FX’s ‘Better Things’ Elevates TV Comedy
With its acclaimed flagship sitcom Louie currently on hiatus, FX is looking to reinforce its comedy brand with several new titles this year — and it’s found a more than worthy successor in its freshman series, Better Things. The semi-autobiographical show, starring Pamela Adlon, is an engaging and refreshingly candid half-hour comedy that’s quickly shaping up to be one of the most promising new entries of fall television.
Co-created by Adlon and longtime collaborator Louis C.K., the show centers on Sam Fox (Adlon), a working Los Angeles actress and a single mom to three daughters: Max (Mikey Madison), Frankie (Hannah Alligood), and Duke (Olivia Edward). With a steady presence in Hollywood since her younger years, Sam’s former child stardom has now turned into a career of smaller roles playing the girlfriend, the friend of the lead, and voiceovers for animated series. The work is stable, but unsatisfying. As a middle-aged woman, she’s constantly being passed over for great opportunities in favor of someone younger and trendier.
Case in point? In the fourth episode “Woman Is the Something of the Something,” Sam is considered as the possible lead for a new pilot. The creators are eager to feature someone unexpected and different and they’re willing to go to bat for Sam at the network. All seems on track — until a network executive calls to say that Rachel McAdams is interested in the role. With that 20-second call, Sam is pulled from the project without a second thought. Luckily, she never really finds out, as her agent Tressa (Rebecca Metz) wisely refrained from ever truly selling her on the part.
But though Better Things has no problem highlighting the indignities that women face in Hollywood, the show shines brightest when it’s tackling the grueling highs and lows of single parenting. Audiences are given an intimate glimpse into the daily grind of Sam’s home life, which, while far from glamorous, is never boring. With three daughters all at different points in their adolescence, even the most seemingly mundane activities can become amusing hurdles — whether it’s the quest to find graph paper during an exasperating trip to Staples or managing snack duty at soccer practice on the day her daughter calls in sick.
Though Sam handles most of it with a relatable wry bemusement, the show makes it clear that she is not some sort of martyr mother. She, like everyone, gets agonizingly frustrated with her daughters and she makes it known. She openly expresses how overwhelmed she is and bemoans her kids when they barge in on a private moment (she’s trying to find suitable porn for herself) or when the eldest refuses to look up from her cell phone at lunch. This is parenting, in all its messy, weird, monotonous glory.
Like Louie before it, Better Things manages to avoid the traditional sitcom banalities, instead using observational, real-world humor from daily life to deliver a smart and intimate portrait of a working parent. But though there are clear parallels between the two series, it would be unfair to classify Better Things as just some sort of companion show to Louie. Better Things is forging its own path, as is Adlon, and television comedy is all the better for it.
Better Things premieres Thursday, September 8 at 10 p.m. EST on FX.
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