode had highlights and a few lows: it's another terrific hour of television on a series that can't help but be great, but it's a little disappointing watching Rachel and Quinn fall back into their more deferential - and competitive with one another - positions after the triumph of last season's finale and this season's premiere. But the episode ended with the inclusion of a new character played by Michael Rady, and I like the direction it seems to be taking. The racial politics of UnReal's second season continue to be really interesting, with Rachel getting punished for her attempts to be the White Savior of Television.

The Q&A included creator and co-showrunner (with Marti Noxon, not here) Sarah Gertrude Shapiro, EP and writer Stacy Rukeyser and cast members Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman (Jay) and Genevieve Buechner (Madison). Obviously it was disappointing not having Constance Zimmer (Quinn) or Shiri Appleby (Rachel) there, but the panelists had a lot of interesting things to say about the direction of the second season and the show's unexpected and immediate success with critics. Bowyer-Chapman was really moving as he discussed what it means to him to play Jay, a gay, African-American producer who keeps hitting glass ceiling after glass ceiling while straight, white Rachel seems to be on this meteoric rise - an interesting perspective, while we all celebrate the feminism of UnReal. I'm super intrigued with the racial conversation happening this season, and I think it's brave and smart of UnReal to tackle such a tricky subject instead of resting on its feminist laurels. 

A few highlights: 

Shapiro said her plan for Season 2 has been: "Don't play to the cheap seats, ignore the hype, don't repeat the things that got you a pat on the head the first time around. Just stay true to the characters." She also pointed out that Rachel is a great character who is also "manic, hypocritical and egotistical, especially this season as she keeps saying 'I'm making history' by including a black suitor on Everlasting."

Craig Bierko (Chet) wanted to lose fifty pounds, so they wrote this hilarious paleolithic lifestyle camp into his storyline.

Of Quinn and Rachel, Shapiro said, "They're not going to smoke the crack they sell. But last season, Rachel did get swept off her feet by a romantic prince storyline. That's what the tattoos are about this season: money, dick, power. That's where their focus is this year."

Later: writeups of the Friday Night Lights tailgate, the West Wing reunion, a conversation with ATX awardee Norman Lear, and the pilot script readings of Big and The O.C. - plus an O.C. writers' reunion, the panel I'm most anticipating!