Pamela Adlon’s ‘Better Things’ on FX Is Doing Great Without Louis C.K.

When a major creative force leaves a TV show, it’s normal for fans to feel a sense of apprehension. We certainly felt that way when Armando Iannucci, the creator and showrunner of HBO’s Veep, departed prior to the show’s fifth season.

However, Iannucci’s absence didn’t diminish the power of Veep, and fans got the great Death of Stalin following his departure. In that case, you could declare the transition a win on all sides.

The story of FX’s Better Things, co-created by Pamela Adlon and Louis C.K., was quite different. After C.K.’s sexual misconduct scandal, FX and Adlon quickly cut ties with the disgraced comedian. That meant a key element of the show (C.K. co-wrote with Adlon) would not be returning.

After watching the first five episodes of Season Three, it’s clear the absence of C.K. hasn’t hurt Better Things. (Episode Three airs tonight on FX). In fact, the show’s picked up right where it left off last season — it’s still among the funniest, most interesting shows on TV.

The balance of darkness and comedy remains intact.

BETTER THINGS: Liz Jenkins as TSA Agent, Pamela Adlon as Sam Fox. | Suzanne Tenner/FX

The story of how C.K. departed Better Things could hardly have been crazier. In mid-October 2017, FX announced it had renewed the show for a third season. Around then, the show seemed to be reaching a creative peak. But within weeks, news of C.K.’s scandal broke.

At that point, only the final two episodes of Season Two remained. The season finale, which aired exactly one week following the C.K. news, featured a closing scene so triumphant we can only hope it will be matched again on TV soon.

With the news about C.K. in the air, you couldn’t have scripted a more perfect, toxic-male-free ending to a show. And it capped off a season that had nearly perfected the blend of darkness and light C.K. (and FX shows like Baskets) became known for.

In Season Three, Adlon and her revamped writing team started the first two episodes heavier on the darkness than on light. However, starting with the third episode, the writers find their groove again, and it’s a beautiful thing to watch.

As you get later into the season (Episode Five is incredible), Better Things fans might start thinking the show is better off without C.K.

Leaving toxic men behind is a specialty of ‘Better Things.’

BETTER THINGS Season 3: Olivia Edward (Duke) and Pamela Adlon (Sam Fox) | Suzanne Tenner/FX

As many who’ve written about Better Things have noted, the show always tried its best to put toxic masculinity in its place. In Season Three, the recurring image in the head of Sam (Adlon) is her ne’er-do-well father. He has a bawdy sense of humor, bad advice, and represents zero responsibility.

Sam does her best to ignore him and continue juggling her career and life as a single mom of three who also happens to be caring for an aging parent. Sometimes, she has to get creative to keep her sanity.

A perfect example comes in Episode Five (airing March 28), when Sam’s two younger daughters (Duke and Frankie) are at each other’s throats. She offers them a deal: Each has one minute to say the vilest, most damning insults to one another; afterward, they have to co-exist in peace.

When Duke, the youngest, unleashes a torrent of profanity on Frankie, everyone stops to bellow with laughter. It’s an example of what Sam’s doctor tells her later in the show: Sometimes you have to “just let it go.”

As a unit, the creative team and cast of Better Things has let its past go — and the show has thrived because of it.

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